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guys, i think i can take generation-y's bullies
a gen-xer's take
by reem al-omari (@Reemawi)
5.17.12
general

A friend gave me something to think about recently when she asked: “Are kids just wimps these days, or is society just that much crueler now?”

We were talking about bullying and how kids these days just don't deal with adversity the same way we did, particularly when it comes to bullying.

Look at all the teen suicides making the news, sometimes by kids still in the single-digit age bracket, all because of bullying. It's disturbing.

As Gen-Xers, we believed in cliques, a certain social order within the microcosms of our schools we never argued with. We went home angry at the unfairness and took it out on our parents. Or our diaries, in cursive, and suffered major hand cramps as a result.

There was no Twitter to validate our feelings back then, or celebrities telling us it gets better. We just had adults with bad hair telling us to simply deal with it, and not necessarily because it was gonna get better, but because “what else are you gonna do, kill yourself?”

There are many factors to consider, of course, and I am not saying it's easy to deal with what kids today have to deal with, and maybe society is just that much crueler now, but- exactly when was society not cruel? You think things are any worse today than they were during the Salem witch trials?

Something tells me us Gen-Xers, and our predecessors, are more equipped for the cruelty of today than Gen-Yers, simply because we had to make do with a lot less in the way of being babied by everyone.

I am a surviving Gen-Xer

I was bullied. A lot. And I was bullied for everything. My shoes, pants, legs, nose, name, hair, lunch, butt, chest...you name it, I was bullied over it. It took a serious toll on my self-esteem and self-image that lasted well into my 20s. Should I ever have kids, I think I might know exactly how to help them cope when they come home to me in the same condition I went home to my mother.

As Cuba Gooding, Jr. told Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets, complete with the chest thump: "I grew up in hell, homeboy!”

Really, there is no way to get through school without being bullied, especially if you're not a popular mean girl or jock, and your name can easily be turned into “Cream.” Add to that being a foreigner from the country where some of your classmates' loved ones in the military are being sent off, and you better believe I was in the seventh circle of hell.

Hell was getting close to high-fiving the principal and his secretaries, I was in there filing complaints so much. I'm sure they had bets on when my next complaint would be filed. I didn't want to file complaints, but friends and teachers made me.

The mother of all of them

One bullying incident remains ingrained in my brain. It is one that made all the others pale in comparison, because it took all my strength to deal with, and gave it back to me, a little less than doubled.

The same year Operation Desert Storm got underway, I gained the most basic power to deal with, and survive, the oncoming train wreck that was to become the rest of my adolescence.

I was outside for recess. A group of about eight girls formed a circle around me and separated me from my friends. Trust me, that's a lot worse than a message on your Facebook wall. They took turns pushing and shoving me while they threatened me with assurances that the United States armed forces were going to kick my “Iraqi ass.”

I'm a 5'1” woman now, and I was an even shorter girl back then, and I had just been informed that the entire US armed forces were after me.

After escaping the mob and spending time in the principal's office being a snitch, and wondering if there was something like a witness protection program in the public school system, I felt awful, because no matter what, I was convinced I'd spend the rest of my life with my arms up over my head. I did not like that kind of future for myself, but it seemed unavoidable at this point, despite my parents telling me I'm great, and my friends thinking I'm cool enough to be my friends.

The day after the incident, as I waited on the curb to board my bus, I heard my name. It was coming from the bus across the street, with a head full of blond curls sticking out of one of its windows.

That head belonged to one of the members of the previous day's mob.

I looked at her with what I hoped was pure menace.

“I'm sorry,” she said.

I balled my hands into fists inside my coat pocket. I was hurt and angry, but also aware of what it takes to say you're sorry when you could easily be led to believe you don't have to. She was someone I imagined didn't treat apologizing as a graspable concept.

Then that sound buses make as they're about to move announced I had a small window of opportunity to react, so I mustered the only thing I could: one simple nod. I might've had my hands in my pocket, and one certain finger sticking out from each hand, but outwardly I nodded. Her face didn't change, and she understood it was all I could give. She pulled the window up and sank into her seat.

A momentary lapse

That was the only apology I ever got for being bullied most of my adolescence. It felt genuine, possibly motivated by nothing but an awake conscience, albeit a conscience that had chosen the dark side like Darth Vader and with a heart that probably sounded like Darth Vader's breathing when it beat, but I appreciated its momentary lapse of evil.

I felt better that afternoon. Somewhere in my mind I conjured up a less sophisticated statement than that which Winston Churchill spoke, but it said the same thing he did: “If you're going through hell, keep going.”

I felt I had that kind of strength then, and I have ever since, which is why I think I could take Generation-Y's bullies.


ABOUT REEM AL-OMARI

Reem lives and writes about it. She thinks that's what writers do, anyway. If it's not, then she also has a degree in journalism under her belt, along with the titles of reporter, editor (in chief, even) and, of course, opinion columnist.

more about reem al-omari

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