Lie To Me

Kids aren’t stupid. They know we’re being deceptive about bullying. They see how pervasive it is. They feel offended by the pretense and abandoned by the denial, especially those who endure the ridicule of a relative using words as weapons. I know I did.

Fortunately, my mom taught me to prevail by helping me deflect criticism with an equanimity that best prepared me for the external world.

Still, like all kids, I felt an instinctive need to protect my mom – so she never knew my kindergarten teacher was a bully.

I’d been enrolled at Helmer school, a brown brick building in the public education system that flew a coveted green Safety flag above the Stars and Stripes, raised together each morning to wave as symbols of pride over the tar-top playground.

The Safety flag sported a white silhouette of a stick-figure child. It was presented to the school holding the student record for the longest accident-free period in the district. Helmer flew the flag for thirteen consecutive years before I began kindergarten in 1951. But since I’d been hit by a car while chasing an irresistible red ball five weeks earlier, the flag went to its cross-town rival, Cascades Elementary.

As retribution for my misfortune I was shamed daily by my teacher, Miss Beech, who announced my folly on the first day of class, separating me from the circles of instruction, insisting I move my rest period rug to a solitary area, making me take my milk and cookies break alone, and relegating me to a chair in the corner during art activities, thereby branding me as a bad apple.

“I wish you died,” one classmate whispered to me daily during recess. Eventually she stopped and probably forgot. But I never have.

Except for my time at Helmer, I remember all my grade school teachers fondly – primarily because by third grade our family moved across town to the school district where I automatically became the kid responsible for Cascades being awarded the Safety flag.

That still makes me smile.

But by then I’d already learned that self-confidence and resiliency was the best defense against bullies.

So when my Girl Scout troop leader fostered intimidation by flagrantly favoring girls whose parents were members of the Country Club, I resigned and sent a letter of complaint to the Council. It wasn’t acknowledged or acted upon, but the mere writing of it served to strengthen my backbone and cement my resolve.

It wasn’t until junior high that cliques began forming based on beauty between girls and sports between boys. While holding daily court in the cafeteria at lunchtime, some of them entertained by taunting outcasts within earshot.

One gym teacher enjoying camaraderie with parents of the miscreants showed her allegiance by embarrassing students targeted by the cliques. In addition to assigning them extra laps, she openly scorned their abilities and detained them for fabricated infarctions. The first day she aimed her mockery at me I left class and never returned.

Years later, on the afternoon I was to graduate as the student with the most scholastic medals pinned to her robe, my class counselor called me in for a conference.

“Your records indicate you failed gym for six years running,” he said.

“I didn’t fail. I didn’t go.”

“Then you can’t graduate until you do.”

“So, I’ll be going to summer school for swimming and softball?”

I graduated. He changed my records from ‘E’s’ to a ‘D’s’ in order to make that possible (inadvertently raising my overall grade point average).

Bullying wasn’t as effective in senior high school due to the size of the campus and increased student population. Instead, a parents place in the hierarchy of city society coerced choices for cheerleading, club leadership, school government, and homecoming participation. And while the number of menacing teachers was fewer, they remained a presence.

When a homeroom chum became pregnant and was expelled (because that’s how unwed motherhood was handled in the 60’s), my English teacher forbade us all from speaking to her. Nevertheless, upon spotting her clearing out her locker I walked over to say good-bye.

Someone tattled. It resulted in my receiving a ‘D’ in English. At the same time, I earned an ‘A’ in journalism and was nominated for editor of the school newspaper by the principal and selected, unanimously, by the school board.

I’m convinced that school bullies go on to become business bullies.

I recall an art department head that bullied employees by declaring his completion of a single college psychology course qualified him to assail their incompetence, and a merchandising manager who blamed his mistakes on clerks to the point of him falsifying production documents, and the head of a security firm who phoned and goaded employees on vacation, demanding they respond to nonexistent problems.

The list is long because the fact is – anytime you feel compelled to think, speak, or act in a manner not of your choosing – you’re being bullied.

Since 1976, I’ve earned my living as an entrepreneur, writer and designer. I’d like to say it makes me bullied-free. Alas, that’s impossible for anyone to truthfully claim.

Between friends, relatives, colleagues, employers, government agencies, consumer services, business organizations, clubs, neighborhood associations, naysayers, politicians, reporters, social media, talking heads, telemarketers, contractors, zealots, line jumpers, road rage and the rest, we all witness our share of bullying, daily.

So, maybe we should stop telling kids that bullies are a schoolroom problem graduation solves, or law enforcement can control, or Congress can legislate against.

