Once again I am facing a dilemma faced by countless parents down the ages: what do you do when your child is bullied?
I was bullied at school, and when it came from an adult (my fourth grade teacher in Australia took out Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War on me and another American embassy girl by grading papers unfairly and making us the butt of countless classroom jibes), my mother stepped up to the plate and complained to the school – to limited effect. But when it came from my peers, I had to learn to deal with it.
Alex and Sophia suffered somewhat, but only at school. And we took them out of school anyway and home-schooled them for several years. Once they were eleven or so, they were independent and strong-minded enough to look out for themselves, and no-one dares look sideways at them today. Both are smart enough to avoid trouble, but each can certainly take care of themselves – and each other – if things do get physical.
But day after day Zenon and Leo come home from school or from Tae Kwan Do with bumps and bruises and stories of being picked on and beaten up by bigger kids either in the playground or in the dojang when the teacher is absent – a frequent occurrence (and don’t make the mistake of believing that a Cypriot martial arts class has anything like the structure, discipline, and respect that an Asian one has!)
Best Beloved has tried talking to teachers and coach, but the results have been minimal.
‘You have to figure this out for yourselves,’ I told the Littles yesterday at lunch. ‘Either by using your brains, making alliances, or somehow convincing the bullies that it’s not in their best interest to pick on you. Or with your fists and feet.
‘I’m not saying,’ I went on, soothing bruises with arnica and ‘make-it-better’ kisses for the umpteenth time. ‘That you seek them out and beat them up. But both of you have fighting skills. Try as hard as you can to avoid using them, but if Marios or Dimitris whacks you again, or trips you up, or punches you in the back, retaliate. And win. It should only take one episode. These kids are bullies. They pick on you because your different. If they know that they can make you squirm and cry, they will – because it makes them feel stronger. Once they learn that you can make them cry, they’ll leave you alone because they don’t want to be seen as weaker than you half-foreigners…’
Then, trolling my Facebook page this morning I found a Blog Post from the Voices Education Project, a non-profit organisation that I have been involved with for the last few years, dedicated to using poetry from soldiers and civilians to help people understand the trauma of war. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, author of the novels Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, said: “At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it [sic] by force or by human love. Always decide, ‘I will combat it with human love’. If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing like it.”
So if I want to live that ideal, (‘Be the change that you want to see in the world’ – thank-you Gandhi) and I want my children familiar with it, what do I tell my young boys about dealing with playground bullies – to whom ‘loving humility’ is so much sissiness?