As an eighth grader, I made a habit of scooting down the hall between bells with little or no comment to anyone else along the way. I was uncomfortable in many same age peer interactions, and I now know that I was a fairly depressed kid. Other kids told me I was weird, and I felt weird.
Unfortunately for weird kids, they tend to attract attention. Their perceived weirdness tends to trigger a defensive response in insecure people who experience threat in diversity. Inevitably anyone who presents a markedly different face than what has been agreed upon by a larger group as normal will be the subject of wrath. How violent the effects of that wrath are will be determined by the infrastructure that’s been established in order to set necessary limitations and provide clarity about“what’s so in that particular society.
This is the process through which normal is defined within groups. The leading edge of thought in any group situation defines what’s true, what’s good and what’s bad. Anyone who questions what they’re told is the truth instantly sacrifices the security of the group. They become suspect, and if they harbor doubts about the truth, they do so at tremendous risk. In some societies and cultures, the risk is of social, familial or political disenfranchisement. In others, it means being decapitated in the public square.
In the eighth grade, what happens to the weird kid usually stays somewhat hidden. As a nation, we’ve become sensitized to the reality that many kids in school are terrorized. Pay attention to that word: terrorized. Terror tactics include intimidation through verbal, written or physical threat or assault. Bullying behavior is utilized in every environment in which people exist. It occurs wherever it is allowed.
One day in the eighth grade, I slipped into the bathroom to escape the crowded hallway. As I stared into the large mirror over the row of sinks against the wall, one of the school bullies walked in. She was the terror of any smaller, fearful kid not being supervised by an adult. She scratched other girls on the face with long finger nails. She said cruel, untrue things that other kids believed because they were frightened of her. She had bleached blond hair and very thick, black eyeliner and mascara.
She glared at my reflection, as I continued to stare fixedly in front of me. She leaned forward. “I’m going to kick your ass.”
I believed her. I turned around and looked at her, wincing as I did. As calmly as I could, I said, “Why?” She stared at me as if I’d started to grow larger. After a tense moment, She leaned into my face and yelled, “That’s a stupid fucking question!” Then blessedly, she turned around and walked out.
I stood and stared after her, wondering when she was going to kick my ass. I stayed home from school the next day. After that came the weekend, and by Monday, I hoped that she had forgotten all about the ass kicking. That week I saw her several times, in the cafeteria, in the auditorium. Each time, she either avoided looking my way, or she simply had moved on. She never kicked my ass.
So how do we allow bullying, which is really just another word for terrorism?
I remembered this incident while watching a recent interview on The Rachel Maddow Show with an ex-Jihadist who had become de-radicalized. He described an internal, anxiety-filled process of deconstruction of his belief system. He was exposed to uncomfortable and difficult questions asked by another student in his religious madras or Islamic school.
As a British Muslim, he had advocated and participated in terrorist attacks within Britain and had struggled with his ambivalence about attacking his own country. But an insistent, literal and rigid interpretation of the Koran provided the religious justification for terrorist behavior. It offered the security of identification. However, identity which defines itself through the pressure of coercion is fragile. Put simply, “You have to go a little crazy in order to do this stuff.”
Within a few days of the shooting in Orlando, Evangelical Pastors were given media attention to vicariously re-brutalize all the people who had just been through hell. Children heard a pastor on TV say that it was good that LGBTQ people had been killed.
On the other side of the coin, I wasn’t aware of any media coverage to those speaking out and vehemently berating the pastors for their behavior. I didn’t hear anyone ask questions or protest their hate language. That’s how bullying gets started. And that’s how terrorism finds its power.
A teenage boy recently said to me, “This Church bullshit is going away. The guy is talking trash about all those people that got shot. How is that about God”?
Robin Shelton is an ally on a learning curve to the LGBTQ Community. She practices psychotherapy privately in Chesapeake. Her clinical orientation is Transpersonal in Nature and is informed by extensive clinical supervision and practice with multiple populations. Her life long study of Astrology and fascination with the Numinous and all things Quantum inspire her to speak up for the rights of the LGBTQ Community and for the rights of Animals to live for themselves. She likes to push the envelope way outside the box.