How to Not Be a Bully

Watching that clip from the all-time great sitcom Full House I assume that you took away the same three things from it that I did:

1.) None of those three sluts mean girls have John Stamos as their uncle, so how could they possibly pretend to be cooler than D.J. Tanner?

2.) Who in the Holy Hell is that guy with the mustache leaning next to the vending machines in a middle school cafeteria?

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I know the nineties were a different time, but I’d like to think someone would call the police as soon as they saw this guy next to such a large of a collection of children.

3.) What kind of cafeteria has a phone booth inside of it?

I’m going to focus on the third one. I have no idea why this school felt it needed to spend money on inserting a phone booth in the cafeteria, but I think I do know why D.J. went inside it.

She went inside it because there was a phone in there. And you can use phones for talking. And D.J. was just bullied. And victims of bullying need one thing more than anything else: someone to talk to.

For the past two years, anti-bullying campaigns have picked a up a lot of steam and the nation is finally taking the issue seriously. A small part of me has a slight problem with the large generalization of the term “bullying.” Using the word as a catch-all term for cruel behavior can cause issues of its own. Running up the score in a high school football game is unsportsmanlike. The problem with calling it “bullying” is that it simply tosses it in a classification of injustices along the lines of tormenting a child with down syndrome. Nonetheless, I’m in favor of stigmatizing the word, for if nothing else, it will make it more difficult to get away with.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that every person reading this has both been bullied and bullied someone else in their life. You may not have ever shoved someone inside of a locker or been shoved inside one yourself, but at some point, you have made someone feel bad about his or her self and someone else has done the same to you. It is something sadly impossible to avoid in our society.

Most anti-bullying campaigns will advise anyone (especially children) to speak out if they witness bullying. The idea being that bullies aren’t actually as tough as they claim to be and once they are called out by an authority figure (teacher, principal, work superior) they will cease to believe they have free reign over their victims. I can’t argue with that logic (it certainly is more logical than the advice Will gave to Ashley in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air). 

However, as important as this advice may be, it fails to recognize the damage that has already been done in most bullying situations. The most brutal moments of that scene from Full House aren’t the actual seconds when she is being made fun of (in fact, we’re supposed to laugh when she’s wearing the same outfit as the old lady). The saddest part is the moments afterwards. 

Being bullied is hard. Being bullied in front of a lot of people is painful….But the pain doesn’t go away when the people around you stop laughing. It doesn’t go away when they stop looking. And for some, it doesn’t even go away when everyone else has forgotten about the incident. For some, it just stirs.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen that episode of Full House so I couldn’t tell you who D.J. calls on the pay phone. It’s beside the point, because all she needed was someone to listen.

What I’m trying to say, and what is largely unmentioned in the stand against bullying, is that everyone who ever gets bullied really needs someone to talk to. Perhaps they need to talk about the incident or perhaps they just need to know that the world isn’t laughing at them. Sometimes in life, the joke is on you. I’ve been the butt of plenty of jokes and I make enough jokes about other people to embrace that fact with open arms. But when certain lines are crossed it’s easy to feel like life is the joke. I don’t mean that as a cliche. I mean that life feels like a joke and the (mean) joke feels like life. The joke (or prank or act of harassment) shouldn’t even be bigger than whatever Netflix program you planned on watching when you got home, but somehow it feels bigger than the vacation you had planned for next month.

One voice or one set of ears can change that drastically. As over-sensitive, left-wing or ridiculous as it may sound to you, I think every single kid in that cafeteria was a bully for not talking to D.J. I’m not trying to be a hypocrite. That reasoning means that I’ve been a bully many times in my life.

The story of Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin and the Miami Dolphins obviously troubles me. Though I think it’s too simple to call Richie Incognito a bully and pretend that’s the lesson to be learned.

Sure, I’d probably call Incognito a bully…But first I’d call him an asshole, a misguided and uninformed racist, and a man with legitimate mental issues. Then I’d probably take a break, laugh at the fact that a man who looks like this is named “Incognito” and maybe I’d finally get around to calling him a bully.

People can debate over the locker room environment being a place where this type of behavior is less impacting on the victims, but I come back to the same point: no one could take that amount of abuse and shoulder the burden on their own.

You can’t tell me everything is different in an NFL locker room. I’ve been in NFL locker rooms, many times. They didn’t seem like places void of emotion. They didn’t seem like places where stigmatization causes no pain. Obviously I’ve never experienced it as a player and as an outsider I can’t experience the “family” atmosphere.

But I have a sister. If I know she is struggling emotionally I try to be there for her. If someone is bullying her there are a lot of things I might do. Nothing is not one of them. That’s how a family works. I’m glad my family doesn’t consist of 50-plus silent Miami Dolphins.

That silence, that stirring in painful recollection…it’s unbearable.  

If we can prevent bullying then I’m all for it. In the meantime, we have some damage control to do. And all it takes is talking to someone. I don’t spend a lot of moments awake at night wishing I had punched some bully in the face while they were picking on someone. But I definitely spend some time regretting the fact that I didn’t give the victim 10 minutes of my time. It’s the one time some good could come out of my awkwardly bad jokes. 

Look, it’s not that hard to know if someone needs another human to talk to. And it’s surprisingly easy to be that human.

We’ve all made that lonely walk down the cafeteria, past the mustache-man at the vending machine, into the oddly placed phone booth (metaphorically speaking). It’s a shitty feeling. Don’t let other people feel it alone.

Jonny Auping

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