Perhaps it’s time we begin addressing the very fabric of our society that suffers bullying as a way of life we indulge in and enable as an expedient means to tentative survival.

Only then can we stand up as a nation and demand that bullies (of all ages, in all areas, at all levels) stand down.

Because tormentors can’t be conquered by timidity.

It takes courage.

It demands virtue.

It requires an ethical resolve by us all.

# # # #

Copyright Marguerite Quantaine © 2013

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39 thoughts on “Lie To Me

  1. Shawn Cady

    Does it get better? Good question. It depends on the person. For me, YES!!! It get’s better. You learn that what others think just doesn’t matter. I have always been a strong person, and had some great friends growing up. I wasn’t popular, but I wasn’t hated. I was in the middle somewhere. Does life get better? It does if you work at it. Nothing is handed to you. Even the rich and pretty have their problems. A key factor is forgiveness. You must learn to forgive others, but most importantly, you must learn how to forgive yourself, love yourself and learn and grow from your mistakes. No one said life would be easy. But life is such a gift. Look around at the sunsets, sunrises, children laughing, a cat purring, the rain, the sun, a mountain . . . all gifts. So, I guess my round about answer is: Life is what you make it. You can have a wonderful life or live in self pity and fear.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      You’re certainly correct, Shawn, it can get better for individuals –
      but only for those who recognize this is a problem that can’t be fixed by anyone for anyone other than self for self. We need to teach children how to deal with it rather than imply it will end.

      Reply
  2. Linda Bale

    Some great thoughts you have Magpie. Your mother was wise and prepared you well. The most scary adult bully I know of is the one on the right side of the law and carries a gun. May all of society learn to stand up for ourselves collectively. Good on you

    Reply
  3. Kieran York

    Marguerite, what a great message. It is so moving, and such a strong statement for kindness to one another. I enjoyed this blog and it was on such an important message. If spirit-taming is the bully’s objective. The ‘bullies’ in your life, thankfully, haven’t won. Great!

    Reply
  4. Mary Anne Frett

    I still feel the effects of the bullying I suffered in grade school. It is part of my makeup. I may try to ignore the fact that I’m inordinately fearful of strangers and am fearful of those in positions of authority but the fears are there. I often wonder if those that bullied me ever had to console a child or a grandchild of theirs who was being bullied; if they ever recognized the harm they caused?
    Thanks for the thoughtful piece.

    Reply
  5. margueritequantaine Post author

    You’re not alone Mary. Most people who were bullied as children carry emotional scars that taint their lives evermore. I think it’s why this discussion must be shared, so that the truth steps forward and real progress can be made. Thank you for revealing your angst, I wish all your bullies a lifetime menu of knuckle sandwiches.

    Reply
  6. Michele

    I was bullied in grade school 1st grade as a matter of fact. Every day 3 girls would beat me to the ground. My parents contacted the school to discuss letting me out of class a bit early so I would not run into these bullies. It came to pass my father began teaching me a few boxing moves. Not that my parents ever encourage any kind violence, they felt it was time to defend myself.
    My parents also made arrangements for me to be accompanied with an older girl who lived a few house away. This older girl would always walk ahead of me as to make the bullies think I was alone. The bullies didn’t fall to keep the daily appointment. This time my protector as I referred to her, held two of the girls and well I won the match this time with my tiny self. The bulling stop and it came to pass that the bullies and I became good friends.
    I was teased throughout school, because of my size “short”!  Instead of letting the teasing tear out my insides, I learn to laugh along with the teasers and became a clown. I then became very popular thou out the rest of my school days and would do it all over again.
    My point of telling this story, I think we need to look deep inside ourselves to find ways of coping at very young ages. Environment, at home does play a factor. I was fortunately lucky enough to find that strength.
    I have a enormous amount of empathy for those who still carry the scars of bulling. I must admit I have “no” words of wisdom for those who still carry scars from being BULLIED. Except to say it is part of your past so try and lift your leg out of the past and bring it into the Now!

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      Thank you Michele. Yours is EXACTLY the kind of conversation I was hoping for in an effort to get adults to acknowledge that bullying can never end unless we admit it’s ever present in society. And I agree with you and applaud you parents. The lessons must focus on resolutions, if not with words then with actions.

      Reply
  7. Jen D.

    I don’t think it gets better; it just morphs into a different kind of bullying, only it’s worse when we become adults who can recognize that feeling, when we know we’re being bullied, and still feel just as powerless as we did when we were bullied as children. If we weren’t taught how to handle with it then, I’m not sure we can ever learn how to later on. Hopefully, I’m wrong – and if I am, please point me to where I might learn ways to rectify that, other than speaking my mind and getting more abuse for the effort.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I think you’re right, Jen. The key is to teach kids how to handle it so that when they grow up they don’t fear confrontation or embrace avoidance or succumb to intimidation or resent their parents for lies of omission.

