I’ve always hated bullies. There’s something about them that triggers rage inside of me. I’ve encountered them all my life in a variety of places: school, work, even in activism.
My stepfather was a bully. He abused my mother for years, even after their divorce, until her best friend and I put an end to it when I was 16-years-old.
I was bullied in third grade when I first moved to New York because of my southern accent. I endured an entire year of being called “hillbilly” until I ended it with a punch to the face of the main kid egging it on.
From then on I was James, or Jimmy. I acquired a reputation as the bully fighter because I protected all the nerdy kids. It was kinda cool.
In middle school I got sent upstate and had to endure more name calling, which could – sadly – provoke violent reactions from me. With bullies sometimes it seems that’s all they understand.
Even among homeless people there is bullying, and it’s one of the main reasons people would rather sleep in the streets than in a shelter.
And it’s not just homeless people doing the bullying.
I’ve seen the occasional shelter worker take glee in tormenting people who need a bed for the night; people who can’t really defend themselves. If you’re young, LGBTQ, female, or elderly? Staying in a shelter can be hell.
Homeless people are easy to bully because no one really cares about them. There are very few people who will listen to their pleas for help.
There are times when staying in the street is made more difficult by people who have nothing better to do than to try and hurt others. More times than I care to remember, I’ve seen more than my share of homeless people picked on by law enforcement, college students, and insecure security guards.
I’ve dealt with bullies at Spare Change: Board members, editors, executive directors, even vendors. Social media is a haven for bullies – always has been. I suppose they feel safer talking trash from behind a computer screen. There’s not a lot that these social media sites can, or maybe even want, to do about it.
Activists can be bullies, especially liberal ones. If you don’t agree with them you get called names like anti-semitic, racist, Nazi sympathizer, not black enough.
Racists are bullies on steroids; mean spirited, immature jerks who get people killed. People like Heather Heyer in Charlottesville a year ago.
As I said, sometimes violence is all bullies seem to understand. But over the years I’ve learned that the best way to disarm a bully is with words. Call them on it. Go ahead. Try it. They’ll act dumbfounded and surprised, and then they usually go away. They’re spineless cowards, scared of the world, inflating their withered egos by inflicting pain on others so they can feel better about themselves. Don’t let them.