A lot of people right now are sharing stories of suffering at the hands of others. We are learning that reactions to such scenarios can vary widely, and sometimes take perplexing forms. I understand. I’ve been hurt and humiliated by people I liked and looked up to, and through it all, I stayed friends with guys who hurt me.
A boy’s life in my rural public school could be exceedingly rough. As we got into the later grades, a variety of factors combined to create among the boys in my class a subculture in which bullying became a terrifying fact of daily life.
Some kids survived by hiding behind teachers. Some kissed up to the kingpins, avoiding abuse by manipulating the structure in their favour. Some were forced to take part in degrading, bullying, and terrorizing others, only to find the tables turned on them the next moment. My own reaction was to fight it when I could not avoid it, which did nothing to stop it and likely made me more of a target. But I also kept hanging out with the guys who made my life hell.
Sometimes I stood up for others and sometimes others stood up for me, but mostly it was everyone for himself. On one rare instance we all got together and toppled the pyramid, but that didn’t last.
Nobody outside the schoolyard knew what any of us were going through. Most of us would have died before reporting on our tormentors, and when we were sent to the principal’s office, we protected those who had hurt us with our lies and silence.
There were a lot of factors at play. I don’t blame a single person for this. (Okay, sometimes I blame myself. But I’m working on it.) I’ve found a lot of forgiveness and taken a lot of lessons from that time in my life. Still, it remains a painful episode.
But I’m telling this story because there are other, more devastating stories of abuse, victimhood and survival playing out right now. Good people are looking for ways to understand some of the ways people respond to those who have hurt them. Some very brave people, mostly women, are sharing their experiences of being hurt by people they had to continue to deal with.
For anyone who can’t understand the ways they reacted, I want to make this point: I remained friends with the guys who were humiliating me and others daily. We played sports together, we told jokes and hung out and otherwise behaved as though things were normal.
Some of the people who hurt me worst were my friends then. Some of them are my friends now. That’s my experience, and because of it, I can hear and feel and accept the experiences of others who have suffered similar pain, or worse.
To them I offer all strength, and hope that for them, as for me, it really does get better.