Growing up in the 90s, I experienced my fair share of schoolhouse and playground “politics.”
I was bookish and introverted – often asked by my more extroverted and raucous peers, “why don’t you talk?” (Spoiler: I did talk and still do, though I usually find comfort in being the quiet observer rather than the vocal center.)
I stood back, afraid to speak up, I suppose, when classmates tied a less-popular boy to a tree with a jump rope (no physical harm done, although I can’t speak on any emotional toll) for their own entertainment.
And to this day I remember the crushing blow to my self-esteem when, on a secret 3-way phone call, I heard my 6th grade crush respond with the candor of a self-assured adolescent, “do I like her? No way, she’s a nerd.”
On occasion, I was also the perpetrator of unkind actions and words, and I regret those choices even now, especially when they involved one of my earliest “best friends” who had never wronged me.
And, yet, it wasn’t until I entered my 30s (MY THIRTIES, for God’s sake!) that I began to experience truly malicious, targeted bullying: attacks on my character, my political beliefs, my beautiful family, the way I parent my child, and my art – all behind the anonymous façade of a social media account.
All throughout my life, I’ve struggled with low self-esteem. I’m generally an anxious person (I have the diagnosis to boot), and the desire to be good, fair, honest, and respected drives many, if not most, of my decisions.
When I write for public outlets, I aim to share that “goodness.” My written words enable me to speak the truths, passions, and vulnerabilities that I’m too inarticulate – or just too scared – to share audibly with the world.
It’s my personal platform, yes, but it’s also my quiet way to impact the world – in the most minuscule way – by encouraging others (particularly women) in their pursuits, by speaking out against injustice, and by offering a virtual hug to others who feel alone and misunderstood in their struggles.
So when I’m attacked through that medium – that safe place I’ve cultivated for my well-being and for the well-being of others – it hurts.
When somebody wrapped tightly in the cloak of anonymity types out racist and homophobic epithets, makes glaringly false accusations about my virtue, my beliefs, and my motivations, and calls my family and friends vulgar, despicable names, it isn’t easy to ignore.
When this cowardly person drags others into their cyber bullying – especially other professionals – it sends me into a panic mode, alerting me to protect those people.
It cuts deeply into my “core wound” – the never-quite-healed sore that bleeds viscous blood of unworthiness, fraud, and shame.
But mostly? It makes me angry.
It fills my heart with sorrow and fury because we’ve entered an era where bullying is the norm.
Our elected leaders have turned the political stage into a virtual battleground for character assault.
The most visible headlines in the media are cutthroat attacks from one person of power against another.
Children as young as 10 are dying by suicide because the bullying from their peers became intolerable.
And it’s terrifying.
If somebody – a person whom I’m led to believe knows me personally and is middle aged, relatively comfortable in life, and has a fair amount of education and life experience – can direct venom at me simply for sharing my thoughts and trying to make the world a better place, then what’s our future?
I hope I’m being melodramatic. But if we all don’t stamp out these corrosive actions – and question the normalcy of this method of disagreement – then we will become more complacent to behaviors that once shocked us into action. And if we become silent, that means the bullies will win.
Catherine is part of the Contributing Writer Network.