When I was in sixth grade, our bus driver asked me to be a “bus patrol.” Duties were to “flag” students across the highway and “run the tracks.” I accepted because of the perks. I got into games and school functions for free and there was a picnic at the end of the school year. But an incident that occurred would change my entire perspective on life.
On a morning run, a couple high school boys, we’ll call them Rob and Jeff, were “acting up” in the back. The bus driver thought it would be a good idea for me to go back and sit with the “big kids.” So I went to the back and took the only seat available, just in front of the two boys. I was confused as to what I was supposed to do and Rob and Jeff were not happy with a grade school kid in their domain. So Rob, who was probably twice my size, put his left arm around my neck from behind and with his right hand put the blade of his pocket knife against my throat, uttered a threat into my ear, and held me there until we got to school. Understand that there were several other high school students in the back as well. Some laughed, some paid no attention, but none said or did anything in my defense. I reported the incident to the bus driver, who then reported it to the principal.
I grew up with parents that abhorred physical violence. So my upbringing did not prepare me for this assault. I was so badly shaken I sat out in the coatroom before class started, not crying, but with uncontrolled trembling and more or less in shock. At this point, Jeff found me and sat down next to me. I wondered if he, too, was going to threaten me. But instead he apologized for what his friend had done. Somewhat relieved, I thought that would be the end of it. But it was not.
A 6-6 system, the school had grades one through 12 all in one building. So students were mixed together at some times, particularly before and after school. Grade school kids got out earlier so we had a few minutes to play on a large pile of snow the plows had pushed up. From behind, the bully, apparently angry at getting into trouble, came at me and threw me face down on the ground. With his knees in my back, he began pulling my head back with his fingers locked across my forehead. I struggled as hard as I could, but suddenly there was a “pop” and something gave way in my neck. At first, I couldn’t move my head, and it was locked in the head-back position. I couldn’t move it side to side. The bully ran away, then, but said something like “next time I’ll kill you.” By the time the buses started loading, I was able to move my head again.
I did not report this incident to the principal and only my parents knew about it at the time. In my mind, the school had failed to protect me once and probably would fail again. At that time there were no anti-bullying talks, and terms like “zero tolerance” did not exist. Bullying to varying degree was a part of school life and the incident taught me I had to find a way to deal with it on my own. Time passed. I began having unexplained headaches. Then, not long after, I began to get what I would call “mini-seizures,” usually but not always at night, where there seemed to be a disconnect between my brain and my body, a partial paralysis. My neck would occasionally throb. I didn’t know it at the time, but the attack had caused both muscle and nerve damage and possible spinal damage with accompanying pain, which I’ve lived with for my entire life. Thankfully, the last of the mini-seizures occurred when I was about 20 years old.
Bullying is ironclad proof we are evolutionary products arising from primitive animals. It remains pervasive throughout humanity despite attempts to educate people. It can occur in individuals as in the case of Rob, or it can occur in collective “mob” attacks on individuals or groups unable to defend themselves. It can lead victims to commit suicide and ruin lives. So from the class of students who delight in making life hell for a substitute teacher, to cowardly anonymous online bullying, to politicians who use their positions and intimidation to maintain personal power, to belief systems that condemn and ridicule others who have alternative beliefs; at our worst, humans revert back to a pack of vicious soulless animals that devour the weaker members simply because they can. Compassion, tolerance, reason evaporate. The conscience takes a leave of absence and a malignant form of hate takes over. We have no right to call ourselves “humane” or enlightened or in any way special, certainly not divinely inspired or created, until we can correct this one fatal flaw in our makeup. To do so, we need leaders and teachers that unite and set the best example for a fair and just way of life, emphasizing and inspiring the best in us, not divisive leadership that promotes and encourages and feeds upon our worst tendencies. Otherwise, humankind is never going to make it past our evolutionary childhood.
Email Terry Mejdrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.