Ask Andrew W.K.: Dealing With Bullies
Photo Mallory Turner
[Editor's note: Every Wednesday New York City's own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or -- no surprise here -- a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com
I'm writing because I'm being bullied every day and I just can't take it anymore. I'm going to be starting my sophomore year of high school this fall, and every day I've just been fearing it worse and worse. I used to be a pretty happy person. I was picked on a little bit in middle school and before, but once high school started it's just way more and I'm so depressed now that I just hate my life. There's this one group of students, both girls and guys, and their whole hobby is making my life miserable. They go on everywhere and say lies about me, and also make fun of me in class and say I'm a slut, which isn't even true at all. They've stolen my backpack a bunch of times, and one time they gave it back to me and they had dumped soda all over everything. I hated every day of my freshman year. My mom let me stay home from school as much as possible, but if I miss too many days next year, I won't pass my classes, and the teachers were already getting mad at me about it. I just can't win no matter what I do. My mom has tried talking to the teachers and the principal and even the parents of these kids. But the more they teach them about how bullying is wrong, the more they always find a new way to be even more mean to me. We are now considering trying to move me to a different school. My mom is hoping to move to a different town, so we can have a fresh start. Why are people so mean? They are ruining the happy person I once was.
Signed, Help Me Please
Dear Help Me Please,
No one can break you. You are a billion times stronger than these bullies will ever know. You are even stronger than you know. No matter how hard it may seem to keep your head up and keep going, you must hold on to your power, and not give in to their cruelty. hey want you to feel bad, and your feelings are the one thing you have control over. You might not have control over what they do, but you can always control how you respond to them.
You can simply refuse to let them break your spirit. The most important and valuable possession you have in this whole world is your spirit. Your spirit is where all the best things about you reside. Your spirit is where your courage, strength, kindness, love, creativity, happiness, inspiration, care, belief, and imagination all live. The mean people of the world want to break down your spirit so they can destroy all the beautiful things that are protected inside of it. But guess what? There is only ONE person in the world that can break down your spirit, and that's YOU. You have the one and only key to the lock that guards your spirit, and you never have to give it to anyone unless you want to.
Bullies are very tricky. They work very hard to manipulate your emotions through fear, cruelty, and brutality, until we think the only way to get them to stop is to give in to them. They trick us into giving them the key to our spirit. That's the game they're playing, and their delight is in seeing if they can win the game by breaking down the walls that guard your precious heart. They will tempt you in every way. Just like the wicked witch tried to tempt Snow White with that delicious apple, these bullies are tempting you with relentless and exhausting abuse.
Just like Snow White, you have a true beauty that they don't think they have, so they feel the only way they can enrich their souls is by sucking the beauty out of yours. But YOU CAN STOP THEM. It takes two to play this game, and the most surefire way to never lose to a bully is to never play along with their stupid game in the first place. That's how bullies work. They start this game with you and your mind, and if you simply don't play along, they can never win. People often say, "Just ignore the bullies," but that's not the same. Ignoring them doesn't work. You simply just don't let them break you down.
It's like being afraid of the dark. If I'm afraid of the dark, I can't simply ignore that it's dark. It's too obvious and in my face. But I can feel afraid of the dark, and just choose to not give into the fear. You just feel your way through the dark and keep moving, instead of collapsing on the floor and cowering in fear. Some people see a problem and run away because they're scared. But courageous people see a problem and run towards it -- even though they're scared too. We don't ignore the problems and hardships and fears in our life. We keep living and doing the best we can, even with the problems, and the mean people, and less than ideal situations. Why? Because we have spirit. We have heart. We refuse to be beaten. And all you have to do is just - keep - on - going. Especially in those moments when it feels like you can't take one more breath, your spirit will see you through.
I was bullied in junior high school and high school. For some reason, the two worst bullies were both red haired guys. The first one in junior high school was ruthless. I used to dread getting on the school bus because everyday I would have to deal with his torture. He would take my lunch and throw it out the window. He would push me off the bus seat and onto the ground. He would take my winter hat and gloves and throw them in a slush puddle. I was absolutely terrified of him. I remember his face so clearly.
