bullying

Exit 161. A humbling effect.

Nicky Gumbel is a British pastor best known for being one of the people behind Alpha International, the publisher of a series of discussions and Bible studies presenting the basic points of Christianity.  In one of his course materials, Rev. Gumbel tells a story relating the concept that even after we turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior, we aren’t made perfect yet.  In his story, Rev. Gumbel is riding a bicycle, and a cab driver cuts him off.  Rather than follow Jesus’ advice to turn the other cheek, Gumbel pedals fast to catch up to the driver, intending to report his bad driving, and makes a rude comment once the driver is in earshot.  The driver calls him by name and tells him to be careful.  Gumbel looks at him after being called by name, wondering if he heard correctly, and the driver holds up an Alpha workbook.  He then proceeds to tell his passenger about the Alpha course and how inspirational and life-changing Gumbel’s work has been.

Obviously, that sort of encounter would have a humbling effect.  Gumbel said something to the effect that it served to remind him that Jesus is not finished working with him yet.  (By the way, any inaccuracies in this account are mine, but the main points are there.)

I had an experience recently that also reminded me about Jesus not being done with me yet.  I won’t tell the whole story, I’m still a bit ashamed of myself, but essentially I picked a verbal altercation with some fans of a rival sports team.  It got very heated to the point that I was making a scene in public.  I calmed down, apologized, and walked away from the fans of the rival team before the altercation turned physical.  But I felt ashamed for acting so immaturely, especially since, even though the others kept it going, I clearly started the whole thing for no reason other than that they were fans of a rival team who dared to show their team pride here in a different geographical location.

Nothing I can do about it now except learn and move on.  Maybe this whole experience reveals that I still have some unresolved anger about being bullied in the past, some of which happened at the hands of fans of this team.

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Exit 130. An outside perspective.

A friend of mine who lived in California until about a year ago, and who has been known to call himself a music snob, recently made a Facebook post in which he said something like “Since nobody else is saying it, I will: Lynyrd Skynyrd was just okay.”  They’ve never been my absolute favorite, I only have a greatest hits album of theirs, but I still think they’re better than “just okay.”  I made some snarky comment, probably a little more rude than I should have been, about how nobody else is saying it because everyone else has good taste in music.

One of his other friends said that he is only saying this because he is not from the South.  He replied something about how sometimes you need an outside perspective on things.

And then I realized that he’s right.

Lynyrd Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville in the late 1960s.  I once heard someone say that Florida is the upside-down state, in that the farther north you go, it feels more and more like the South.  Jacksonville is about as far north as you can go in Florida, just a few miles from Georgia, and the music of Lynyrd Skynyrd has often been considered one of the major examples of the “Southern rock” genre, blending classic rock with blues and country influences.  My friend’s point was that Lynyrd Skynyrd is so iconic in Southern culture that many Southerners never think to question whether or not their music is actually good.

I’ve had a few outside perspectives in my life.  I started college the same year that a TV show called Friends premiered on NBC.  Friends was huge among my peers and classmates.  It was the show that everyone related to and aspired to, with their groups of people they hang out with at home and at the coffee shop, sharing each other’s lives and gossiping about their significant others.  But not me.  I tried to get into Friends, but I came from an outside perspective.  I didn’t have that kind of group of friends in real life; having friends in the first place was new to me in my late teens, and I still didn’t have much of a social life.  All six of the main characters of Friends reminded me of the kind of Cool Kids who bullied and rejected me all through childhood.  I don’t want to watch a show about them, unless it’s about them dying horribly painful deaths.  And I couldn’t even relate to the coffee shop thing, because from my perspective, coffee tastes like crap.  I always felt that my social life was stunted being a university student in the Friends era who did not drink coffee.

A couple years ago, I also remember having a conversation with an acquaintance in which I said that I don’t particularly like romantic comedies as a genre, although there are a small few that I’ve enjoyed.  (Like this one, even though it’s not real.)  She asked why, and I said because I can’t relate to romantic comedies.  She said something like, “Really?  I would think that love is something universal that everyone can relate to.”  Maybe everyone she knows, but from my outside perspective, love is something that only happens in movies and books and other people’s lives.  I’ve experienced all of the heartache associated with relationships with very little of the good times, and even the few good relationship moments I have experienced have not usually involved the awkwardly sweet giggling, long walks on the beach, or having sex with someone you just met a week ago that seem to characterize romantic comedies.

