On Being Bullied

Slate published an article in June by Kate Baggaley on the lasting impacts of childhood bullying, and how some psychiatrists have identified PTSD arising out of those experiences. The article goes over the standard forms of bullying – name calling, exclusion, rumors, physical harm – and the kinds of people who bully (including friends, social rivals, and, in my case, teachers and classmates who didn’t have skin in the game, but wanted to look tough and fit in with the cool kids). One thing people tend to forget, that the article touches on, is that bullying sticks with you for years after it stops.

I suffered from bullying every day when I was in school – kids called me fat, stupid, ugly; they threw food at me and called me “hungry hungry hippo”; they told me I looked like a wetback, said I smelled like fish, called me nerd and loser; a group of girls in 8th grade told me I could be in their group if I went up to all the guys at our lunch table and asked them to marry me – so I did, and all of the guys had something terrible to say to me, but the one that stuck out the most in my memory was the guy who told me he couldn’t marry a transformer, that I looked like a man trying to be a woman and I was “more than meets the eye.” Once, one of the girls in my gym class was being particularly verbally abusive to me and started shoving me. I told her to leave me along because she was just a bastard and she shut up and ran off crying. Her friends jumped in to continue the abuse, and I refused to apologize. Like most kids, I’m sure she had adopted a tough persona to cope with a shitty home life and was taken off guard by my response. She never apologized for bullying me, and I never apologized for my response.

I got the standard advice growing up – ignore those kids, they’re just words, maybe they’re intimidated by you, they probably want to be your friend but they’re afraid, etc. When my brother nearly died in an accident, a guy in my 9th grade class told me that I was such a loser my brother had to try to kill himself to get away from me. Call me skeptical, but that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing someone who secretly wants to be your friend says to you. I also fail to see how an adult would respond by saying, “Oh, those are just words!” I’ve seen grown-ass men get into fist-fights over less. I also got some truly atrocious “advice” from adults:  “Maybe they’re trying to tell you something. If kids are that mean to you, maybe you did something to them and you just don’t realize it. Maybe this is God testing you. Maybe you weren’t nice enough….”

Based on the advice I got, I learned to internalize the bullying I got. I couldn’t trust people for a long time – and still can’t fully trust people. I lived for many years waiting for friends and family members to drop the charade and tell me they were joking all along and I was a loser for thinking they actually loved me or cared about me. I imagined that all praise was sarcastic, that I was actually doing a terrible job at work or school. I still work twice as hard as I think I need to just to show that I deserve to be employed. As an overachiever by nature, I tend to work hard and demand perfection of myself, but as a kid who was bullied and teased over every perceived social fault, perfection isn’t good enough. I also tend to inflate my mistakes and faults as issues deserving of termination from my job, divorce, exile…. My best is never good enough, and even my most minor mistakes are deserving of the harshest punishments.

Baggaley notes that many bullied individuals attain some sort of silver lining as a result of their bullying (a sense of inner strength or self-reliance, cultivated empathy, and the like), and I can certainly see my self-reliance as being over-developed in response to growing up without a strong social network, but that silver lining comes with a price: it’s self-reliance to the exclusion of any trust in a social network, and inner strength that inherently rejects any sense of external support or help.

At 34, I’m still learning how to overcome the trauma of my childhood tormentors. While I consider myself lucky to have made it out of childhood alive, despite numerous suicide attempts as a teenager, I wouldn’t wish this kind of life on anyone. I’m an adult now, and I can match wits with anyone, but I still have that weird kid inside of me bracing for the impact of teasing and abuse. I’m still unsure of where I fit in, or if I even should fit in. I don’t know that I have a place in society and I’m still only partially able to navigate social situations, and then only because I had training at work on how to network and talk to people.