A few years later, in high school, a new bully came on the scene, this one much more cruel and sinister than anyone I had ever encountered. He was mean to everyone. Even our teachers and coaches were afraid of him. The thing about him that was the most disturbing was that he truly took pleasure in abusing the people around him. He was a more physical bully -- into pushing, punching, dunking, wrenching, and just rough housing students who were smaller and more timid than he was. You could see a gleaming twinkle in his eye as he tormented the people around him -- even picturing that look on his face now makes my stomach turn and my fists clench with anger.
I was sometimes even frightened by my own violent revenge fantasies. I'd dream up all the ways I could get back at him, or get through to him, or just make him stop. This bully truly behaved like a sadist, and was often times rewarded and praised by the folks around him for being such a strong and assertive fellow. I found out that he later became a police officer. I'm guessing that, when he thinks back to these times, he might have a laugh at the crazy hi-jinx and monkeying around he did. Or maybe he doesn't think about his behavior ever. But I think about him probably every day.
These bullies had a permanent impact on my life. But my experience with bullying goes deeper. I'm ashamed to say that I myself have bullied other people. And to this day, the mean things I did to undeserving friends and classmates remains a source of sincere shame, deep regret, and severe confusion. Why did I want to hurt someone that had done no wrong to me? What was this impulse that made me take delight in someone else's misery? Why did I want to be a source of anguish for someone when I could've just as easily been a source of kindness and fun? It's one of the main reasons I later decided to devote my life to partying and cheered-up feelings.
I felt genuine disgust and fear when I fathomed my own potential for cruel and destructive behavior. Perhaps we all have the potential to be a bully, and that's what scares us the most. Perhaps when we see other bullies and violent lunatics, it makes us ponder what it would take for us to give into those impulses and behave like a total monster. That is why we must direct all that energy into good. We must remain steadfast and continue driving those impulses towards kindness and positive actions -- it's like alchemy: turning lead into gold, turning evil into good.
It's too easy to slip down into the lowest version of ourselves -- almost like those low parts are begging us to unleash them on the world, bullying us from the inside to let them out. The worst we have to offer is always right there, right under the surface, right in the back of our minds, right on the tip of our tongue. We must stay vigilant and find ways to let those feelings out so they don't consume us or erupt out in an explosion of hate and negativity.
Thinking now about all the various bullies I've encountered, I'm thankful for them. Even if I don't feel like I forgive them, I want to find peace with those times. If I really focus and think with my highest and most noble mind, I actually am thankful for all the challenging experiences in life. They didn't break me. They really did make me stronger. They made me do one extra push up. They made me work one extra hour. They made me do one extra headbang and high kick. And, perhaps most importantly, the bullies and bad times made me face the depths of my own potential for malice.
Those experiences helped me to realize that I could just as easily be like them. For some reason, you learn the most about life and yourself not from the good times and nice people, but from the hard times and the jerks. I don't think anyone should be required to go through abuse like it's some crucial rite of passage, but when you do find yourself faced with challenges -- with cruelty, with darkness -- just know that it does not have to break you. You will get through it. You have your spirit. nd if you protect it and hold on to it, just one breath at a time, it will see you through the absolute darkest and most challenging times imaginable. Remember that no matter how bad you may have it, someone else has had it infinitely worse and has made it through. We can refuse to let the hell we go through define us. We can refuse to let the bad things other people do make a permanent stamp on us or crush our beauty.
In closing, I'm reminded of the incredible and indestructible spirit of Michelle Knight -- one of the women who was held captive and tortured by convicted kidnapper, Ariel Castro, in Cleveland, Ohio. After she was rescued, she reflected on her ordeal, saying: "I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground." Nothing is a better testament to the power of the spirit than her unbeatable will to survive. If she could make it through that, you can make it through this. You simply DO NOT GIVE IN, no matter how intense the pain, you do not let the bad guys win.
Stay strong, keep going, and do not give up on your life or the power in your heart and in your indestructible spirit. It may be hard to imagine now, but someday you will look back on these times and be proud of yourself for never giving up.
Your friend, Andrew W.K.
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