April 12, 2010 by Rhi
Facebook is an interesting tool. Since I joined, it’s provided me with many useful links to people with whom I might otherwise have lost contact with. And has put me back in touch with those with whom I had not seen hide nor hair of since time immemorial. As someone who has never excelled at returning phone calls or emails, I’ve been grateful for the chance to keep up to date with people’s lives, even when I am no longer a daily part of them.
However, an incident this week has left me questioning whether everyone has the same aim when it comes to getting back in contact with those with whom they spent their formative years.
My time at school was, by and large, unhappy. I was immensely uncool, growing up as I did in an area where geeks made up for the lack of ducks and other wildlife to take shots at. I was routinely bullied, owing to my family’s lack of money, and therefore my own lack of any sense of style or fashion. And you know what? It didn’t kill me. Since growing up (and working with kids) I’ve come to realise that bullying isn’t always the social ill that many parents today think that it is.
Let me qualify that by stressing that I don’t think bullying is acceptable, by any means. And not all bullying is harmless. When an action by one person results in another person being so distraught that they are forced to take their own life, that is taking things too far. The sad fact is, however, is that those who are bullied are often those who are least well equipped to deal with the experience. I was lucky. Whilst there were times when I would rather have walked barefoot down the M8 motorway rather than face my tormenters, I was lucky enough to have friends, and a belief in myself which meant I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. And here I am today, happy in myself, and holding no ill will against those who tormented me. Because I know that they didn’t bear me any ill will. It’s just one of those things that children do whilst finding their way in the world. It doesn’t make it right, or acceptable, but one of the things which I always stress to any young people of my accquaintance who are going through the same thing, is that it doesn’t go on forever, and that they have the ability to fight against it. It’s only bullying if you let it bother you.
Many of those who partook in “picking on” me (as our local vernacular so tweely put it) are friends on Facebook. And, lo and behold, they have all turned out to be perfectly normal people. Married, kids, jobs, the usual. None have actually said “yeah, about that time we all laughed about your odd socks in biology… sorry,” but that’s OK by me. Because I know that if I had added them in the hope of having some kind of apology, or to gain some kind of closure by checking out if their lives are shit compared to mind, I would have been sorely disappointed. Anecdotal evidence from friends has shown me that often, the events which are so burned into our own mind as being seminal moments of abject embarrassment and isolation, barely register in the memory of the perpetrators.
A friend told me earlier this week about someone she knew who was badly bullied at school, and who attended the school reunion with the sole intention of facing up to her tormentor. When she approached the girl to have her revenge , she was gutted to discover that the bully had no recollection of her, let alone with the misery that she had inflicted. The only positive thing was the fact that the bully spent most of the evening on her own, apparently unaware of the impression she had left on her former classmates.
And so to the catalyst of these thoughts. In the last few days, I have been drawn into a Facebook “discussion” with a former schoolmate, which began with her posting an ill-formed bitchy comment on one of my old photographs and ended with her making extremely personal attacks on me through private messaging. I do remember this classmate – she was a very timid and mousy girl, with whom I and another friend (who was also drawn into this, as the other person the comments could have been directed at) had attempted to make friends with. She was a natural target for bullies, but despite our best efforts to provide her with protection, she responded by turning on my friend.
The ensuing battle is nothing new from her (as I said, she had a history of turning nasty on people very suddenly – probably from the fact that she had a very unhappy childhood), but the reason she made the comments seems to be pretty clear. She obviously wanted to prove something to those of us whom she recalled from school days, and perhaps in her mind ought to “read it an weep huni” as she herself said. She cited certain aspects of her life, which she saw as achievements (and indeed which are achievements – marriage, children, and degrees are things to be proud of… I’ve done two of the three myself) and suggested that this proved she was doing pretty well for herself, obviously more than we were. Which left me baffled. I’d never done anything wrong to her, so what did she feel she had to prove?
Compared to many of my contemporaries, I feel I’ve done pretty well for myself. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved in my life… proud even. I’m not earning a fortune, but I’ve seen and done things which many I went to school with haven’t. But, if you’re happy with your own existence, you’re unlikely to be awestruck with the situation of others. One of my schoolfriends is a West End musical actor, and has worked hard to get there. I’m proud to know him, but I wouldn’t swap places with him for the world. Not least of all because, having just done a week in an all-singing, all-dancing amateur Variety Show, I don’t think my body could handle it!
If you’re truly happy with your own lot in life, then you shouldn’t feel the need to prove yourself to people from your past. Like the bully in my friend’s story, they are unlikely to care what you’re doing. And all you’re likely to end up getting is a feeling of disappointment when those whom you’ve dreamt of getting one over on respond to your news with a shrug of the cybershoulders and a FB comment saying “So?”
Far better, then, to concentrate on your own future and happiness, and do things because YOU want to do them… not because you think others will be impressed. Life is too short to waste it worrying about those people from 12 years ago whom you think have slighted you. And attempts to prove how much better you are than others (rather than how much you’ve achieved in the face of adversity in your own life) will only result in them marking you down as someone to avoid at all costs.