Bluefield Daily Telegraph
My sister and I walked to the bus stop on Wayne Street for my first day in first grade. I was wearing a brand new pair of dungarees with the pant legs rolled up one turn so I could grow into them. I rolled up the sleeves of my shirt too so it would match my pants. Everything about me seemed fresh and crisp. I was actually excited to go to school when Peggy and I got up to the school bus stop in front of Halden and Sarah Ramage’s house.
There was a group of kids — old and young — waiting for the bus. I knew a few of them, but I didn’t know the older kids. It seemed like only a few minutes passed before some of the bigger kids started teasing my sister about her weight. I had never thought about her weight before. Peggy was always good and kind to me — helping me through the challenges of growing up. Peggy was way smarter than me. She was a good student and had exactly the same shade of red hair that I have.
I had never heard teasing before. Since Peggy had always been my protector, I decided it was my turn to protect her. I ran into the crowd of big boys with my arms flailing like a windmill and tried to make them stop. They pushed me away and continued their taunts, so I came back at them again. This time it worked. They quit picking on Peggy and started picking on me. The bus came a few minutes later, and the little ruckus ended. The only thing I remember about it was that my new shirt was stretched out of shape and I scuffed my pants in the gravel.
I have always taken a very introspective approach to almost everything in life. I think that people recognize the still-water-runs-deep part of my make-up, and as a result, I didn’t get bullied much in school. People have tried to intimidate me, but I found that intimidation didn’t seem to bother me much. I’m not fearless, but I’m also not confrontational. I resist prodding, but I tend to flow around, under or through obstacles rather than try to use force against force.
It broke my heart when I found out that my youngest daughter, Coleen, was going through the kind of peer pressure that I had experienced at the bus stop. Kids seem to seek out anything that gets under someone else’s skin, and carry it out to the ultimate end. As a parent, I got angry at myself because I couldn’t confront the demons that haunted my daughter. A few years later when I got to know my older daughter better, I got angry at myself all over again when I learned that my older daughter, Adrienne, mentally excused me for not being there for her when she needed me most, giving me a pretty far-fetched excuse for not being there. It still makes me sad.
Somehow, Peggy, Coleen and Adrienne made it through the horrors of growing up to become independent and strong women. None of that was because of anything I did. Everything was all because of what they did. Peggy stuck her fist in the air and fought cancer with all of her might for a decade at a time when most cancer diagnosis didn’t lead to 10 years of life. Coleen and Adrienne are both children of divorce, but they are both self-reliant, stable individuals who love their families with all of their hearts.
This wasn’t an easy column to write. I work hard at being the best person I can be now, but I have mellowed with age. I sometimes cringe when I think about the person I was, but I was never a bully. That episode with my sister on my very first day of first grade cured me of that.
There is a lot more in the press these days about bullying than there has ever been before, but I don’t think that’s because bullying is more prevalent today than it was when I was young. Bullies tend to run in packs, and the animal dynamic in man that mirrors pack behavior in wolves or feral dogs can be pretty compelling. But all individuals who know themselves are capable of defending themselves without flailing their arms in a blind rage like I did that morning at the bus stop.
When I reacted that way, the bullies won that day. When someone gives up by seeking escape through alcohol, drugs or worse, the bullies have won. The thing that beats a bully is refusing to let anyone have power over what you know to be right and what you know to be wrong. A boulder is stronger than water, but in time, water can erode away the base that the boulder sits on, and wash it away.
There’s no crime in being different. We’re all different. Even twins are different, although their DNA may say otherwise. Once you discover how special you are, you can become like that tree that’s planted by the water and draw strength from the moist soil and the warmth of the sun.
In electronics, the Greek letter Omega indicates resistance. In that context, resistance is applied to the flow of electrons. When I learned what that meant, it gave me a greater understanding of how to approach people who seek to make me behave differently than I want to behave. As I grew older, I learned how to resist. It was an important step for me.
Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org