Today I saw a post on the blog of my good friend, schoolmate and best selling author David about how and why there was no bullying in our own elementary-to-high school in Darjeeling:
I want to set the record straight from my first hand experience. But let me first say that David is an extraordinarily amiable and popular person so that's why he was neither the bully nor the victim. He also sees the bright side of everything and bullying often occurs covertly so he could miss seeing it. Finally he was two years behind me in school so his cohort may have had very different experiences, though somehow I doubt it.
Through my six years in this school I saw plenty of bullying. For me personally it worsened from the sixth grade till the tenth and then plateaued almost till I graduated. Segregating the students into three "divisions" as David mentions (the "primary", "lower" and "upper" divisions) doesn't really help much because bullying also occurs among peers. Plus, a 9th grader can still be targeted by an 11th grader, or a 6th grader by an 8th grader, and so on. Most US schools as well as those in other places are split completely into elementary, middle and high schools that mirror the divisions we had within our school. That hasn't stopped bullying here.
The boys in our school closely followed an "honor" code against "sneaking" and social ostracism followed for anyone breaking it. "Sneaking" (akin to snitching) meant reporting to the authorities (teachers or our "father" priests) anything improper done by a fellow student, whether it was breaking rules, or harming another student, including by bullying. I now see press coverage of a similar taboo against reporting anything to the police among large swathes of the US African American community, which exacerbates black on black crimes.
Anyway, this anti-"sneaking" code made it very easy for bullies to thrive without detection by our well-intentioned authorities. I was a good target because I was (a) thin and nerdy, so not good at defending myself, (b) tall, so a bully did not seem to be picking on someone smaller, and (c) neither very submissive, nor pleasant like David. The "headboys" or "prefects" had no punitive role. They'd at most stop something happening under their noses so bullies simply operated elsewhere.
Bullies came in various shades and stripes. In my 10th class a particular classmate came almost every day to step on my toes and grind his heels into them, daring me to retaliate. He also took pleasure in bending my fingers back from the knuckles till they were injured enough to make it hard for me to write - for days. Others sometimes noticed what was happening but didn't want to get involved since he was a "tough" guy. The couple of times I tried to fight back ended in disaster (picture the comic character Sad Sack getting pounded by the Sarge.)
Two years after high school I finally hit my post-pubertic stride, gained 50lbs and became a "big ape" in classmate (now wife) Anita's words. (Why didn't that happen 4 years earlier?) But my past experiences affected my attitude to this day. As a college upper-classman I opposed the then-brutal practice of physical "ragging" or "hazing" of incoming freshmen. In my days as a law enforcer in the IAS I had the local "gundas" or tough guys booked or "processed" by the police with an intensity that surprised those around me. I saw them as extensions of our own school bullies. I'm still apt to look for bullying behavior and counter it if I can.
I recounted my experiences to a couple of ex-schoolmates recently and half-jokingly referred to my school tormentor of yore as "Biff" from "Back To The Future." Happily though, when this person and I re-established contact some years ago, my notions of getting even with him vanished (slowly!) and we maintain friendly contact.
We NorthPointers have a wonderful school that we're very proud and happy to be part of. I have a lasting bond with it and fellow alumni. But bullying is widespread and no place is immune from it. It can occur close to us without our being aware of it. And here I haven't even talked of bullying through mental abuse (like in "Mean Girls") that is even more pervasive. All of us should be looking out for it and preventing it (yes, including the current authorities at our school.)