I’m heartened by the recent focus on bullying and the attempts to study and prevent it. There are many more stories of kids who didn’t even make it out of their teen years alive because the bullying was so severe and pervasive. To an extent, you can’t change human nature, and there will always be bullies. But I still think that we as a society can respond and say that we won’t accept abuse as just another hazard of childhood. Kids need to learn how to navigate challenges and failures, to be sure – putting your kids in the proverbial bubble wrap does more harm than good – but we can and should draw lines as to what’s acceptable and what’s not. At the very least, we should be giving kids the tools to deal with their bullying before they internalize the abuse and start bullying themselves.

I think part of the problem, which was addressed in the comments to the article, is that the term “bullying” is such a broad term as to be unhelpful and non-descript. What kind of bullying constitutes abuse? What is just normal teasing? At what point do you stop being just a group of kids trying to figure out your place in the social order and start being abusers? If we try to approach the problem by casting too wide of a net, we end up with stupid Zero-Tolerance policies that get kids expelled or sent to jail for benign acts (like biting your pop-tart into a “gun” shape, or hugging a classmate). If we cast too narrow of a net (say only focusing on physical bullying), we run the risk of excluding other forms of abuse that are damaging, like psychological torment.

Maintaining a dialogue to come to a resolution is important and a key to finding a solution to a problem that’s difficult to pinpoint. In the meantime, as a parent, I see my job as addressing it head on and teaching my daughter to deal with hurtful words that are given to her, to de-escalate situations, to resolve conflict – and most importantly, to not be a jerk to people. One of the most important things we can do as parents is to teach our kids conflict resolution and problem solving so they can learn to deal with difficult situations in general. I don’t hold a rosy view that one day we’ll never have bullying (because frankly, it’s part of human nature, and I don’t see a swift turnaround on that any time soon), but at least we can pass tools along to start changing mindsets.

Holi-daze

This is at the same time my favorite and least-favorite time of year. The holidays mean cooking, baking, cheesy music, and fancy decorations. Unfortunately, the holidays also mean stressful social situations, packed stores, and, for people with anxiety, feeling the crushing weight of inescapable social obligations (GIVE. ALL. THE. GIFTS!!!!!!!!). It also means melancholy remembrances of family members who have passed on or who are nearing the end of their lives. I’ve certainly been trying to avoid thinking about the impending doom of the upcoming Trumptacular inauguration. Further addendum, the people complaining about a War on Christmas are really missing the point. But whatever, I continue to celebrate Christmas in my own way anyway.

2017 remains a Schrodinger’s box – it is both an impending doom and not doom until such time as it actually happens, such that 2017 is either preparing a Challenge Accepted, Motherfucker, or a resigned Anything Is Better Than 2016. 2017 will surely be Yuge and Bigly, whatever the hell that means, but as long as J.K. Rowling is around it’ll be a bit more bearable.

So what are we looking forward to in 2017? Based on the drama of the post-election Cabinet selection process, we’re looking at a Republican-led Congress that has a laser-focus on spiting the Obama Legacy, even if it means cutting the noses off of their bigger old faces; an incoming President who has no idea what he’s doing and it packing his cabinet with cronies and billionaires and supporters (in other words: business as usual!); and a first family that has apparently been elected to do the President’s job while he runs his businesses. Good job, America. At least the press has finally woken up enough to realize that they maybe probably definitely fell down on the job with scrutinizing Trump during the primaries and the election (at least we hope they have), and many of his supporters are realizing that he’s a two-faced idiot who will say anything for attention (well, I HOPE they’re realizing that). The Hill even managed to narrow down the upcoming 100 days to only five major fights he’s going to have (I could have done it in one: all of them.) Even better, anti-Semitism is on the rise, so we can look forward to more of this crap (literally… unfortunately), and definitely more of these unintentional blunders: “…this Christmas heralds a time to celebrate the good news of a new King.” At least we finally know what Crow tastes like:

All in all, though, I’d say 2017 is going to be a good year for political bloggers, and I am gleefully looking forward to it. Yep, 2017 is going to be a hell of a year. Unfortunately.

