My earliest memory of being bullied happened in the first grade, a sharp pain of being excluded and made fun of by my tender-aged quartet of best friends for reasons I could not at all understand.
It cut a wound that would come back again later in high school, years after that when I was betrayed by my best friend and even as a grown woman when my close group of friends banded together, gossiping about me for a relationship choice they disagreed with. They thought I didn’t know or notice. But I did. And it hurt.
I entered first grade early. Back then, you could take a test and if you passed, if you could read, you were able to start first grade as a five year old. Even though my reading skills were up to par, my social skills apparently were not; I didn’t understand the finer points of social cues. After the mean girls incident, another classmate that I didn’t know well, Jane Bulow, took pity on me. She was brave enough to show me kindness, because often that is what kindness in the face of bullies takes. Bravery. Jane Bulow really was her name, by the way. I think it is important that you know that.
Jane approached me on the playground as I cried in a corner probably making a fool of myself and blubbering all alone. I really tried to hide my pain. Jane asked me if I was okay. I lied and said, “Yes, I’m okay” and that I was only crying “because I had a sore lip”. Jane was not fooled. She knew exactly why I was there standing alone in the corner by the brick walls and knew how I was feeling. She told me that those girls were awful and I did nothing wrong and then asked if I would like to play with her on the swings.
I was immensely relieved as Jane threw me that life preserver. In hindsight, she was bookish, industrious and reflective. I was fun-loving, silly and playful. She seemed so much older than all the rest of us and not someone I would normally befriend. She was a child that some might identify as having an old soul.
It’s amazing though how an act of kindness will engender loyalty from the recipient of that kindness. It is powerful. I ended up developing a close friendship with Jane. I learned to appreciate her studiousness. She didn’t buy into the whole ruse of the importance of popularity. She saw right through those girls too and her kindness made me realize that humanity, consideration and sympathy were character traits that I wanted to embody. I wanted to be like her. She showed me a better way and I reflect on her kindness often with everlasting gratitude.
According to GreatSchools.org:
Without any education or support from adults, the vast majority of children will not take any action if they are bystanders to the act of bullying. “The proportion of children who will spontaneously intervene is about one in five,” says Ken Rigby, adjunct professor of education at the University of South Australia and the author of many books on bullying. “Children on the whole feel bullying is wrong and unfair, and most want to intervene, but there are all sorts of reasons why they don’t.”
The first step in empowering bystanders to act is to help them see that their peers also feel bullying is wrong. “Once they recognize that many of their friends want them to intervene, they are more likely to,” says Rigby. Another imperative in the fight against bullying is to teach children that intervening can make a positive difference. Indeed, if fellow students will intervene, it can reduce bullying more effectively than anything. “Most bullies bully because they want to impress people and they like an audience. So if the audience is booing instead of clapping, they realize they’re losing their audience,” says Rigby.
In an age when bullying can lead to far more serious consequences than hurt feelings — like Columbine High School, many adults are starting to take notice. But not nearly enough. The long-term effects from bullying are grim and the societal negative consequences are staggering. But even schoolyard bullying hurts, gossip hurts, being excluded hurts, no matter what your age. Read more about anti-bullying programs here.
Looking back, I came up with a hundred or so things I could have done in that situation, but as a young child, I was paralyzed. Ultimately, it is so hard to stand up to bullies and it takes bravery, the kind of courage that sometimes can only come from an old soul, from a child who shows more wisdom than the adults that surround her.
Childhood friends come and go. What happened to my dear friend Jane? That summer, she was riding her horse when a disturbed hornet stung it. The horse bucked, as they do sometimes in such situations, and threw Jane off. In an age before we routinely wore helmets, she hit her head on a rock and was killed instantly.
My mom took me to her funeral. Jane’s mom pulled us aside and confided that her husband went right out into the field and shot and killed the horse. I was mortified. The horse. A tragedy all the way around. When we got back to our car in the parking lot of the funeral home my mom put her head in her hands and sobbed. I found myself comforting her. I asked her why she was so sad. I felt like she had no right to be more upset than me. Jane was my friend. She didn’t even know Jane. I should be the one sobbing in my hands. And my mom finally explained why she was crying and of course, it was something I could never understand until I had children of my own. Losing a child is a tragedy so profound that no one can really begin to comprehend unless they have a child. And even then… Mom didn’t say this to me in a condescending way. It was in a loving way, and that was how she, in that moment, and in many thousands of moments since, showed her unconditional love and kindness to me. My mother is an old soul, too.
For my whole life, I have always stood up for and rooted for the underdog, especially in sports. Any time I have seen some injustice happening, I have stepped in, even sometimes at my own peril. When my own children were beset by an occasional bully I immediately inserted myself into the situation, even at the risk of them being angry with me.
And as for Jane, I think of her often.
#janebulowlives #kindness #stopbullying #oldsouls
This story is in response to the “Give and Take in Real Life” writing prompt.