Thursday, October 18, 2007

Laugh it up fuzzball!

(The following was inspired by this)

When I was growing up I was picked on on a fairly regular basis. All through elementary and junior high the taunting and harassment grew to the point where I was starting to get broken bones in the fights I would get into. My experience has taught me that there are essentially four strategies you can use to deal with a bully.

1) Fight back. Now, if you happen to be a good enough fighter to hold your own with a bully, this isn't all that bad a strategy. People respect someone who fights back. In fact, the person you are fighting with may come to respect you as well. Of course, they might also beat the crap out of you and you might get in serious trouble with the authorities. Fighting back is a viable strategy, but one with many potentially serious consequences and not really much long-term viability.

2) Run away. Not a bad strategy, if you are fast enough. Of course, you will have to suffer the consequences of being labeled a coward. But at least you didn't get your ass kicked. Still, you can't just keep running from your problems. They have more endurance than you. I actually rank this below the "fight back" strategy.

3) Ignore it. This is the favorite advice of teachers and parents, all who mean well but are really lost when it comes to giving advice on how the little kids can deal with the bullies. I'm here to tell you that, after many years of following this advice, I came to realize that it was the single worse bit of advice you can give a kid. The truth is that ignoring a bully just makes them want to try harder. Because they know that eventually you will crack and the show you will put on will be even better for all the effort you put into ignoring it. I have talked with teachers in later years who agree with me on this. But they also know they can't advice a student to "fight back". Not if they want to keep their jobs. So they keep falling back on a failing strategy.

Which brings us to...

4) Make a joke out of it.

One day, many years ago (sigh), I walked into a class room to see that someone had written "Chris eats boogers" on the chalkboard. Some of the kids started laughing once they saw that I had noticed it. My typical reaction would have been to hide my head in shame and hope that they would leave me alone. But for some reason I was just in that kind of mood. So I glanced back at those who were laughing and said, "Ha! Good one!" Not in a mocking fashion. I really did just laugh at it and acknowledge the humor of the situation (boogers!!!).

Nothing else happened for the rest of the day. The guys who typically harassed me left me alone. It was almost as if they didn't now how to respond to my reaction. They expected me to get upset. They expected me to ignore it. They didn't expect me to laugh at it.

It took me many more years to realize that, as the above linked post suggests, Mel Brooks had it right. The best way to deal with people who piss you off is to turn them into a joke. They really don't know how to deal with that.

Laughter really is the best medicine.

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