I've been reading Hasty Word's guest posts on bullying this month with interest, and here are the words (from Anonymous) that sent my amygdala into hyperdrive:
What does bullying do to a person?For those who are not long-term readers of this blog, my husband was once a teacher in Asheville City Schools (NC). He was well-regarded by his peers and his students. In a small community like Asheville, we knew the gossip. I heard at my daughter's preschool how well he was thought of in the parent community. He received positive feedback from his supervisors. He led professional development sessions on request, he offered afterschool enrichment sessions for free, and he worked incredibly long hours. His students made impressive progress--academic, social, behavioral.
It kills their spirit.It makes them afraid all the time.It makes them angry all the time.It leaves them scarred and conditioned to be afraid and defensive all the time.Even as an adult, I find myself either avoiding confrontation altogether, in real life and online — or else seeking them out and rushing in headlong because I am just so angry.It dehumanizes a person.
And then, suddenly, in his last year in Asheville City Schools, he could do no right. He was constantly reprimanded. If he turned in a form late, the mistake was inflated into moral laxity; other forms he turned in on time with a witness present went missing; when he produced the witness proof, he was reprimanded for involving others in his own personnel issues. He was no longer allowed to serve on committees; he was no longer allowed to offer his afterschool enrichment sessions for students; he was no longer allowed to head his popular Chess Club. He was watched at every moment for the slightest error. Tiny mistakes were described as major errors; actions were purposely misunderstood; some behaviors were entirely invented with no evidence to back them up. Perhaps the wildest and hardest to imagine limitation was that he was the only employee on campus restricted from drinking caffeinated beverages.
Why did this happen? We have no proof, but know this: my husband was the President of the local teacher's association. He had been awarded at the state level for increasing membership and involvement in the local association, and he had, the summer before his last, difficult year, led an effective movement against the Superintendent's proposal to lengthen of the school day (for those familiar with the debate, research shows a longer school day shows positive academic gains only when the community and the teachers are involved in the decision-making process). In addition, he was working within a deeply divided staff over those who were loyal to the former principal who lost her job the year before, and those who felt she had not...performed well...in her position (never underestimate the political maneuvering in the backrooms of elementary schools).
For eight months, I watched some truly hateful people dismantle my husband's confidence and character. It is not overkill to say they killed his spirit and dehumanized him. Because all I knew to do was to urge him to be better, to be more perfect, I watched our relationship crumble. There was no perfection allowed. As hard as he tried, the farther away they moved the goalpost. He wanted to fight, and I was too scared. I watched their bullying turn a formerly cheerful, upbeat person into one whose mood ranged between anger and depression.
The bravest act of this entire year was my husband showing up for work and facing his bullies day after day after day. As they waited for him at the entrance of the building and outside his classroom door, as they trolled the halls hoping to catch him with a soda. He did it because above all, his job was to serve his students.
In the end, he lost his job, of course. None of our evidence or eloquence mattered because there is not adequate union support in a state like NC. And you know what the ultimate charge was? Bullying. Oh, the irony is deep and evidence worthless.
Three years later, my husband can't start a phone conversation with me in a somber tone without my panic rising. His response to positive professional feedback is to think, "Hey, I am worth something!" A group of people ripped us from a home we loved and jobs in which we could do good and from a sense of security that may never fully return. And not just us. They stole security from children who depended on my husband for it. The effects of bullying are permanent.
Some of the guest authors on Hasty Word's blog this month have been beautiful, young souls who express compassion for their bullies or who have turned their energies toward becoming advocates. Maybe age makes you cynical. Or tired. All I can manage is to keep spreading the word. Bullying exists in the adult world, too. Some people never develop a moral compass.
And that's where I was going to leave it. But then came Lisa on Facebook, and I thought I'd try for understanding as a first step towards compassion. In honor of the day.
What we could never understand and what was so devastating was how former friends could unite against my husband and take such drastic action. The only explanation that seems believable is that a GroupThink mentality took over in a fractious, unhappy work setting. My husband was outspoken, and he became a lightning rod for others' angry bolts. Some people were inexperienced, naive, and unable to stand up against pressure; maybe some felt their actions would lead to more personal job security. And there was a struggle for power. But in that case I will try to remember those who bully for power often feel powerless themselves.
So maybe someday I will feel some compassion. I see that as a laudable goal. But even if I squint, I can't see it coming quite yet.