Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Do Bullies amount to nothing?

[This post was originally published at on 11th May 2012]
When news broke yesterday that Mitt Romney had alledgedly physically bullied another student while in high school, there were mixed reactions. We are all outraged when
Cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
we hear about bullying but, at the same time, there is a notion of teenage indiscretions and that a person without life experience can be a different person four decades later. That said, as Emily Bazelon noted, when a teenager or person of youth does something courageous, as George W. Bush did when sticking up for a bullied gay student, we do believe that this is a sign of better qualities.
As I contemplated it more, I began to think of this as a parent beyond any political implications or how this impacted on someone’s Presidential qualities. And, in doing so, I thought about my own high school experience. Like many (perhaps all) academically oriented students in high school, back in Australia I was bullied. It was something that I came to accept as a fact of high school existence (and I attended a high school not unlike that of Mitt Romney). My parents were aware of this and I recall us discussing it. In the end, what I recall, strongly, from that is a narrative: “just remember, they’ll amount to nothing.”
The basic idea is that bullies were exhibiting their own poor characteristics and it was not about those being bullied. And those characteristics were the sort of thing that will serve them poorly in later life. I imagined prison or destitution but, in reality, what I did not expect to see was broad success. I have taken this narrative and used it when similar things had occurred to my children as it is powerful and makes sense. (Of course, these days we have more responsive schools as well).
Mitt Romney’s now revealed teenagehood flies in the face of this narrative. He hasn’t amounted to nothing. Even prior to being selected as the Republican nominee for the
Governor Mitt Romney of MA
Governor Mitt Romney of MA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
most powerful position in the world, he was extremely successful both in wealth and experience. Mitt Romney had amounted to something.
Now one counter-example shouldn’t kill a fact (bullies don’t succeed) or, indeed, nullify a hypothesis. However, the narrative was never a fact. It was a theory. It made sense but my parents and many, many others did not know it to be true. So this big counter-example matters.
In thinking about this post, I came to recall how important that narrative was to me. I remember the names of those who bullied me and, to tell you the truth, I have delved into the Internet on occasion to see whether things had worked out for them. I have no evidence of strong success. But I also remember the names of those who chose to stand up to bullies (sometimes on my behalf) and I have looked into how things worked out for them and have found some positive outcomes. At some level, this is a life-long source of comfort.
It would be nice to just plough on and continue to use the “they’ll amount to nothing” narrative with my children into the future but right now I worry about whether we can do it. Should Romney become President I would worry even more. And I have no alternative to fill the gap. Perhaps, “it gets better” but is that enough.
So let me throw it open to others to maybe offer suggestions: if you, as a parent, couldn’t rely on “they’ll amount to nothing” when comforting a bullied child, what might you say?