So maybe an outside perspective is necessary.  And a good thing, so that people who aren’t living breathing stereotypes don’t get forgotten.  And if my friend from the first paragraph is reading this, I’m sorry for insulting your taste in music.

Exit 129. I wish you wouldn’t worry, let it be.

Friday night, I was home, doing nothing, and I broke down crying.

It wasn’t completely out of nowhere.  It happened while I had my music on shuffle, and this song came on.

If you are anti-country music and don’t want to click the link, look up the lyrics; if you’re not willing to do that, then the TL;DR version is that he is singing about all the things that he wishes he could go back and tell his teenage self.  As with many works in this genre, the general tone is along the lines of “everything will be all right, life gets better.”

And I started crying because I feel like everything is not all right, and life has not gotten better.

Now there are certainly some specific situations for which I could tell my younger self that they aren’t worth getting worked up over in the long run.  Like in elementary school, pretty much everyone, even random strangers, made fun of me and called me names, but if I could, I would tell my past self that there would come a time a decade or so later when that wouldn’t happen very often.  I can’t say it never happens anymore, every once in a while I get random jerks driving by and yelling rude harassing comments out of their car windows, but this is definitely the exception rather than the rule, and I have real friends now too.  And in high school, regarding one of the times I told a crush that I liked her and she didn’t feel the same way back, I would tell my past self that it wouldn’t have worked out anyway, because she would come out as a lesbian in her 20s.  I don’t know if that would have made me feel any better back then, but it’s true.

But, for example, the Brad Paisley song contains this lyric:

You got so much up ahead
You’ll make new friends
You should see your kids and wife
And I’d end by saying have no fear
These are nowhere near
The best years of your life

I can’t tell my past self to get over rejection by a crush because “you should see your kids and wife”… I’ve never had a wife or kids.  And sometimes high school and college do feel like the best years of my life, because life was a lot less complicated then.  I had a lot more in common with the people surrounding me simply because of my place in life as a student, and I didn’t feel like an anomaly everywhere I went.  Yes, it’s true, things may get better in the future, and I may have a wife and kids someday.  But at the time the song was written, recorded, and released, Brad was younger than I am now.  It’s easy for me to expect that it should have all happened by now.  And all of that just came washing over me like a flood on Friday night.  That is why I started crying.

The song ends like this:

I wish you wouldn’t worry, let it be
I’d say have a little faith and you’ll see
That’s what I need.  Don’t worry, let it be.  There are a lot of circumstances I can’t control, and as I’ve said many times before, I need to find ways to accept what is and make the most of it.  And there are many people who have things a lot worse than me.  Things aren’t so bad after all.

Exit 26. And now, 20 years later, no one cares.

If you are my friend in real life right now, then this weekend you saw me tagged in a bunch of pictures on Facebook having a great time with people who you’ve never seen before.  Who are these people? you might be asking.  Do you have a secret second group of friends that you spend time with?  Why haven’t I ever met these other friends of yours?  Are you sneaking around on us?

For one thing, I’m being dramatic here; if you’re really thinking that, you’re too clingy.  But seriously, those people were my friends from high school.  This weekend was my class reunion.

I told a few people this last week that I was going to my high school reunion.  One response I got repeatedly, particularly from females in their early 20s, was something along the lines of “I don’t ever want to go to my high school reunions.  I only had three friends in high school, I still see all of them, and the rest of my class were a bunch of backstabbing jerks and bitches.”  Some people have this stereotype that at high school reunions, that people stay in their cliques and act just as immature and dramatic as they did in high school, putting people down who don’t meet their shallow standards and making people feel badly about themselves.

My recent high school reunion, as well as the last one 10 years ago, were the exact polar opposite of that stereotype.

It was a fairly small crowd, considerably smaller than the last one.  But it was a crowd that included people from many different walks of life and high school social circles.  There were old friends who I’m sporadically in Facebook contact with, old friends I haven’t seen in 19 or 20 years, people I had classes with but didn’t know well, and people I barely knew at all.  And everyone was so nice and so happy to see each other.  Saturday night we met at a bar, and I had dinner with a smaller subset before that.  Sunday afternoon, we had a family-friendly barbecue and picnic, so that we could meet everyone’s children and look at old yearbooks and pictures and talk about how funny everyone’s hair was 20 years ago.

