Wednesday, November 06, 2013


There's a lot of talk about bullying in the news recently, most of it ignorant. Most of it is about Miami Dolphins players Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.

Here's what I'm hearing most often. "How can a 300-pound guy get bullied? He's a big-ass football player, supposed to be a tough guy! What a pussy! A big guy like that should beat the shit out of his bully!"

These people don't understand anything about bullying. Bullying has nothing to do with physical stature, or how strong you are. Bullying is about psychology. Bullying is about terror. 

My brother was bullied mercilessly as a teen. If you looked at him now you'd think that was totally impossible. My brother is 6-foot 6-inches tall, 325-pounds of torso and thigh muscle. His legs are like tree trunks. He was always large for his age. Hell, he's 47 and he's still large for his age.

He's my older brother by a year-and-a-half, and I love him dearly. But he has always been different. If you had him examined by a professional and twisted the doc's arm a little, you could probably get a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. Especially when he was growing up his behavior was a little strange, especially in the way he would communicate. I've never seen anyone get lost inside a book or a display screen like my brother. You often had to physically touch him to get his attention, and sometimes even that would not work. Back then he always had a hard time making friends and keeping them.

Except for physically, my brother was exactly the kind of kid bullies are drawn to. Different enough to be "weird" but not so much that you were picking on a handicapped kid. My brother was very socially uncomfortable. He had no idea how to react, and violence was not a part of his nature.  I don't think it ever even occurred to him that he could fight back, even when he was told to. Once this became apparent, I think my brothers size made him even a bigger target for bullies.

Being bullied has almost nothing to do with getting beaten up. Of course there are fights, every kid gets into fights. Bullying is far more than that. Bullying is about intimidation and fear. Bullying is about terror. My brother was terrorized. Nobody wants to get beat up, but to most of us (especially boys) you know you can take a beating, and sometimes you know you're going to have to fight. Being bullied means you are afraid of fighting, and you are going to get beat up. Every. Single. Day. There's no place you can go. You're wearing a gigantic target on your back. Bullies are waiting around every corner. If they see you, you better run. If they catch you they are going to beat you. They might even stab you. They don't care if they kill you. And you have absolutely no idea why.

The horrifying thing about bullying is that people being terrorized by bullies have absolutely no idea why the bully wants to hurt them. They never do anything to antagonize the bully. They spend so much time and energy trying to avoid their bullies, doing something to deserve the treatment is impossible. But they hate you, even though you've done nothing to them.

Bullies are mentally ill. There's something broken in their brains that make them need to intimidate and hurt people. Weird people, definitely. People who will never fight back, even better. I knew about some of the kids that bullied my brother and it looked to me like they had pretty bad lives. Their existence was pretty tough, and they were taking their anger and frustration at life out on my brother, who was guilty of terrible transgressions like riding his bicycle down the wrong street, or walking on the wrong sidewalk. These kids were broken. 

If you think a guy can't be bullied because he's big, you don't know anything about bullying. Based on the size of the kids that tormented my brother relative to him, if he had ever "snapped" he probably could have easily beaten one of those kids to death. Not only did that never happen, it was never even a possibility. Somehow the bullies know this, or they figure it out really quickly.

My brother survived his bullying of course. He's a successful computer programmer with a wife, two kids and a dog named Clark Kent. I caught some hell from his bullies of course, and while I was scared of them when I was small, after seeing what happened with my brother I was determined to fight back and that is all it takes for bullies to lose interest in you. Terror is only effective when it works. I'm not nearly the size of my brother and I never was. I topped out at 5-foot-10. But just being willing to fight back made me too much trouble. I don't know what it feels like to be bullied. But I know what it looks like. And it isn't pretty.

I don't know the solution to the bullying problem, but I do know that the communication possibilities on the internet only make it worse. More terror methods for the bullies, with little or no more help to those being bullied.  While completely obvious, external help is almost useless to a bullying victim.

Maybe awareness could help. Most bullies are show-offs and most bullying takes place in public, so if everyone who saw someone being bullied did something about it there might be a difference. I know when I see it I instinctively want to resolve it with a deer rifle. I'd never actually do it, but you'll never convince me that I wouldn't be doing the world a favor.