Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Becoming Porcupine

People who know me now will laugh, but I was a friendly, outgoing child. Only a few people will remember but it's true, I tell you. It's true.

Mrs. Porcupine is concerned that one of our porcupets sees too much violence. I'm not talking about Mortal Kombat violence, now. More the biff-pow-socko Batman type. Perhaps she is right, I don't know. I watched the same shows when I was his age. I don't think it hurt me any.

Schools these days seem to be very concerned with bullying. We occasionally get flyers about how to respond. Counselors sometimes speak to the children and trot out the typical advice: bullies have low self-esteem, do not respond to violence with violence, talk things out, just walk away, involve a parent or teacher. I'm sure you can imagine.

I have mixed feelings about this. It all sounds good. It certainly agrees with what I was taught: turn the other cheek, a soft answer turneth away wrath and all. In my heart, I would like to believe it. I really would. My experience when I was his age was very different though. I wasn't concerned about TV violence but the real thing, and the moral of this story is not so good.


My experience with bullies was limited but instructive. My neighborhood was not exactly dangerous, but it was tough. If you wanted a fight, you could easily find one. I was never the sort who went looking for a fight, though. Neither was I an obvious target for bullying. I was good-sized and average in appearance. If I had a flaw, it was that I was a gentle child. Don't laugh, I tell you it's true. I had learned all the lessons of non-violence and had taken them to heart. When this was found out, the trouble began.

Mike was a scrappy neighborhood punk: a skinny kid, always looking to fight. Once he discovered I would not fight back, he set out to torment me. I never quite knew when he would turn up. Perhaps he would lay in wait as I walked home from school. Perhaps he would step out from around a corner. These encounters always ended the same. We would have an old-fashioned fist-fight from which I would leave with varying degrees of injury.

Although I was bigger than him, I had learned my lessons too well. I turned the other cheek. I tried to walk away. I told teachers and parents. All to no real effect. I did not know exactly what to do.

One day he appeared out of nowhere, looking for trouble as usual. He began the ritual taunting and shoving. This day would be different, though. As we went through the motions, I made a crucial decision. Today, I would fight. I would fight at the time of my choosing and I would not fight fair. I'd had enough.

In mid-taunt, I pushed him to the ground. He looked up with surprise and rage. He started to get up, fists clenched. But I was not going to fight fair today. I was going to break the "rules." I was going to hurt him.

I took a step back and kicked him squarely in the mouth.

Blood flew everywhere. At least one tooth lay on the ground. His eyes went wide. As he stood up, I prepared myself for battle. He looked at me with surprise and rage. Then he turned and ran off. I was amazed.

He never bothered me again.

I went home a nervous wreck. Surely there would soon be a knock on the door, a telephone call. Surely his angry parents would be looking to speak with mine. I was going to catch hell for this.

The call never came.

I never found out exactly what I had done. We weren't close like that. Of course, he continued to taunt me, but only from a distance. I didn't worry about him anymore. He would occasionally yell something from down the street. I would respond with a cheerful one-fingered wave. That didn't bother me. My problems with him had ended.


Two more times in my life I dealt with a bully. Both times, I remembered the real lesson I had learned. Both times it worked. When someone tried to pick a fight, I lashed out with immediate and disproportionate violence, without regard for rules. "He's f---ing crazy. He don't fight fair." they would say. That was all right with me. I thought it unfair that I should need to fight at all.

I find it hard to worry much about my son watching Batman. I was no older than he is now when I learned a very different lesson about violence. I still have mixed feelings about it. In my heart I want to believe what I was taught; that violence is not the answer; that love conquers all. I want to believe. I really do.

Except none of that worked.

In practice, I found that a bully understands nothing but violence. That a soft answer is received with contempt. That turning the other cheek invites another blow. That his low self-esteem is not my concern. I found the most effective response to a bully was a work-boot to the teeth. And I became Porcupine.

The only question left is: what do I tell my son? Do I tell him what I would like to believe, or what I found to be so? In truth, I do not know. I hope he never asks.

Very Truly Yours,




Ananda girl said...

Cricket-- I work in a school. The subject of bullys did not come up until any of my kids were in high school. This is what I told them... You will never get in trouble with me for protecting yourself or a family member. However, you do this with the understanding that you accept the consequences of your actions. Then we went over what those would be according to the school policy including that arrest was possible.
I unfortunately believe the same as you... while I want very much to have things go the way adults would like to see them happen, in realitiy those things do not work. I also feel its unfair to trade your own self respect to make things easier for the bully. It was an ugly choice to make, but you made the right one.

Hilary said...

My older son was very much as you described yourself. He believed what we taught him about turning the other cheek and all that goes along with a non-violent attitude. In middle school he got picked on by one particular kid. Teachers saw but told him to just do his thing elsewhere. Move from the source. He did. He was followed. Repeatedly. Finally he lashed out to protect himself. This otherwise model student - one who had won citizenship awards - my boy was suspended for a few days, lost out on a long-awaited school trip and had a mark against his otherwise pristine record. He felt bad about all of that, but his pride remained intact. He has a history of fighting for what he believes is right - my military boy. And for what it's worth, aside from the irony, I didn't allow my kidlets to watch violent shows either.

lime said...

I have to say, with children between the ages of 14 and 19 I largely agree with ananda and hilary. we've always told our kids ignore things, tell a person to stop, move away, tell an adult, etc...the non-violent path. that said, we recognize they can't let themselves be punching bags either so in spite of the fact that our local school has a zero tolerance policy regarding fights (meaning even those defending themselves get punished) if someone else gets physical and they can't get away we expect our kids to use the necessary force to effectively defend themselves or their siblings...though no more than that and no later retribution.