When I was a kid, no one really talked about bullying. We said things about “getting picked on” or “being teased.” It made it sound like kids being kids. As the only Jewish kid in a small town school, I experienced, what I now know was bullying first hand.
And it wasn’t just because of my family religion. I tell people I was a “silent child.” In public, I didn’t even want to talk to my parents. Speaking to peers in school or out was a terrifying prospect!
And then there’s my “resting smile face.” As an adult, I figure that’s a lot better than many alternatives! But as a kid, it was more fodder for the bullies.
When Christmas season rolled around, I was teased and made fun of because I didn’t even know who Santa was and then made to feel like my family didn’t love me because our Chanukah celebrations weren’t heavy on the gifts.
I hated feeling left out, but rather than change my beliefs, I found the courage, the fire, to go to school administrators and insist on multi-cultural decorations. And they listened! The next day, there were “Happy Hanukkah” posters hanging in the cafeteria alongside the Christmas décor.
On the bus, I was the last stop, so the bullies had the entire ride to get there digs in. Somewhere along the way, someone told me to just ignore them. If you’ve ever been bullied, you’ll understand when I tell you that ignoring them does not work. Rather than leave me a long, they escalated to the point where they threw my book bag out the window.
Still, I didn’t cry or protest, thinking that would only make it worse. Instead, I had my mom bring me back to pick it up once I got off the bus. One time, I did cry and was teased for smiling while I cried.
All of that built up inside me until I finally decided I needed to stick up for myself. I had no idea how to do that, but I was determined to do it. In sixth grade, I found my voice. Instead of shrinking in my seat on the bus trying to hide, I stood up and started “singing” (if you can call tone deaf yelling singing) at the top of my lungs until the entire bus joined in.
That same year, one of the bully boys came into the school library a bit later than the rest of the class and yells to a friend “Hey ___, look! There’s a Jew in the library!” This was clearly meant to make me feel small. Prior to that, I would have just ignored it and filed the hurt away deep in my heart. This time was different. I picked up where he left off and yelled to a friend of mine “Hey! Look! There’s a jerk in the library!”
Okay, maybe not the snappiest comeback in the history of elementary school, but it was better than silence. Over the years, the bullying didn’t stop. It just took different forms. The difference was, in how I learned to handle it.
I began to understand that it wasn’t about ME. Really, it was about THEM. Their sense of inadequacy…the only way they could feel good was to put me down. Pretty crappy of them. But in understanding that, I was able to focus on my inner fire, hold my head high, and keep being me, no matter what they said.
That’s a skill that’s served me well ever since. Because the bullies don’t stop. Whether you’re getting cat called on the street or harassed at work, the bullying persists. The best way to cope with them is with self-confidence. Running, ignoring, etc. only encourages. Responding from a place of confidence (even if it’s the same action as ignoring or leaving) may not make them stop, but it will help you remain above it.
I was born with that inner fire that got me through the bullying and helped me realize all of this, but I’ve come to understand that not everyone is. And that’s part of my mission – to follow my Divine guidance in creating a world where all creatures are respected, valued, and empowered by encouraging others to follow their journey of self-discovery and supporting you through online classes, oracle card readings, and books for children and adults.