On Bullies and Cynics

I’ve been bullied at all stages of my life. In elementary school, one boy set his sights on me after I ended a phone call early to watch Deep Space Nine. He teased me endlessly. The advice of my stepfather was to punch him. So I did.

He punched back. I didn’t know what to do.

I fell into a bad crowd in high school for a month or two: teenagers who decided to play on my naive, socialized nature. I was almost literally rescued by the theater crowd.

At FSU, I was the subject of some nasty slander.

When I worked at Target about ten years ago, one of my supervisors picked me out for not being “cheerful enough.”

At my last job one awful manager, after hearing of my plans to attend graduate school, sent a company-wide email saying how I’d fail at everything if I left the company.

Donald Trump is a bully. He’s also a racist, a sexist, and a xenophobe, but his core personality is that of a bully. Bullies tend to think alike: they fear everything, and the only response they know is to dominate and violate. In the schoolyard, children are either a bully, are being bullied, or stand behind the bully and hope they’re not next.

You can’t expect the bullied to stand up for themselves, because bullies punch back. Everyone has to stand against the bully. That’s the only way to win: not with appeasement, not by ignoring the bully. Every kid who used to stand behind the bully now has to stand up to him.

I knew a fellow student in my elementary gifted class whom I’ll call Alan. Alan had nothing but contempt for me. Even the way I walked was a subject of criticism: my strides were too short and too quick. I adjusted my stride and cadence, but he found something else to criticize.

The deeply cynical have no self-esteem, so they must find fault in everyone else.

I’ve heard the following a lot lately: you didn’t support the right candidate in the primary; you weren’t vocal enough in supporting the right candidate in the general; your politics aren’t pure enough; you’re not acting through your opposition the right way; you didn’t speak out enough.

Discerning between someone who has genuine criticism — do these certain things better next time — and the deeply cynical — you will never measure up to my standards — can be hard. Look for something concrete and achievable that’s being suggested. Donate to these causes; use this sheet to de-escalate a hate crime; don’t normalize this behavior. But if the criticism is open-ended or impossibly high, don’t bother seeking their approval.

Nor is it in the specific context of this election. When I was applying for jobs over a year ago, I had a phone interview for a PHP developer position. The interviewer was looking for any excuse to get rid of me; despite answering their questions to the best of my ability, they ultimately dismissed me as “not being experienced enough.” They never wanted me for the position; they just wanted the head-hunter who recruited me to go away.

Just remember: if you’ll never be good enough for someone, screw ’em.