Friday, May 27, 2011

Bullying - Would you have the guts to intervene?

I live in a small town. Just about everyone knows everyone, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Its a safe town, and everyone looks out for one another. We don't have much crime, except some petty thefts and domestic disputes now and then. But violence and intolerance isn't much of an issue. I don't worry (much) when I send my kids off to school. I know they are in a safe environment with watchful eyes everywhere. The school has strict policies about bullying, fighting, etc., and they do enforce it. (I know this first-hand because, to my horror, my son got in a fight earlier in the year and he and the other boy involved had to face the consequences of their poor choices.)

Last night, I was babysitting two of my friend's boys, ages 11 and 7. It was art night at the school, and my kids really wanted to go and show off their work. When my husband got home from work, we loaded up the van with our 3 kids and my friend's boys, and headed on over.

Shortly upon arriving, the 11 year old spotted a friend and wanted to go off with him for a little bit. He's a pretty responsible kid, so I gave him permission, on the condition he checked in every 5-10 mins. (Its a small school, so its not like he could get too far anyway.) The younger kids (my 3 and my friend's 7 year old) all stuck close as we toured the cafeteria.

Once we'd seen all there really was to see in the cafeteria, I took my friend's 7 year old and my two older kids to look at the work in the hallway, and to try and find the 11 year old. We found the 11 year old, and I told him we were going to look around the hallway a little, then make our way toward the front door to leave.

As I stood there talking to him, a kid who was obviously older and quite a bit taller than the 11 year old (more than a head taller, in fact), walked up to him, didn't say a word, put him in a headlock, and started walking him down the hallway by his neck. It struck me as odd, but I thought maybe they knew eachother and were just messing around.

But as they got further down the hallway, something in my "mama gut" told me that something was just off about the whole thing. I caught up to the boys, and the look on my friend's son's face told me everything. I calmly said, "We're leaving now. Let's go," thinking the kid would let go. The kid loosened his grip til my friend's son was almost free, then pulled him back in.

At that point, I could feel the heat rising on the back of my neck. "My" child was in danger! There is something so powerful and primal that comes over a mother when her child - or in this case, not even her own child, just a child she feels very bonded to - is being threatened. The "I'm very disappointed in you, what were you thinking?!" mommy tone came into my voice, and I said, very seriously and sternly, "You need to be nice to him! What you're doing is not okay!" The kid's eyes got huge, and he immediately let go. He then hung his head, and stammered out sincere apologies to both me and my friend's son. We both told him we accepted his apologies, and went on our way.

When we got in the car, I asked my friend's son if he knew the kid. He said he'd never seen him before in his life. I asked him if the kid had said anything to him when he approached him and put him in a headlock. Again, the answer was no.

So I am left with that burning question - why? What in the world compelled this kid to act out against another human being that way? Why did he target my friend's son, whom he didn't know, and had never had any contact with before? What would compel someone - anyone, child or otherwise - to intimidate, scare, or hurt another individual without any just cause?

The more I think about it, the more troubling that question becomes. And maybe I am making a bigger deal out of this than I should, but from my observation, its the "random acts" of bullying and hate that are the worst because the victims had no warning.

I read this article earlier this week about two men being targeted and attacked for walking hand in hand through a park in Portland (kind of my "own backyard," since I live about an hour and a half from there). These men never saw their attack coming. They didn't do anything to provoke their attackers, the attackers just saw it in their dark hearts to beat the tar out of them for no reason.

The saddest part of the whole incident, at least in my opinion, is that they were out in the open and onlookers did nothing. Nobody yelled "stop!," nobody called 9-1-1, nobody tried to pull the attackers off them, nobody tried to talk any sense into the attackers, and nobody offered the victims any assistence or sympathy. (They had to call 9-1-1 themselves after the attack was over.)

I am certainly not trying to villainize the kid who bullied my friend's son, and most likely this won't happen again. If the remorse in his apologies and shame on his face are any indication, it won't. But I still have that burning question - why?

As I replay the whole thing over in my mind, I keep wondering if I handled it appropriately. The kid's dad said hi to my husband on the way out (I guess they've chatted on a job site or two before), and I contemplated saying something to the kid's dad. Should I have? Is there more I should have said or done?

I can't change how I handled it, but ultimately, I am happy with the fact that I did recognize it as bullying, and I did intervene. I know far too many people who would just chock it up to "boys being boys." Or they would be too afraid to get involved.

But here's how I see it. Everytime you do nothing, a bully gets away with victimizing someone. And every time they get away with it, they figure they can victimize again, so they begin to bully more, and more, and more... When and where will it end?

And what's worse, it just hurts the victim even more. It tells them that they weren't worth rescuing from their abuse. That what they went through wasn't a big deal. That the emotional, mental, and physical pain they endured isn't real. But the thing is, it is real, and it is serious.

I am by no means trying to paint myself as some big hero. I acted in the moment in the manner in which I felt was necessary. I did what needed to be done. I didn't shame the bully, or yell at him, or hurt him back. I just told him to stop. And that was enough.

So I want you to think long and hard. Would you have the guts to intervene if you saw someone - anyone - being bullied, attacked, or victimized? Would you protect your kids, your friend's kids, kids you don't know, your friends, your co-workers, or even total strangers from being bullied or attacked? What would you do in a situation like I was in, or even worse, if you were watching the two Portland men being attacked?


Liam and Karen said...

Friend, I applaud your ability to not only step in, but to recognize that something wasn't right. I believe that I would step in...but I know many people who wouldn't. I hope that your challenge encourages people to consider such a situation prior to being faced with it.

Megan said...

That's my hope too, Karen. I think if people take the time to stop and think about it, then they can mentally prepare for a course of action, should they ever be faced with a situation like that.

Jen said...

I feel pretty comfortable saying that I'd step in or at the least call the cops over the couple that got jumped. I helped break up a fight between 2 women who were trying to kill one another while a crowd cheared them on. It was disgusting and me and a friend stepped in and pulled the women off of one another and kept them apart till the cops came. Not the highlight of my night and the women didn't want to be stopped, but my friend and I did what needed to be done and I'm glad we did.

Megan said...

That's very brave, Jen! Good for you!! I don't think I could physically intervene if people were throwing punches, but I would at least say something and try to verbally intervene.