The politics of elementary school and junior high school were revealed to me by my ex-wife a short while back. Seems as if my oldest is having trouble with bullies and my youngest has a tendency to be attracted to those kids. I explained the rules to both of them. You never start a fight. You never go meet someone for a fight. You should do your best to finish a fight if one occurs. Pretty simple.
Well, shortly after this I stumbled upon this article by Holly Lisle and I really like what she had to say on the subject. I’ve had my own share of experiences with bullies, and I could relate my tales here, but I think she says it all with her Playground Rules. I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting her rules list here. You can see her whole post by clicking on this link.
Playground Rules by Holly Lisle
There are some people who are simply assholes, and no matter what you do, all they want is to draw blood. You cannot make friends with piranhas, nor do you want to try.
The first people you meet are the piranhas, because they are looking for fresh meat, while the decent kids see the assholes circling you and hang back out of fear. In a new situation, the people closest to you are probably the ones looking for weakness.
Negotiation is futile with playground piranhas. They get nothing out of making peace. They want your pain, and only your pain will satisfy them.
Piranhas cannot be ignored. I pity kids whose idiot mothers tell them to “just ignore the bullies, dear — they’ll go away.” No, they won’t. They’ll nibble away at you a piece at a time until you bleed to death.
Playground piranhas can be joined. But only if you want to be as big an asshole as they are. I never wanted that, and never chose that path.
Playground piranhas can be beaten. But it ain’t fun. If you do not want to spend the rest of the school year dealing with these bastards, your options are limited. To one. You have to make such a horrific example of the first shitwad to take a bite out of you that the rest flee in terror. This means:
You commit to hurting. The playground piranha derives his power from fear as much as from combat — but first he had to derive it from combat. He is going to hurt you. You have to face that, you have to accept it.
Having committed to fighting, you cannot then cut and run. Once you’ve realized that you’re going to have to fight your way out of this mess, you have to be in it for the long haul. If you quit at any point, you only set the scale for the next beating you get. It will start where the last one left off, because the piranha knows that he has to commit that much effort to your pain to keep you in line. And he has to keep you in line to keep the rest of his victims in line. If anyone breaks free from his tyranny, everyone will see that it can be done, and the trickle will become a rout.
You commit to hurting back. Having accepted that fact that you are going to get hurt, your objective is to hurt the piranha worse than he hurts you. You cannot be squeamish. You have to intend to draw blood, leave bruises and teethmarks. You’re probably not fond of fighting, but too bad. You do this, or you live in hell. This is what you do to buy a year of peace and quiet, and an umbrella. (More on the umbrella later.)
To hell with fighting fair. Your only objective is to win — big and loud. Screw the Marquis of Queensbury. You want to make sure that not just the bully, but the bully’s friends, have proof that if their hands stray within three feet of you in any direction they’re going to lose fingers. Do everything you have to do to hurt the bastard, and then throw in a couple of flourishes to scare the piss out of his friends. They have to know that the consequences of screwing with you are so dire that they never even consider it again — because if they doubt, they will test. And the next time they test, they’ll come better prepared.
Make allies. Watch each others backs. If you made a big and loud enough example of the first bastard, you’ll win not just peace and quiet for yourself, but for people who can legitimately claim to be your friends. This is your umbrella. After all, friends watch out for each other, and if anyone messes with your friends, they’re messing with you. Right? Right. Gather in the nice kids you wanted to be friends with all along, watch out for them, let them watch out for you.
Never mistake your friends for your enemies. Your friends are the kids who will fight to protect you. Period. If they won’t put themselves on the line for you the way you will for them, they aren’t your friends. Your enemies are the ones who will stand there making excuses for the kid who is trying to beat you up, or for why they aren’t stepping in to help you, or who will cravenly stand there and kick you once you’ve fallen to prove to the bully that they were really on his side all along. Never abandon your friends, and never turn your back on your enemies.
I think Holly hit the nail squarely on the head with this and I wish that I had written that list. I can’t find anything in it that I disagree with. As I get older I realize that the rules for dealing with bullies apply throughout your life. Of course, in order to avoid jail time, you have to have a more subtle approach than fisticuffs.
Bullies are the same whatever arena you encounter them in. If you let them push you around or walk all over you, they’ll take advantage of it, and it will never get better. It will only get worse. Take charge of your life and don’t allow anyone to stand in the way of your dreams.