By Sophia Sajan (’22)
That mean student from your math class is at it again. They are relentless. Somehow, he or she knows exactly what to say to get under your skin, knows every insecurity you’ve buried deep down, and exploits them. Maybe that bully has nudged you into the lockers in the 200 hallway or maybe pointed out your inherent shortness in front of the entire class. Whatever and whoever it is: you have a problem.
Bullying always feels like an uphill battle where the incline gets steeper and steeper until you’re freefalling with no footholds. You can’t eat your lunch in the bathroom forever, and you certainly can’t afford to miss any more math class because you are falling way behind in trigonometry. Unfortunately, the only way to continue is to face your bully.
That does not mean you should walk up to them and proceed in a smackdown, get suspended or even expelled, lose your scholarship to MSU because they found out — and they always do — and spend the rest of your life as a garbage man (although, props to those guys because thank God somebody is willing to clean up our suburban messes). The trick here is to learn the game.
The same way you memorized the Fortnite map in order to beat your arch-nemesis SkullTrooper22, you will have to navigate this game in order to beat your bully.
Bullying is often called dominance behavior. No, I am not likening your Math Monster to a dog –although you are welcome to call them that in the future– it is called that because it is a game of power. If you have a sibling you know what I am on about.
My older brother, who is constantly trying to overpower me, is years older than me, much taller, and stronger than I am. Trying to snatch up the last pack of Motts fruit snacks off the top shelf? Good luck. He doesn’t even like fruit snacks. But man, will he eat them right in front of me for the sake of it.
Try getting mad. I dare you. Run to mom or dad. Complain. Maybe even give him a good kick in the sweet spot. It won’t do a thing. Because the next time you race to get to the cupboard, he will already be there enjoying the last strawberry gummy.
Instead, I encourage you to act as if you don’t care. Shrug it off. While you’re at it, thank him. “I didn’t need the extra calories anyway, thanks bro.” Once I began doing that, I found my delicious Motts Fruit Snacks right where they should be, waiting for me. My phone stopped being stolen from my room, and my shampoo bottle was sabotaged with red kool aid less often. Bullies’ interest peak when they get to witness you red-faced and sputtering about what’s fair. If you don’t have a reaction, it will occur to them, “why am I even eating this fruitless-fruit snack if he/she isn’t going to have a reaction?” You can bore your bully. Why would they waste time posting on social media, trash-talking you, or stealing what are rightfully your fruit snacks if they can’t get anything out of it?
Bullies want to feel above you. They are instigating for a reaction. Even when they let every upperclassmen they meet know that your face isn’t proportionate or that you accidentally read your informative speech backwards and upside down, play it off.
Admittedly, it isn’t always easy. Especially when they are insulting you and your ego is striving to take their head off with a few sharpened words. Or when the crush that you’ve been hopeless for is in hearing proximity and you don’t want them to hear about your chronic butt disease.
Swallowing your ego, taking the insult, it’s hard stuff. It’s a skill. But it is also part of the game.
Have you ever played tic-tac-toe? Of course you have. Imagine if I told you that three games of tic-tac-toe could determine the state of your well-being at school or at home. In these three games there are three moves you can make to create a foolproof situation where you can’t lose. You would use them, right?
This toxic friend, bully, or even older sibling is easier to deal with than a game of tic-tac-toe, actually. This requires two steps. Two things to remember while in the heat of an argument or being the victim of public humiliation, etc.
First, why do you think they are being mean to you? Have you said something, are they sad, are they insecure themselves, do they have issues at home? None of it excuses their behavior, but it will help you to be compassionate towards them and understand their actions towards you. This will help you to understand that their insults are not for you, but that they are for your bully to feel better.
Second, brush it off. Even if you feel as if your dignity is at stake and your ego is plummeting to the dark slums of Chicago, walk away. If you don’t particularly want to walk away and want to absolutely destroy your enemy in this final round of tic-tac-toe, respond to their insult in a calm and formal tone with “You seem sad, are you alright?” They will lose their upper hand.
When you are pulling out your graphic calculator to start Maths and he/she approaches to steal it and call you “ArseFace”, respond with something along the lines of “Do you have evidence to support your claim? Did you cite it in MLA format?” Mr Woods would be proud. When they tell you in front of your biggest crush that you reek of BO, respond “Thanks for letting me know.” If you make a scene, or fight back, you will lose. But by not caring and not letting it crack your shell, you have just maneuvered them into checkmate.
Let’s say you’re particularly fed up this A Day and want to give them a little taste. Don’t be mean now, else you are no better than your bully. However, when they come up to you and obnoxiously exclaim, “What’re those?!?!?!” in reference to your shoes, feel free to politely and calmly reply, “Shoes! Sorry they don’t have a picture of a basketball player on them…” or, better yet, “Shoes. Sorry I don’t want to spend 100$ to wear shoes that look like Thanos’ chin. Have a nice day.” Sometimes, mockery is a safe option when physical response is not feasible. Just be sure not to sink to the level that your bully is hurting you at. We don’t want you causing other people to be bullied.
Lastly, the trick is to stay calm. Even when your feelings are hurt, and you kind of want to sit and cry, don’t. When you react, make sure it’s putting you above the other person, keeping you on the good side. If you get angry, or hurt, you are letting them win. And nobody likes to lose. So don’t lose. Be a winner.