Tuesday, August 01, 2006


You may know me a long time without realizing it, but in my heart I hate bullies. Not just hate, more like HATE. White hot, burning, supernova HATE. "Drench 'em with gasoline and toss 'em a lit match" hate.

Look, 98% or 99% of the population is generally decent, well behaved, and well inclined toward their neighbor. Toward that 98% or 99% I find it easy to feel good will, sympathy, and kindness. I have endless patience with basically well-intentioned people who are perturbed, or slow on the uptake, or just having a bad day. Most people in this world are easy to like, if you give them and yourself half a chance.

But then there's the 1% or 2% of the population who are inveterate bullies. Bullies. Small-souled, vindictive bastards who thrive on inflicting unkindness on others. Jerks who will go far out of their way to kick, and trample, and twist the knife. Monsters who know no way to build themselves up, except by hurting and inflicting pain and tearing others down.

You've known bullies. I've known bullies. And the origin of my hatred of bullies is not at all obscure. In the lower grades I had major difficulties with school bullies. It didn't help that I started school clueless and radically undersocialized. In the several years that it took me to come up to speed and get my act together, I went through hell with school bullies. And I came out of it with a blinding, burning, magnesium-flare hate of bullies. Or of anyone who walks, talks, and quacks like a bully.

Not all bullies are school bullies. You meet bullies in all walks of life. Bosses who lord it over their workers. Know-it-alls who live and breathe in an atmosphere of perpetual oneupmanship. Snobs who look down on anyone who isn't as "in the know" as they are. Drive-by hurters, wounders, slashers. By their fruits you shall know them.

Let me be frank: I have no human feelings toward bullies. I find myself emotionally incapable of feeling any human sympathy for bullies. The feelings I have for the decent 98% or 99% of humanity, are in the case of bullies covered over within me with emotional scar tissue. It's a good thing I fear God and the law, because otherwise I would feel strongly inclined to deal with bullies by going all Anakin on them.

In high school I had a gym teacher who was nothing more than a grown bully. He behaved exactly like the bullies in school, only he was one of the teachers. He was brutal, petty, sarcastic, mean, and he delighted in it. He gloated, he jeered, he exuded poor sportsmanship. He played up to the jocks. He played favorites shamelessly. Worse yet, he had the habit of singling out and relentlessly bullying the smallest and weakest kids in the class. I hated and despised him for all this.

A few years after I graduated from high school, I heard that this gym teacher had died of a heart attack. In his early 40s, with no warning and no prior history of health problems, he had suffered a sudden massive heart attack. They rushed him to the hospital, but he was DOA.

I'll be honest: when I heard this, I rejoiced and exulted with a pure and seraphic joy. I was glad he died! A wicked and evil man struck down, cut off from the face of the earth, cast down into the Pit in the prime of life! At age 20, I looked on this as the just judgment of a righteous God.

At age 50 I take a more nuanced view, but I'll be honest, to this day I find myself feeling a touch of joy, feeling that my gym teacher's untimely death was well deserved.

On some abstract level I can pull back from myself and attribute these feelings to the emotional scar tissue within me. On some "head" level, I can understand that bullies are driven by weakness and not by strength, by fear and not by secure self-possession. I can understand it, but nonetheless I cannot feel an iota of sympathy for my gym teacher, or for other bullies like him.

On some abstract level I realize that, in the web of cause and effect which shapes our life, the emptiness within the bullies I knew in grade school has led to an emptiness within my own soul, has led to scars which even after decades are not healed. On some "head" level I can understand that. But I cannot feel it. What I feel instead is the urge to pull out my light saber and use my anger as I slice and dice the evildoers limb from limb.

"Love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you": as regards the 98% or 99% of the population that's basically decent and well-intentioned, that's not easy, but I can sometimes more or less manage it. However, loving and praying for bullies... that's a great deal harder, one of the hardest tasks I've ever been called to undertake.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Paul, this article made me cry and I am not sure why.

It may be your heart and how you struggle with this and so have I. I do have to pray for my enemies and sometimes it is so hard to do. But if Jesus tells us to do this then I feel I must.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006 9:54:00 PM  
Blogger Leni said...

Followed over from Lucy's Island.

My husband's history with bullies plagues him to this day. Pushes buttons for him in a way nothing else in this world does. I think you've given me a peek at the reason why.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006 9:07:00 AM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

The worst bully I knew (it was in early grade school) died young, I heard about it while I was in high school.

In later years I made a distinction between hating bullies and envying them; I decided never to hate them on account of envying their strength; I wanted to be strong too!

Once, some "lesser" bullies went and punched out a kid because he had hit me. I was not considered "fair game" -- wrong strength class. Eventually that same kid became a friend of mine.

These things kept me from hating bullies venomously. The gym teachers were all okay, especially the last one, who got us all lifting weights.

There was just one, a math teacher, who I didn't stop hating (when I thought of him) for decades, till it finally just wore off. What helped me get over it was my learning four or five years ago that the goal of quantum chromodynamics is to account for all matter as consisting ultimately of the kinetic energy of constituents with zero rest mass. But that's a long story!

Thursday, August 03, 2006 8:32:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

"In later years" -- I mean in high school, when I was already getting bullied a lot less, but still felt envy of the strongest kids.

In the late 1990s I became friends at work with a woman, married with two sons. She had a teasing sense of humor and a warm heart. Occasionally she'd bring her two boys to work. Both, but especially the elder, had her teasing sense of humor but none of the warm-heartedness, and you could see it in the way they interacted with others' kids. The elder especially was just plain contemptuous. I finally tried to tell her outright that she had one, maybe two bullies, but she didn't want to believe it. She didn't get angry or hostile toward me, stayed instead as friendly as ever. But she just wasn't ready to accept it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006 8:41:00 PM  

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