When your soul feels like a stranger

I’ve been struggling with spiritual issues and faith for as long as I can remember. I came from a mixed-denomination household–dad was Coptic Orthodox, mom was Southern Baptist–so developing a coherent theology was difficult. There were few Coptic churches around growing up, so I was distanced from the theology of the Coptic church, but I never felt connected to the Baptist church. It’s hard to feel connected to a church that tells you you’re a sinner and automatically have an extra hurdle because of the perception that your parents don’t believe in the same God. Worse, it’s hard to feel connected to God, Jesus, and Scripture. Growing up, it felt as though nothing I did mattered in a spiritual sense – I was a sinner, God didn’t love or notice me, and my prayers would go unnoticed, because I wasn’t ever going to be a “real” Christian.

We went to several different kinds of churches growing up – we went to special holiday services at the Coptic church in New Orleans and in Houston, but most of the weekly services were at a Baptist church until I was in Jr. High, then we went to a Quaker (or Friends) church for a while, we went to a Lutheran church once or twice, and for a while as an undergrad I went to an Episcopal church. When I got to grad school, I was attending University of St. Thomas here in Houston, so I started hanging out at the Chapel of St. Basil. I hung around Campus Ministry, and eventually one of the FSE sisters talked me into attending RCIA. It was life-changing for me – a church that encouraged and had a history of theological research? that encouraged asking questions? that didn’t tell you you were going to Hell because your parents weren’t from the same ethnic group? I was shocked. (Also, it was kind of awkward because it was also the church of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, a church that believes condoms and birth control is a sin, and for all the work Cool Pope has done to change the image of the church, it was also the church that appointed a former Hitler Youth as Pope. But I digress.)

So I’m a gung-ho Christian now, right? Church every Sunday, Bible study every day, can’t get enough of Jesus and the Rosary, right? Yeah. No. Not exactly. It’s not that easy to overcome 20+ years of predestination, believing that you’re a sinner in the hands of an angry God, and being a bright, intelligent woman in a community of people who believe that women in the workplace are what crashed the economy and ruined the American Dream for everyone. Hell, some of them even believed that allowing women to vote was what ruined the economy, and a smaller even older subset believed it was freeing the slaves and letting them work with the white folk that ruined America. (Yes, I grew up in the South. No, not everyone at church was like that, but y’all know if you grew up here you met people like that.) And then there was the feel-good non-denominationalists who believed that if you just smiled a lot and said Praise Jesus! often and put an Ichthus (not that they call it that – it’s the Jesus fish) on the back of your minivan that you’d get to heaven (see anything regarding Joel Osteen and Lakewood Church for evidence).

True Story – I had a Sunday School teacher for a 20-somethings class at a small Baptist church tell us that if you wronged someone and they wanted an apology, you should tell them that Jesus had already forgiven you and they should too. I asked for Biblical support and was labeled the class liberal and laughed at. True Believers don’t ask questions and don’t need facts or evidence – you know because you have faith. If you believe Jesus forgave you, then he did.

So I have a strained relationship with Christianity and religion. I’ve been living teetering on the edge of atheism and agnosticism most of my life, but with one foot still in the bucket of theological research and the occasional spark of faith (fun fact: Faith is my middle name). You know how sometimes you see a natural wonder so beautiful it blooms wonderment in you so powerful that it takes your breath away? That’s how I feel when I think about space, or when I look at photos of Old Faithful, or I hike up to a view at Elephant Rock State Park. The natural world is a huge source of spiritual wonderment and fulfillment for me, and I’m a natural skeptic, so yeah I’m naturally drawn to scientific thought. But there’s still that inclination of curiosity about What Comes Next, and that occasional fleeting spark of faith that keeps drawing me back to theological and theosophical questions. Marrying the skeptical, scientific part of my soul to the religious part of my soul has proven to be one of the most challenging parts of my life, and the result is that I often feel like a stranger to myself.