      Reply
      1. Jen D.

        In order to accomplish this, teachers and other adults in a child’s life must pay attention because some parents drop the ball on this issue, or perhaps have too many issues of their own to guide a child properly. As Hillary said, “It takes a village.”

  8. joskehan

    I’ve been bullied in my life too, both in school and in the business world….the woman (bully) in my business life almost finished me and for a few years I was just not me….but then after much thought about the situation and my new unwanted persona, I decided to get the old me back again. I am still intimidated at times by certain people, but never let them know it, and I take a deep breath and tell myself they are the losers, not me. I understand totally Marguerite. xx

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I always said I was 110 pounds of blue twisted steel when I was young with an attitude to prove it and, even though the years have added to the steel, I’ve remained strong. But I’m not totally free from intimidation, so I understand what you’re saying, Jo. Sometimes I have to force myself to muster up that indignation in me and fisticup the courag. Other times, the rage rolls in like hellfire.

      Reply
  9. Jeanne Nicholas

    Sounds naive but the root cause to a bully has always been conveyed to me as fear. You may want to mention that fact. I was never really afraid of anything in school and I was definitely not the cream of the crop (top 10% or the “in” crowd). I had friends in quite a few groups though, the stoners/smokers/deadbeats/pot smokers, the nerds, the band, athletics, and I even hung out with a few teachers who favored me since they knew me from smarty-pants programs that California offered to smarty-pants students. So there were a few times I stepped in front of some jerk in the halls to tell them to back off someone. I really didn’t think I might get into a fight or possibly punished. I was just always certain that the issue with the bully was some stupid fear of his or her own. I was probably a so-so student but I stuck up for friends. 😀 And, it usually only takes one person to stand up.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      It doesn’t sound at all naive, Jeanne. In fact, I think you’re right on the money. We have that move-between the groups thing in common. I never belonged anywhere to anyone in school. Sometimes I think people like us were there to balance things out. Good for you. Proud to know you.

      Reply
  10. Sally Bellerose

    Thought provoking essay. In some sense adults who bully kids are the worst kind of bullies. How’ a kid supposed to trust the world after the person who is supposed to protect her bullies her? Glad you made it with your self esteem intact M.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I concur, Sally, except I think in EVERY sense they are. When I was a kid you could get shunned for stepping up to help someone being bullied. The thought of being an outcast never bothered me. But nowadays you could get shot, and even though that possibility is, for the most part, an unfounded fear in the back of most people’s mind, it’s ever-present. I don’t know the answer, but I’m hoping it can be found if we all just keep putting it out there for discussion.

      Reply
  11. Cheyne

    Marguerite, I can identify with your story of being bullied by a teacher. I was physically and psychologically abused (slapped, pulled hair, pushing me, yanking my arms, sending me to spend hours by myself in the cold cloak room for imagined offenses, using me as examples of what not to do or who not to be, etc) by my third grade teacher. For some reason she targeted me and no other student before or after. Her husband had been killed in a car accident that summer and it was rumored that she had “gone over the edge” afterwards. I never told my parents because I was threatened that my parents (and everyone else) would see me as a weak tattletale. My parents found out because one of my classmates told her mother and her mother called my mom and finally told her what was going on. My mom knew something was amiss because I had gone from adoring school to hating it and always trying to find a way to stay home, from excellent grades to borderline failing. My father was rarely home when I was growing up (he was a long-distance truck driver but that was his excuse, not his reason) and, for once, he behaved like a father. He happened to have just returned from an extended trip (he would be gone anywhere from two to six months at a time) and he and my mom went to my school and complained. The principal called the teacher to his office and, of course, she denied it all and told them I was a troubled child with a vivid imagination. My parents told the principal that they were notified by the parents of other classmates and if she continued to deny it, they requested that my entire class be brought down and interviewed. When the teacher blanched at that, my father then told her that if she laid a hand on me again or said another cross word, he would sue the school, the principal and the teacher. Bullies will usually back down when confronted by a source ‘larger’ than they are. She never touched me again and her only one bullying comment afterward was to tell the class that I was a tattletale. Of course, she didn’t realize that the students hated her and were grateful that something was finally done because having to watch her abuse me so openly in front of them put them in a horrible position, also. So, being bullied by someone in a fiduciary position, especially when you are a helpless child, if not properly dealt with, it can set the tone for life.