High school was a very interesting time for me.  I felt like I transcended cliques, and I never felt like there were people I didn’t want to see, because I stayed out of petty drama.  I kept to myself a lot for the first two and a half years and mostly only talked to people when they were asking me for help in class.  I didn’t shy away from all school activities, though; I went to football games, about half the dances (where I would spend a lot of time watching and occasionally get on the floor and be an awkward white boy), and drama and dance performances (because I knew people in them).  I started spending more time with people the last year and a half, and I got involved in more student activities as well.  I spent most of the time around the other students in honors and AP classes.  But I also had friends in the band and student government circles, because they were the rest of the students in the AP classes, and friends from other groups, because we had a class together at some point, or knew each other in middle school before the honors students’ schedules began to diverge.

I was really afraid of a lot of things, though.  I grew up very sheltered, and I didn’t really know how to make friends or be a friend.  I was used to getting teased and bullied all the time, and I wasn’t used to people being nice to me.  But most of my high school classmates actually were nice to me.  I was talking to someone about this over the weekend, and she said that no one really knows who they are in high school, that I wasn’t alone in being scared and confused.  I think the difference is that a lot of people put up a façade to get people to like them, whereas I just didn’t actively try to get anyone to like me.  But occasionally people would see the real me peeking through, and they probably liked what they saw, because, especially as I got older, friends would invite me to things and encourage me to get involved.  I did to some extent; the time I was in a skit in front of the whole school, playing Butthead, still feels like a major turning point in my life.  But I also turned some invitations down, just because I was afraid and unsure of myself.

I think a lot of the things that kept me from doing more in high school were just in my head.  In addition to being afraid and sheltered, I also felt like an outsider.  I didn’t grow up with those kids, and even though I went to school with them from the middle of 7th grade onward, it took a few years to get over the feelings of being an outsider.  The reason I felt like an outsider was a secret that I had kept for 26 years, until last night.

This high school serves a number of rural and semi-rural communities in the area north of two medium-sized cities on California’s Central Coast.  But I did not live in any of those communities.  I actually lived in one of the two nearby cities (the less glamorous one, according to most people), three blocks from another high school.  My dad went to that other school, class of ’67, and my brother went to that other school, class of 2000.  (Mom went to Catholic school in that same town.)  Only a few close friends knew that I lived in town, and the ones who knew never knew how I ended up at their school.  And I had never told any of them until this weekend, when it came up in a few conversations.

From April of 5th grade to October of 7th grade (1987-88), I was in a full day special education class for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities.  I was the kid who was teased and bullied constantly, and I would just sit there and take it and take it until I had a violent outburst.  During that year and a half, there were never more than 10 students in the class, and they were almost all boys who were far less successful in mainstream classes than I was.  Eventually it came to the point where they were talking about gradually transitioning me back to mainstream classes, so from October until January of 7th grade I was only in the special ed classes for half the day, and I started taking three periods at a regular public middle school.  For logistical purposes, combined with the fact that I wanted a fresh start away from my childhood bullies, I would walk half a mile from the school that hosted the special ed class to the middle school in that town, which was nine miles from my house, one town over from where I lived.  After a few months (January 1989), that was going well enough that I started going there for the full day, and from then until my graduation in June 1994, I attended school in that district with kids from those towns.  Given my history of being bullied and teased for just about every reason, it’s perfectly understandable that I didn’t want my friends to know that I had spent a year and a half in a class for students with behavioral and emotional disabilities.  Right?

One of my friends whom I told that to last night, when I mentioned that this was the first time I’d ever shared that, said, “And now, 20 years later, no one cares.”  She’s totally right, which is why I’m sharing it on this very public blog where anyone in the world might read it and share it with their friends.  My friends in high school were able to accept me even though I was a little different, and that has only gotten better with time.

I’ve always known that I’d want to go to every high school reunion.  I grew so much as a senior, and then abruptly everyone graduated and scattered.  I’ve often wondered how much more I might have grown had I had one more year with those friends.  I can’t change that now.  But what I can do is make more of an effort to keep in contact with these people.  My Class of 1994 friends really were a special group that made a big difference in my life.  And after this weekend, I know I’m glad to have these people in my life.  Hopefully I’ll see some of you again soon without waiting another five or ten years.

And a postscript: While I stayed out of drama in high school, I did unfriend someone from high school a couple years ago on Facebook for petty reasons.  He commented to one of my friends to say hi to me even though I unfriended him.  As soon as I got home that night, I apologized and re-friended him.

