Can One Come Off Triumphant After Having Once Been a Target of Teasing, Taunting, and Bullying? May I, Humbly, Submit Myself as “Exhibit A” That, Indeed, One Can?
By Ken K. Gourdin
BYU’s Dan Peterson, who blogs on Sic et non at Patheos, has a thread on bullying, here (this and all other links last accessed February 28, 2017): http://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2017/02/sad-truth-bullying-church.html. I posted a link to a video produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka LDS or Mormon) about bullying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYVvE4tr2BI.
Here’s what I wrote:
I have a physical condition which has imparted traits which make me somewhat different from the norm. (I know, I know … Whatever that bit of nifty-if-obfuscatory circumlocution is supposed to mean.) I have a disability, so I walk with a pair of forearm crutches or with a severe limp without them. These traits made me a frequent target of some for verbal harassment and worse during elementary and part of junior high school. (To the best of my knowledge, none of the instigators were Latter-day Saints, although some of those who followed their lead might have been.)
When a very kind, very able, very astute psychologist [/SARCASM OFF] reported my rather matter-of-fact recounting of these events to him during a 2014 diagnostic interview, he stated that I “reportedly felt ‘bullied, teased’.” Perhaps I should have dissolved into tears and/or begun screaming at the walls to convey accurately the effect this history had on the “young me.” But the fact remains that I didn’t simply feel bullied and teased: rather, with apologies to him for apparently failing to provide sufficient documentation of this fact, I was, in fact, bullied and teased. I could accept his attempt at clinical detachment here if he had not abandoned that effort in other parts of his report: As just one example, according to his analysis of my response to testing, he said that people who respond as I did often are described by others as “whiney and nagging,” whatever that bit of ill-defined, pejorative, non-clinical nonsense is supposed to mean. (One person’s whining is another person’s well-justified complaint, and one person’s nagging is another person’s perfectly reasonable request.)
In no way am I excusing taunting, ridiculing, and bullying. That said, we all respond differently to things such as this. My pleas for others to intervene on my behalf had limited effect. There’s only so much that even the most sympathetic, conscientious intermediary can do. Though the “young me” might not have been able to articulate this sentiment in these exact words at the time, I figured I had two choices: (1) sit on my you-know-what and feel sorry for myself anytime I was victimized; or (2) get up off of my you-know-what, make the best I could of my circumstances, and do the best I could to stand up for myself.
Despite my disability, I was “mainstreamed” in school from Day One: This was both a blessing and a curse; it was a curse because some days, I left school determined never to go back; it was a blessing because I knew that if I didn’t go back, that choice would allow my chief tormenters to win, and under no circumstances was I going to let them win. Being mainstreamed was a blessing because it forced me to engage the world on its terms rather than demanding or expecting, because of my disability, that the world would engage me on my terms. (Incidentally, that psychologist misquoted me when I told him this: He said I told him school “forced me to engage the world”; well, at least he was half right!)
Actually, church, for me—seminary included—was a refuge. While, by the time high school rolled around, most all of my chief tormentors had given up the idea that anyone with physical differences such as mine should be subject to taunting and bullying, as someone who was and is of something of a cerebral bent (but who is hardly a genius); as someone who was and is not athletic at all; but as someone who has something of a (underappreciated, perhaps) way with words, I still wondered where I fit in. Thus, as I said, church and seminary were a refuge—if not from taunting and bullying, then from being seen as “different” and, therefore, as disadvantaged, somehow.
For two of my four seminary years, my instructor was Elder Richard I. Norby, the most senior and most seriously injured of the missionaries who were hurt in the Brussels airport bombing. (I know him well enough to know that some media outlets have misreported his middle initial as “J”! Hah!) As was true, I suspect, of not a few of his students, I sometimes repaired to his office seeking reassurance. While I don’t remember the substance of those conversations, the gist, and his bottom-line advice was, “Ken, the only thing that matters is who you are in God’s eyes.”
Growing up, my classmates could be divided, roughly, into three categories: those who, along with me, saw the occasional ironies in the predicaments imposed by my plight and who, thus, laughed with me; those who laughed at me; and those who tried to make me think they were in the first group when, in reality, they were in the second. I eventually won the respect of most all of my classmates (if, in some cases, their grudging respect) when, to a standing ovation at graduation, I was presented with a small scholarship composed of monies taken from the senior class fund along with a letter signed by 208 of the 280 members of our graduating class lauding me for the positive impact the way I met my challenges had on them.
Yes, taunting, teasing, bullying, and other things of the sort are horrible. No, no one should subject anyone else to them. Yes, ideally, when others are subjected to them, someone should have the courage to stand up and put a stop to it. But, while I carry some emotional scars with me to this day, I’m pleased to say that, while I await the resurrection’s perfecting grace, I have learned to deal with whatever little scrapes and bruises haven’t healed: even if one doesn’t heal (at least, not in this life), one can learn to deal.