    I’m not going to say I was never bullied after that because the seeds of tyranny and the need to torment run deep in someone with a bullying personality. I was a scrawny kid, usually the smallest in my class (until puberty, that is) but after that year, I became a scrappy little tomboy and pretty much stopped taking crap off people. Not saying that the words and actions still didn’t wound when they were flung but, as I got older I used humor to deflect a majority of the attacks. I learned sarcasm at an early age and used that to arm myself against bullies who, for the most part, had no idea I was making fun of them when I responded to their initial attempt at intimidation and dominance. Then I joined the Army (at 22) and I was never bullied again. I never allowed myself to be bullied again.

    Now, as to your concern about the It Gets Better project…I don’t agree that it actually lies to our gay youth because I believe in its importance in its attempt to persuade them not to make a permanent decision to what could very well be a temporary problem. It is trying to tell them that committing suicide is something they cannot take back once it is done. I firmly believe that the people participating in the It Gets Better campaign are sincere when they say that they made it through and are serious about advocating others also getting through their bullied teenage years. For some, it does indeed get better. For others, they will continue to encounter different degrees of bullying throughout their lives. How they choose to respond to that bullying will result in the rewards or consequences of those decisions. Rachel Maddow openly mocks her bullies. They may fem her up on MSNBC to make her “glamorous” but when Rachel is off-camera, she personifies the stereotypical butch dyke that older, white men love to make fun of (re: Dick Armey) and point fingers at. Taking control of your bullies takes their powers away. Maybe there needs to be a second tier to the It Gets Better crusade, for example, this tier is for your teenage years, to hopefully turn you against killing yourself. The second tier’s message may need to be, “It does get better, but it doesn’t always get easier.” Commercial campaigns will never give anyone the life skills or tools needed to survive. That comes from many other sources – education, experience and a good and trusted support system.

    Marguerite, when we were kids, it was a whole different world. No one questioned parents, adult relatives, teachers, police officers, politicians, clergy… They were adults and regardless of what sinister horror they might be participating in when in the shadow of darkness (or some, right out in the open), children never told because of the threat of “no one will believe you and think it’s your fault, etc.” Bullying when we were growing up was a rite of passage and either you were the bully or the bullied. And if you weren’t either, you counted your blessings and just tried to stay out of the way. Today, there is the horror of cyber bullying, which has the full legality of anonymity behind it. Bullies today are also much more aware of finding out another’s weaknesses, whether emotional or physical, and using that to their full advantage. On the other hand, there are also many more positive resources available to bullied kids (gay and straight) and there is much more understanding and awareness about bullying than there ever was. And people are now held accountable whereas they never were when we were kids. Parents, parents of the bullies, schools, teachers, coaches, adults who should know better.

    So, I don’t agree that it is more Lie To Me than It Gets Better, I just think that perhaps the parameters of the campaign need to be more clearly defined.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      Actually, Cheyne, we are in total agreement. I think the It Gets Better campaign is admirable, effective, and necessary, and I fully support it. What concerns me is that we aren’t teaching the values of friendship, the strength of building character, and the skills of confrontation early enough, so that the wounds of childhood heal, and maybe be regarded more as battle scars of honor rather than remain open and bleeding out through life. I think your tier idea is an excellent suggestion, and that one of those tiers should be to prepare kids for adult bullying and how to handle it. I see it on Facebook all the time, cliques formed to take sides and exclude those who voice a differing opinion. Perhaps it’s time to require that every student take debate and learn public speaking as a positive step towards better understanding and discourse? For certain, it’s not all about kids who bully other kids. And that’s the real message I’m trying to put forth. Thank you for your insightful commentary. You are right about it all.

      Reply
  12. Kathy Bundy

    Being a primary school teacher, and coming from a family of educators, I could not conceive of teachers being as blatantly abusive as Cheyne described above, until I met my wife. She grew up in a small southern town in the sixties. Her first grade teacher took her, along with her cousin, into the cloakroom every morning and spanked them in advance because she knew they would do something bad during the day. Jill had hearing loss and her mom requested she be put in the front of the room — the teacher put her in the back. This woman was physically, emotionally and psychologically abusive toward these girls every day. Her cousin finally told, and her mother got her into another class, but my wife’s mother was too timid to raise a fuss.

