It occurred to me as I was driving around today that I blew it yesterday by speculating about my boy’s future school-aged years, and wondering whether he’d be an alpha wolf or on omega wolf. The truth is that most of us are beta wolves, gamma wolves, etc., in school (and afterwards), trying to climb up in the hierarchy by forging alliances with those higher up and snapping at the throats of those lower down… school is basically a wolf pack, as is much of life later. If you don’t believe me, see Glen Gary Glenn Ross. (James Preller did a good job of capturing this complex social hierarchy in Bystander, a more robust book on the topic of bullying than the many with a single Scutt Farkus terrorizing a schoolyard with a single accomplice.)
Byron is probably a beta like the rest of us, but it’s ultimately up to the betas to end bullying. Bullying is largely about social capital: who has it, who doesn’t. The betas make those decisions by gathering round the alphas and casting out the omegas, or watching passively as those lesser wolves are cast out and brutalized. They do so out of fear of being cast out themselves, out of a desire to get in good with alphas, and for some, no doubt, innate sadistic glee.
Bullying would be dealt a near fatal blow if people just learned to voice this powerful sentence, and had the courage and vision to say it whenever necessary:
Don’t be a jerkwad.
I like the “It gets better,” movement, but I want to see a parallel movement, a movement where kids of all ages and social strata say, “don’t be a jerkwad,” on a regular basis, rather than watching and giving tacit endorsement to bullies. Bullies want to be liked, and dread exile just as much as everyone else. If they thought being a jerkwad would lose them social capital, lose them status and respect, they wouldn’t do it.
When I read about the young man at Rutgers who was outed on the Internet, I wondered who his roommate was broadcasting the streaming video to, and why none of those kids said hey, don’t be a jerkwad. When I read about a girl who was hounded and ridiculed on her way home from school every day, I wondered why none of those girls said, hey, let’s stop. We’re being jerkwads. And when I read about the mom — a mother! a grown-up! — who joined in the merciless teasing of her daughter’s schoolmate, I wanted the daughter to have said, Mom, stop embarrassing me. You’re being a total jerkwad.
So I guess what I really should have said yesterday is that I hope Byron will have the courage to stand up to bullies even when he’s not the subject of their bullying, and tell them to their face that they’re being jerkwads. It’s a hard thing to do, but it’s called speaking truth to power, and if kids don’t learn it in school it will be all the harder when they get older.
He’ll have our unflagging support. Nothing would make me prouder than the boy coming home from school and telling me, “Dad, today I called a kid a jerkwad.”