This is probably because it’s so easy to do — and much safer, for the bully, than showing up in person to pick on anybody face-to-face.
The problem with bullying is that many bullies were themselves the victims of bullies earlier in life. This means that they never really see themselves as the aggressors — in their minds, they are always the victims. They actually tend to see the people they pick on as the ones who are picking on them.
I have just concluded (I can only hope) a very nasty flame-war, on Gay Patriot, with a person who goes by the name of North Dallas Thirty. This has caused great consternation among the close-knit community of commenters there, for understandable reasons. I’m pretty sure it caused consternation in North Dallas Thirty. And I know it has to me.
Some history here: a few years ago, when my mother died, and I happened to mention in the commentary thread of a blog (I don’t remember which) that this had just occurred, the very first person to contact me, via email, to express his condolences was North Dallas Thirty. In private, person-to-person contact, he is a very nice man — warm and caring. I will always appreciate that he was there for me at a very difficult time.
From time to time since then, he has come to my defense when others attacked me on blog commentary threads. And there were times when I returned the favor. I considered him a friend.
At the beginning of this weekend, however, I experienced my own version of Pearl Harbor. He suddenly and deliberately attacked me — without any provocation, beyond the fact that I’d said something with which he disagreed — on this particular Gay Patriot thread.
The conflict turned nasty very quickly, and escalated out of control. I’m sort of funny about being attacked, no matter who’s doing the attacking. I tend to fight back. And once I’ve started fighting, I don’t back down. Nor do I apologize for this in the slightest.
When I was a kid, I was everybody’s punching bag. My dad was often very abusive, and my mom would stand by, with a distressed look on her face, and do absolutely nothing. At school, because I had been socialized almost from infancy to take abuse (and somehow suspect I must deserve it), I became a favorite target for bullies as well. I couldn’t go home and seek protection from my parents, because my dad seemed to think I had to be at fault in every conflict. I would only be punished for having somehow “brought it on.”
When I got into the middle grades, this began to change. I guess the other kids decided I was all right. I was smart, and funny, and learned how to talk and joke my way out of trouble. I learned to be charming, and by the time I was in junior high, I had plenty of friends. I never had much of a problem with bullies from then on. At least, nowhere except at home.
Eventually I even stood up to my dad. I found out that if I stood up to bullies, they backed down. That they only picked on people who wouldn’t — or couldn’t — fight back.
And I remembered. You never really forget what it feels like to be targeted by somebody who is vicious, sadistic and hell-bent on making your life miserable. So when you find yourself in that position again, it’s like a long-held muscle-memory. You spring back into action.
I don’t know if North Dallas Thirty was bullied as a child. He grew up to be a big brute, and perhaps he pumped all that iron so that nobody would ever bully him again. But if you were bullied as a child, you have two choices. You can become a bully yourself, or you can resolve never to start a fight — only to finish it.
I did the latter; he obviously did the former. He kept calling me a bully during our big fight. That’s not surprising, given the psychology of bullies. But there’s one crucial difference between a bully and the bullied party, and it is easy to make the distinction. The bully always — always — starts the fight.
I did not start the fight on Gay Patriot. I did my damnedest to finish it. In the end, I’m not sure who really finished it. I only hope that it is finished now.
One clue as to who customarily bullies and who does not: I have never, ever been banned from any blog. North Dallas Thirty gets tossed off of blogs all the time. Sherlock Holmes, meet clue.
The blogger contacted me by email to tell me someone had complained to him about my “tone.” I asked him to read the thread — the whole thread, right from the beginning. I’m confident that will give him an accurate picture of what happened. He and I have met in person, and he knows I’m ordinarily not the bullying type.
We’ll just have to see what happens. Maybe nothing will. I told him I don’t want to see North Dallas banned. Perhaps he only had a bad weekend. I have enough residual goodwill in me to put the whole incident in the past — as long as it doesn’t happen again.
But if it does, I will be ready. I remember how it feels. You never really forget.