Exit 1. Do not be seduced by the Dark Side

According to some, today is Star Wars Day.  Why, those of you who have not heard this before may be asking?  Because it’s May the Fourth, as in “May the Fourth be with you.”  To be completely honest, I’ve always had mixed feelings about Star Wars Day.  On the one hand, it’s awesome because Star Wars.  And on one recent May 4, I attended a wedding with Star Wars-related elements that was one of the most fun weddings I’d ever been to.  But I also feel like Star Wars deserves better than a lame pun.  All six Star Wars movies were released in May, and George Lucas’ birthday is in May, so why not celebrate on one of those days instead?

With all the talk of Star Wars on my Facebook feed today, I got to thinking about how it had been a few years since I had watched the movies, so maybe I should put them on in the background while I’m doing stuff around the house.  I’m too busy to watch all six, it’ll probably take me until next weekend to finish that, but I’ll keep working on it little by little.  That got me thinking about how Star Wars is practically unique among movies in terms of how many different ways there are to watch the entire series.  Release order (classic trilogy, then prequels), chronological order within the Star Wars universe (prequels, then classic trilogy), or ignore the prequels altogether?  Or perhaps some modified order, like flashback order (watch the prequels after Empire Strikes Back, then Return of the Jedi last, so that right after you find out about Vader’s origin, you get an extended eight hour flashback explaining how that happened) or Machete Order (same as flashback order, but skipping Phantom Menace entirely, because it doesn’t add a whole lot to the story, and allegedly it’s everyone’s least favorite)?  And which versions?  The theatrical releases, the 1997 Special Editions, the 2004 DVDs, or the 2011 Blu-Rays?

Star Wars creator George Lucas claims that the changes were made to make the movies closer to his original vision for them, since special effects technology has advanced significantly since the first movies were made in the late 1970s.  But these changes have upset many fans.  I don’t have a problem with that.  I get that.  But what I do have a problem with is the people who go around making blanket statements like “true Star Wars fans know that there are only three real Star Wars movies” (in other words, the prequels don’t count) or “true Star Wars fans only watch the theatrical releases, not the Special Editions.”  This is part of a wider movement I have noticed more and more the last few years, something I call geek-bullying.  And this phenomenon is not unique to the Star Wars fandom either.  I have been criticized for treating Paul McGann’s Doctor Who movie on an equal footing with the other Doctor Who series, for continuing to watch new episodes of The Simpsons to this day, and for not watching Star Trek at all.

I have a lot of friends who are into science fiction, role-playing games, and comic book conventions.  I was never into these things as a kid, and I think that was more related to fear of geek-bullies than lack of interest.  I knew that in order to fit in with groups like this, I had to know a lot of obscure things about these fictional universes, and I had to have a lot of money in order to have all the right toys, books, and the like.  What makes geek-bullying so sad is its blatant hypocrisy.  So many of these people who identify as geeks and nerds talk about having been bullied as kids, yet they don’t seem to think about how these “a true fan of this does that” statements set up exactly the kind of environment that resulted in their exclusion in another setting.  The victims have become the oppressors.  You either have to be exactly like this or you’ll be intimidated and treated like a lesser being.  Only the Sith deal in absolutes.

This is why I don’t like to label myself a nerd or a geek.  I don’t want to be told that true nerds and true geeks have to like certain things and dislike others.  I just want to be me.  I’m watching the Star Wars 2004 DVD, with all the changes that upset a lot of fans.  I know Han shot first, and I’m not particularly thrilled about Hayden Christensen being in the final scene of ROTJ, but in 2004 the theatrical releases weren’t available on DVD, there were no plans to do so, and it’s not worth me going out and spending a ton more money just so a few minutes of the movies will look the way they did in the 70s and 80s.  If I did not own any of the Star Wars movies on DVD, and I were to buy them for the first time on DVD after the original theatrical versions had been released on DVD, I’d probably go with the originals, but it’s not worth it to buy another set right now.  And I’m going to watch them in flashback order, including all three prequels.  The article I linked to above on Machete Order, in explaining how and why to include the prequels, says “Maybe you actually like the prequels (seriously?).”  The message this author is trying to send is clear: no one really likes the prequels all that much, and if you do, there’s something wrong with you.  While this was probably intended to be tongue-in-cheek, it is also a classic example of geek-bullying.  So what if you like the prequels?  Maybe you look for different things in a movie than what the author of this article does.  It doesn’t mean one way is right and the other is wrong.  (Personally, I don’t think the prequels have stood the test of time as well as the classic trilogy, but I don’t dislike them either.)

Many people who consider themselves geeks like to say that being a geek is all about being really into your passions.  If that’s true, then let other people be really into their passions, and stop bullying them or making fun of them for having unpopular passions.  Do not be seduced by the Dark Side to become a bully.