I don’t go to church, because I’m afraid of the rejection that happens, of the bias and questions people ask. I’m not a social person by nature, so I want to go in, get my fulfillment, and run before people can start crowding me with questions and introductions and Let’s Hang Out, or Do You Wanna Go To Bible Study, or Come To The Contemporary Service (No thanks. Contemporary services are for feel-good nondenominationalists who want God to fit into their pop culture box instead of trying to expand their brain to reach outside of their comfort zone). (Let’s not even talk about where I differ from most Christians on topics like gay marriage and other LGBTQ issues, birth control and abortion, and other hot-button topics.)

I want to believe. Mostly. But that feeling of being someone who would never be good enough for God so I should just stop trying is really hard to overcome. I’ve got shelves full of religious study books but you probably won’t see me in church, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Metaphorically Speaking….

I have a small collection of $2 bills that I’ve acquired over the years and keep mainly for sentimental reasons, even though they’re legal tender. This weekend, I came home to find that the dog had pulled one off my desk and chewed it up. If ever there was a metaphor for this year, a chewed-up piece of little-used paper money is it.

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Something something free market dark side….

Let’s talk about Carrier. As a native Texan, I love their products. Their air conditioning systems make life down here in the armpit of America bearable. (Side note, if Florida is America’s wang and the Gulf Coast is the armpit, where does that leave the rest of America’s anatomy? I’ll leave that for a future post.) Apparently, they were all set to send some jobs out of Indiana to Mexico, where they’d save $65M buckaroos in operating costs (I’m guessing mainly salaries and benefits, but also production costs from cheaper factories).  Now, though, thanks to the direct involvement of Donald Trump and soon-to-be-former Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Carrier will be leaving approximately 1,000 of the 1,400 jobs they had planned to move here in the US. Yes, that’s right. Our President-elect directly negotiated with a privately-held company and the State of Indiana to prevent that company from moving jobs overseas.

Leaving aside the fact that Carrier’s parent company collects approximately 10% of it’s annual revenue from federal contracts (approx. $6 billion, y’all), and may have been threatened with being cut-off from those sweet federal dollars, are we not worried about free markets? Governments staying out of business affairs? Leaving corporations free to do what they feel is in their best interests? Every year around election time I hear arguments about “free markets,” “capitalism,” “keeping government out of business,” “small government,” “de-regulation,” and so on and so forth. The argument goes that we need to support the free market! De-regulate everything and ensure corporations can manage their own affairs! If corporations are allowed to make money for themselves and their shareholders, it will provide a fertile breeding ground for jobs, which means more opportunities for employees, economic growth, etc. The problem is that this is not reflective of reality.

According to this article by the Cato institute, and this article by FreedomWorks, Big Business and Big Government are likely to go hand in hand. While politicians and their constituents like to talk about the dangers of Big Government, regulations, and direct governmental involvement in corporate affairs (Socialism! Communism! Oh my!), corporate lobbyists are more likely to push for regulations that provide barriers to entry in an industry, thereby making it more difficult for smaller enterprises from encroaching on bigger entities. And when it comes to State and Federal contracts, corporations are really sensitive to the Big Government Cash Cow.

So why does Carrier matter? There are two issues in this that I’m most concerned about:

  1. Should the government directly intervene in corporate decisions? Don’t people keep saying that’s bad for the free market economy and capitalism?
  2. Now that Trump has shown that the “consequences” for threatening to move jobs overseas is tax cuts and government contracts, isn’t that going to encourage more companies to threaten offshoring so they can get in on the tax cut deal?

I’m not an economist by training, and frankly as a CPA I think it’s more like voodoo than the cold hard reality of accounting. However, I’m still unclear on how this helps the economy. Trump prevented a little under 1,000 jobs from moving to Mexico, at a cost of $7M in lost tax revenue to Indiana taxpayers. That’s great for the 1,000 people whose jobs are staying, not so great for the people whose jobs are getting cut. Companies around the US are considering offshoring every day – is Trump going to be able to personally negotiate with every single one of them? It seems odd and unlikely, and I’m not fond of the precedent he’s setting, or the disappointment that’s going to occur when he can’t negotiate with every company that threatens to offshore jobs. However it turns out, I’m not excited about what seems like a token gesture after the campaign to make it look like he’s doing something of substance.