    Besides the obvious damage you would expect, Jill has sustained lifelong learning problems. She was retained in second grade, but never really learned to read well, still doesn’t hear consonant sounds and pair them with letters, and had become convinced that she was simply stupid by the time she was an adult. She’s not. In the 10 years that we’ve been together she has started to read, she returned to school and got good grades in some hard subjects, and has learned to compensate for some of the learning deficits and emotional scarring from her early school experiences and, later, ten years of abuse at the hands of her stepfather. It’s taken years of therapy, bundles of love, and breaking ties with her family of origin for her to begin to recover.

    I birthed and raised two children. I spent many years around kids and families of all sorts and come to the reluctant conclusion that the bullying of children by the adults around them is epidemic. It starts with “spanking” —- which is not discipline, it is bullying. Every message that reinforces the powerlessness and helplessness of the child is a level of bullying. Nobody does it perfectly, but we should at least treat children with the respect and civility we afford cashiers, bus drivers, and our friends. As adults, we are charged with teaching and guiding, and rest assured that learning will take place. The child who is treated with disrespect, contempt, belittling, shaming or violence will learn many lessons. They may not be the ones you thought you were teaching.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I am ever shocked and dismayed by the extent of bullying that adults level against children. It reaffirms my belief that stopping this emotional cancer on our society will never end until we make such misuse of authority a punishable crime.

      Reply
  13. Nancy Ann Ceballos

    I was bullied to because I was different, a Yankee in Southern schools, very tiny in stature, a child with a father in the military who was gone much of the time, we were a poor family with six children and the worst bullying I ever received was from a teacher as well.

    I was a very very shy child and for some reason I chose to take speech in the 11th grade thinking I would overcome it. I was terrible in that class. But I spent a lot of time in the library researching, made meticulous notes on the 3×5 cards like she wanted, said my speech to the end with stutters finished it and all I got was an F. I was so upset I quit school!!!

    I ended up getting married a few months later to someone I didn’t even know. This was 1967 and there were not that many options for young girls back then. I also married to get away from home, the poverty. I had three children and went back to school when pregnant with my third child. But I never got a degree in college like I always wanted.

    What that teacher did has affected me my entire life. I have taken that bad experience, shared it with siblings, children and grandchildren to encourage them to get their education no matter what. I was in upper management and then went onto accounting without a degree. But I could have had a much greater earning power if I had had that degree.

    My mom was too scared to confront that teacher because she quit school in the 8th grade so she felt intimidated. My step-father was in Viet Nam though I doubt he would have defended me. I know when my kids were in school that if something like that ever came up I would fight the teachers over an issue like that. Thank you for directing me towards your essay and I appreciate it very much.

    Since becoming an adult, I have always reacted strongly to bullies, extremely so when it is a man bullying or abusing another woman or a child. And often I have to tell that bully off in very strong terms and feel like I am having a chance for a Do Over, to have the chance to say what I felt about being bullied but was too afraid to do so when young.

    Bullying does indeed affect us all through life.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      Nancy, dear, I quit college and did just fine. Considerably better than most in fact. So perhaps it’s time you quashed that illusion forevermore. Because it’s not earning a degree that makes a difference but what you do with life’s lessons learned from whatever education you completed and experience. You’ve done well. You should feel proud of yourself. I feel proud of you. That being said, I’m sorry you were so hurt by that Speech teacher. She altered the course of your life and I can’t even imagine the emotional pain you endured. I hope you’ll always try to focus on the outcome and that it got you to here and now, offering words that might help a reader who’s harbored the hurt of a similar story, thinking she was the only one. It takes strength to overcome adversity. You’ve certainly demonstrated that, well. Thank you for being an inspiration, and a friend.

      Reply
  14. shani

    I was belittled,, beaten, told I was useless and stupid damn near every day of my life by my mother since before I can remember…..I ran away at 15, made a huge mess of my life, thinking that’s how it would always be. I am now in my forties, having survived all that, but that evil “mother voice” still lives in the back of my head. Nobody should have to live with that.

    Reply
    1. margueritequantaine Post author

      I’m so very sorry you suffered at the hands of your mom and that her voice still haunts you. There’s nothing worse than the betrayal of a parent, but of a mother, especially so. It’s unnatural. I had a father like your mother. Fortunately, I had a mother and grandmother to offset his rage. I wish I had an answer of how to silence the noise in your heart and memory. I made my father the example of everything I didn’t want to become and then strove towards that. It’s not a solution, but maybe a start. Know that you aren’t alone, Shani. May you find peace and know joy. Hugs.

      Reply
    2. Jen D.

      Hugs to you, Shani. Same thing here and no real father present, to boot. Also in my forties now, I regret not running away and allowing my mother’s abuse to continue well into adulthood. I know now that she’s the sick one, but the damage is already done and she’s still in my life. I may just run away yet…

      Reply

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