I didn’t start fights in high school. I was bullied, and bullies like to start fights. So in high school I often found myself in a balancing act between a physical altercation and trying to keep the bullies at bay. If I fought them verbally too much there would be a physical fight. If I fought them verbally too little then that means they can say and do to me whatever they please which makes my life all that much harder.
I have heard “just ignore them, they’ll go away” more times than I can count. News flash, that doesn’t work. To do nothing about a bully tells them they have complete control over your actions and inactions. They can deride you or bruise you and get away with it. Maybe you can withstand this for a day, maybe a week, possibly even a month. Even the strongest will can be relentlessly told that they are terrible in some way, every day, for years on end and not be affected by it.
If the school administration understood the interactions better they might be better equipped to prevent them. One example of a poorly equipped vice principal sticks out in my mind from all the others. It started in art class, and involved a pencil. The bully in this class wasn’t new, and had been a thorn in my side for a long time. On this particular day I had gotten fed up with him. The incessant ridicule and demeaning had me on full tilt. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a simple act.
At the end of class when I was the last one leaving, still working on an assignment before lunch began, he walked over to my desk and simple knocked my pencil off. Now I know what you’re thinking. It’s a pencil, it’s nothing, it’s meaningless. Well, it’s not about the pencil. Actions have meaning. The meaning behind his action was not “I don’t want this pencil to be here anymore.” It might be mistaken as an accident, but being so close to it sitting at the desk I knew all too well how purposeful it was.
The communication in this simple act was akin to “look at me toss your things on the floor, because I can do as I please and you’re helpless to stop me. I can go where I want and do what I want. I know you won’t like me doing this, but I enjoy your pain. I want you to know as often as possible how I can freely cause you pain and suffer no repercussions.”
It’s long winded, I know. Maybe I’m looking more into it than I should be, but I remember receiving that communication clear as a bell that day. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted me to tackle him into a few desks and, well, you can imagine where it went. We were both punished, I believe I had either a friday detention or a 3 day suspension. I didn’t regret it, though.
Now, maybe what I did was wrong. I can’t say with certain clarity and confidence that I know what the right answer was. This post isn’t about the fight, though. This is about what happened when I was sent to the office to speak with the vice principal about the matter. Of course he will ask us both what happened and try to find the truth in between both of our half lies as teenagers tend to do. Eventually I figured out that telling the whole truth was better, even if it painted me in a less than amazing picture. At least I would be the exception to the rule of half lies.
What upset me the most, even more than the bully, was the vice principal’s reaction to my story. After I told him the series of events he asked me why I would get in a fight over a pencil. He genuinely thought that teenagers were so chaotic and unpredictable that they would start a fight over a writing utensil. How low of an opinion must you possess to actually think such a thing? I don’t believe he remained vice principal for a very long time, but this still baffles me. It wasn’t about the pencil. It was about the action, which we all know speaks much louder than words.