Don't Let Bullies Ruin Your Life
Some years ago, I had a job in a specialty retail store. There was one general manager, four assistant managers and approximately ten part-time associates, including me. I got along great with everyone except one assistant manager.
She had an issue with everything I did. I didn’t fold shirts correctly. I wasn’t friendly enough with customers. I was too friendly with customers. She disregarded commendations I received (commendations were supposed to be sent to the corporate office so the recipient could receive a pin and a certificate). It seemed the harder I tried, the more fault she found.
One day, while milling around the break area, the assistant manager overheard a conversation I was having with a co-worker. I was mentioning how badly I wanted a car of my own. When the conversation was over, the assistant manager asked to see me. Dread filled me as I walked the short distance to where she was standing. What did I do now?
“Did I hear you say you wish you had a car?” she asked, arms folded.
“Yes,” I replied wondering where this was headed.
“Didn’t you turn in an application for a parking tag? On the application, you wrote you owned a Lexus,” she said harshly.
I laughed and that made her frown so I explained, “The car needing the tag is a Lexus, but I don’t own it. It’s my dad’s car. He drives me to work,” I explained.
Her voice softened. “I thought that was your car.”
"I’m a college student working part-time. How in the world can I afford a Lexus?”
“Well, I went to school with a lot of rich kids and their parents bought them expensive cars. I assumed you were like them.”
“You assumed incorrectly, “ I said.
“My parents couldn't afford to buy me expensive things,” she said. There was a faraway look in her eyes. It was obvious she was remembering something painful.
I didn’t respond; it was the end of my break and I headed back to the floor. From that moment, there was a change in the assistant manager’s attitude towards me. She no longer had issues with my performance.
Although I did not let her know, I was incensed that her simple misunderstanding and past jealousies had caused me to doubt myself. I decided then not to let another person’s issue with me became an issue I have with myself. It was a decision I wish I could have made years earlier when I started junior high school.
I was happy at first and eager to make new friends. I’d always been the kind of person to see the best in everyone I met. I soon discovered others didn’t share my philosophy. My glasses, thin frame and cooked smile made me an easy target for jeers and cruel comments. I cannot tell you how many times a day I heard how ugly I was. I rode the bus to school and there were many times kids would place their backpacks in the seat next to them to keep me from sitting down. Once, I sat next to a boy who spent the entire ride trying to push me out of the seat. When someone asked him why he was doing it he replied, “ I don’t like that girl because she always has papers hanging from her books.” I had the habit of folding handouts and using them as markers in my textbook so I could turn to sections I needed to study. I couldn’t see where that was such a horrible thing, but stopped doing it hoping it would change his opinion of me. It didn’t.
School was a miserable experience. I became withdrawn, but whenever my parents asked how things were going, I would force a smile and say “Everything’s fine.” Why? One, it was embarrassing to admit no one like me when my siblings could walk into a room of strangers and leave out with friends. Two, I wasn’t sure my parents would understand. And three, I didn’t want to burden them with my problems.
Through the grace of God, I managed to make it through and became a well-adjusted adult. I eventually forgot how poorly I was treated. The memories rushed back, however, as I read the sad stories of Phoebe Prince and others who chose suicide rather than face another day of the pain bullying brings.
I also believed the world would be a better place without me during the darkest days. I know the pain these kids felt and, unfortunately, many others are feeling at this moment. The good news is life doesn’t end in high school. There will be new environments and new people. But I know that is little comfort when four years seems like forever. To all who are being bullied: You are important and you are loved. You are worthy of happiness. You are beautiful. Don’t bottle your feelings; it is not you against the world. Talk to someone you can trust – your parents, guidance counselors, clergy. Parents and teachers: don’t relegate bullying as children’s play and subsequent hurt feelings as a part of growing up. Take it seriously; your help is needed. Counsel both the bullied and bullies. To the bullies: examine the real reason why you don’t like that girl or can’t stand that guy. Do you really feel that way? Or, are you being bullied into disliking someone because your friends have a problem? Even if you feel there is a legitimate reason to dislike someone, does it really make you happy to hurt her or him? Is short-lived vengeance worth long-term implications? Take the time to communicate with the person outside of name-calling and accusations. You may find you are spending a lot of energy disliking someone over a misunderstanding or false assumption.
Just like a certain assistant manager I once knew.