That really was her name. As if that wasnâ€™t enough, Tammy was gangly and awkward and kind of funny looking. She had no friends. If you sat beside her you wouldnâ€™t have any friends either. You knew that in that dangerous and delicately balanced pre-adolescent universe, to befriend Tammy Fudge would have constituted social suicide.
A boy put gum in Tammyâ€™s hair and the teacher had to tease it out with an ice cube. I was haunted by the quiet shame in her face as the teacher worked through tammyâ€™s hair with the ice cube and the comb. After school, I found her phone number and called her up. I said I was sorry that had happened, with the gum and all. I donâ€™t remember her reply. It wasnâ€™t like I wanted to be her friend â€“ my own social position was tenuous enough. I just needed to call her, and I am surprised i had the courage to do even that.
But i didnâ€™t rise to defend every class pariah. There were many more; probably always at least one. I watched Carrie Lewellyn walk past our house on her way home from school, followed by a pack of boys like dogs taunting her and pulling at her clothes to try to get a glimpse of her budding breasts. I didnâ€™t help her then, and there were many other times I stood by mutely, or even covertly joined in the shunning.
And then I did my own time as the Untouchable, in my sixth-grade year of personal hell. Back in the no-less-bad old days before there was Facebook, but there was graffiti on bathroom walls and notes slipped into lockers, spitballs and names called again and again, day after day after endless repetitive day. I survived every day for a full year, burning with silent rage. I vividly remember the last day of school, my last day of elementary school, walking alone out the door into the empty concrete yard. the smell of dust. I spat against that brown brick wall and turned away, walking out into a much bigger world. I was lucky. I survived.
When we move past the schoolyard the rules of civility become more proscribed, but if anything we become even more fearful of losing our social identification. We grow up, and it is no longer alright to stuff our enemy into a locker or call her a slut. But we will still do what we need to do, to prop up our battered egos and get a little ahead. we cheat. we mock co-workers behind their backs. We pull rank, pick favourites, abuse authority, criticize and belittle. We choose mates from among the most attractive and fertile, we hang out with the in-crowd, we bypass the freaks. We raise our own children in sarcasm and competition and fear, and we teach them that they might need to step on a few heads to work their way up the ladder. We teach them who is of the tribe, and who is not.
To bully is to take refuge in tribalism. It is an ancient impulse toward security and survival, as old as DNA and not confined to the human species. It depends on identifying the Other, so that we can prop up our fragile egos by being at least better than That â€“ and the lower our own self-esteem or the greater our internalized oppression, the more despicable and disposable That becomes. The Other is the one with the the bad hair, the speech impediment, the funny clothes, the foreign smell. The bad reputation. The Other is different and so, less human. The Other is the enemy, whom it is permissable or even necessary to torment or kill. This is how soldiers are trained. This is how war happens.
Check it: we have all been each otherâ€™s mothers and children, our molecules endlessly recycled by the sun. We have all been predators and we have all been prey.
But we are alive now, at a unique time in the evolution of human consciousness. The fact that after all these millenia we are recognizing and discussing this deep pattern means that we have evolved fantastically, and are progressing at a truly amazing rate. All living beings will kill to defend their blood, but no other living being is capable of this kind of reflection. When we start to see past the boundaries of our own bodies, our families, our tribes, our species â€“ anything is possible, even peace.
<<for Amanda Todd>>