Tackling bullying and knowing the value of difference

When I was 11, I started high school. I had attended a primary school with about 30 kids. It was all a little hippie trippy and mostly kids were civil to one another. High school was very, very different. From pretty much my first day, I was told by almost every kid – even those in higher year levels – that I was either one of or a combination of the following:  weird, swotty, crazy, stupid, ugly, fugly, teacher’s pet, four eyes. I started to feel excluded from the first time in my life. It continued throughout high school. By the time I left school, I thought different was a bad thing and that being like the crowd was best. I hated myself for being unable to fit in with others. All the insults, violent acts and  humiliation took it’s toll. I spent the next 10 or 15 years denying my unique qualities and  doing everything I could to be what I thought was ‘normal.’

Fast forward 25 years. I am now a proud Autistic woman. I value my ‘difference’ and the ‘difference’ in others. People who tell me I could ‘pass for normal’ – and yes, some people actually are stupid enough to say that to an Autism self-advocate – do not get off lightly. I like my difference from whatever the arbitrary ‘norm’ might be. And I recognise that a lot of the innovation and breakthroughs in our world – in things like science, medicine, literature, art, mathematics and so forth, are devised or driven by people who probably had a similar experience to me at school.

The thing that makes me sad is that people who are intelligent or quirky often suffer at the hands of bullies and thugs in high school and sometimes even in the workplace as adults. I know what kind of a toll that takes on young people’s self esteem and confidence. I have overcome my negative self-image and realised that school bullies’ view of me were probably somewhat biased and didn’t reflect the reality that I was a beautiful, creative, intelligent, sensitive young woman. However, how many people are out there who have had their spark squashed by abuse? How many people are no longer with us because they simply could’t take the struggle any more? How many people who have something amazing to contribute to the world don;t do it because they’re afraid it will be ridiculed?

When I was a child, there was a rhyme which was popular with primary school teachers: ‘Sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you.’ Apologies to my teachers, but that is utter crap.  We need to send a message that bullying is never OK and that difference is a wonderful and valuable thing. I know things are improving – albeit in a rather incremental manner – but kids at school need to be encouraged and empowered to value their difference and their peers taught that there is no ‘norm’ – people are not weird, but should be valued for their own perspective and understanding.

When I speak to young people on the Autism spectrum who are having a difficult time at school, I often tell them ‘It will be OK. I wasn’t popular in school. Most of the really cool adults weren’t popular at school.’ It would be nice to bypass this step and just have kids on the spectrum built up and empowered when they are at school rather than having to wait until they’ve worked  through years of trauma

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3 thoughts on “Tackling bullying and knowing the value of difference

  1. You know, if I sit and think of the Keight I was back at school, I sort of cry. I rarely cry, so while my soul might be screaming with sadness, I get no external facial expression of it. Anyway, the young Jeanettes and Keights of the world eat at the very core of my being. No one should be treated the way we were treated, simply for being us.

    I have sought to make the world better for my boys. I’m not sure I have made any change at all. My eldest turned 14 today, and he began his morning with the sparkle gone from his eyes. I vowed I would help him keep his sparkle. Society is bigger and more powerful than me. Goliath won this battle.

    After reading this, and saying good night to my dull eyed young man, I am crying that bit more inside. I just don’t know what to do anymore.

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  2. This makes me very sad. I always hewed things were better than when we were kids but sometimes I just think they are different but also very bad for divergent kids. It upsets me. I am puzzled by it. When I see someone who is vulnerable I want to help them, not hurt them. I think bullying could be our biggest battle to face. But sadly I’m not sure how to do this either. I am sorry for you and your son and everyone else who has to deal with these things. Blaming the victim happens a lot ‘your daughter wouldn’t be bullied if she just got some more resilience…’ that sort of thing. when I was a kid it was ‘oh but it’s character building’ and ‘you will look back on your school days with fondness..’ Answer: It didn’t; and I don’t!

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    1. Funnily, it isn’t the overt, active bullying that hurts more. It is the middle-class, turn a blind eye, “…but we’re such caring, considerate folk” sort of passive bullying that destroys (me) more. I grew up with a domineering, nasty step father. He was a known quantity. He was horrid to me, but he was up front about who he was.

      The people who sprout off about not being racist, all inclusive, highly tolerant souls yet buffer my existence at wvery turn are the silent daggers to my psyche. My son feels that too. It is the expectations of fitting in, having the same values, reaching for the American dream that bothers the most, and the price we pay for choosing to not hold these things dear.

      We are not just black sheep of our family and society; we are the rainbow fleeced. And I’m sure you have glitter in your fleece, Ms JP.

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