“You’re fat!” “You’re ugly!” “You’re stupid!” “You’re a (fill in the bad word).” Bullies say things like this all the time, day in and day out The seem to know when someone is hurting, and if no one seems to be hurting just now they go straight for anyone who is “strange:” different that the bully is, different than most of the other children, or even just different from the bullies. When bullies find someone that seems weaker than they are they go for that person, telling him or her that he is worthless, she is incompetent, that she is stupid or that he is as dumb as a rock. The word “dumb” itself was a bully-word from the beginning: originally, it just meant “unable to speak” or “unable to hear” and didn’t mean stupid.
But what are bullies really trying to say? That they don’t feel perfect. That they don’t know how to love an understand themselves. That they feel so badly about themselves and are so worried that they are bad, fat, stupid, dumb, or whatever that they can’t even bear to see anyone even a little like what they are afraid they are. It’s like they are sunburned all over: they can’t even wear their own kindness! Think of it: they are hurting so much inside, and have been hurting so very, very long that they can’t even make themselves feel better with anything.
So what bullies are really trying to say is: “I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I’m stupid, dumb and a hopeless failure. I’m afraid no one can love me because I’m so unlovable. I hate feeling this way but no one tells me how to fix it,
“And if I am not lovable, if I am worthless, then feeling like this hurts so much that I have to hurt others. Sometimes it makes me feel strong when I do that. Sometimes it makes me feel better for a little while. And sometimes I can hurt them before they hurt me.”
Sometimes, you want to be mean to other people. It doesn’t really matter why you do: you just want to be mean. But if you don’t know why you are being mean, if you don’t understand why you are hurting so much that you want to make someone else hurt, then it’s like you’re sleepwalking. If you do things when you’re sleepwalking like this, you can’t know how silly it looks.
You’re mad at yourself, but you don’t know, so you think you are mad at everyone else. You’re really feeling sad, or frightened, or lonely but, if you don’t know this, you can act stupidly and hit someone instead of asking for help. You can do something really dumb like breaking something or stealing something or doing something you shouldn’t. Why? Just because you feel bad and don’t know why!
This is silly, like digging a hole in the ground because you were told to sweep the porch, like messing up your room because you don’t want to feed the dog or forgetting your homework because you didn’t want to feel your feelings, understand them and get someone to help you. It’s silly when you don’t look at the real reasons why you do things and it’s silly to pretend that your feelings don’t exist. Sometimes, yes, it’s true that when you are angry you can work the anger out: chopping wood, vacuuming the stairs or pulling your bed apart so it can be washed. But if you forget your feelings while you are doing these things, then it’s silly because your feelings are the real problem, not the bed, the wood or anything else.
It’s particularly silly when you hurt someone else because you’re feeling sad or lonely or frightened: your fear or sadness or loneliness do not go away! In fact, they can all get worse because you’re been silly: you think that if you can do something else that you can make those feelings go away But that never works.
Sometimes someone will hurt you are call you names and this will make you feel bad. When you feel bad sometimes the first thing you want to do is to hurt him back or call him even worse names and even louder than he did. This can make you feel good for a little while: you can feel, like you are better than he is: you have called him double stupid and you hit him twice, so you’ve got to be better than he is! And you feel good about yourself for a little while: you’re better than he, so you get to feel good.
The problem is, though, that this kind of feeling good is a fake! Not only does he hit you back and call you even worse names, if your parents or teachers see the fight, you may both have to go to see the principal and do extra homework in detention. If you always hit someone back or call everyone names then your teachers might decide that you’re a bully and that you can’t go on the field trip because you’ll cause too much trouble. Or your parents might make you do extra chores or even take you to a doctor.
So: was that tiny bit of “good” feeling worth it? Sure, you felt good for a little while: you feel happier when you’re “better than” someone else. The only trouble with feeling “better than” is that the same way there is always someone “worse” than you are, the same way there is always someone “better” than you are: always.
And hitting each other back and forth is a stupid way of doing things. Yes, stupid! It doesn’t really make you feel good, it hurts someone else, it takes special things away from you sooner or later, and it was all just for this little, tiny feeling of “I’m better than.” It’s like moving a whole houseful of furniture just so you can get one jelly bean.
My second grade teacher once said: “If you have to stand on anyone else to feel good about yourself, you really feel pretty small.” If you have to make someone out to be worse than you to feel good about yourself you don’t really feel good at all.
If you have to cheat to win, you’ve already lost. You’ve not only lost because cheating on a test means that you have invalidated that test and it cannot be really counted as your success, you have also cheated yourself out of the learning you might have gotten if you had studied and paid attention.
Sometimes what you have to learn in school seems silly, that’s true. But really, You Never Know. You never know whether or not something about chemistry might save your life some time. If you spill acid on yourself and you don’t have any water or a cellphone to get to the Internet near you, you could remember from chemistry class that toothpaste, baking powder and antacid digestive tablets can all neutralize the acid. But if you cheated in that course, or thought there was no good in it, you could have a scar for like.
When you cheat to win, you are already convinced that you can’t win fairly! When you cheat to win you already feel that you need extra, that you need things pitched in your favor, because everybody else is better than you are. Do you want to live that way, really? Do you want to live always so sure that you have to do everything, anything, to make sure you come on top, because everyone is already better than you are?
This is a miserable way to live. You can never rest, you can never be happy, because you are always trying to make yourself feel better somehow, anyhow! But instead of finding out why you feel so small and weak, you try to make everyone else smaller and weaker than you are.