The Hammer and the Nail

By Jim Hagarty
2007

This story ends sadly. If you’re not in the mood to get choked up, you might want to move on.

I attended a school play on bullying this week and for much of it, I had tears in my eyes. Maybe that’s because this has always been a subject close to my heart. It seems, in my poor memory, that I spent half my early school days on my back in the schoolyard with somebody sitting on my chest, beating on my head. I know (and you know) that this isn’t true, well, not completely, but bullying was part of my early years and belongs to my story. I don’t use it as an excuse to give to others but more as an explanation for myself in those areas of my life where the word why is hard to answer sometimes.

The truth is that we were hard on each other 50 years ago. However, we didn’t use guns or knives. I might not be here now if they’d been popular then. The irony is all the kids in our school lived on farms where there was a gun or two in the shed. Most kids now never see a real gun that actually shoots real bullets.

The last time I wrote about bullying, l had an older fellow call me up with this story.

As a young and scrawny kid, he was a favourite target of a bully at school. He got sick of it, and one summer got someone to teach him how to box. He went to camp that year – the same one as did his tormentor – and one day the camp leader pulled out some boxing gloves and called for someone who would like to box. Our hero stepped forward.

“Now, who do you want to box?” he was asked.

“I want to box that guy,” he said, pointing to the bully, who smiled a wide grin and stepped into the ring.

You know where this is going. You know how it ended. He didn’t get bullied any more after that.

Thankfully, today, kids are learning a completely different model. And yet, sadly, bullying is still going on. Maybe more than ever. A lion’s share of it through the Internet. Maybe human nature’s not as changeable as we like to think.

One thing we assume is that when we become adults, the bullying ends. We stop getting bullied – and we stop bullying others. Maybe I have a jaundiced outlook, but I have never found that to be true even one time.

Yes, there is goodness and love all around us and thank God there is. But the brutality is astonishing. And it is made even worse by this insane idea we have that it isn’t even there.

Forty years in the workforce will convince you – or at least it has me – that bullying is alive and well in adults as well as kids. The term “dog-eat-dog world” was not coined for no reason. People climb over each other to get to the top. And they can be nasty in a hundred clever and cruel ways.

But where we really delude ourselves is when we think that we, ourselves, don’t do it and maybe never have. We don’t think that we are sometimes the hammer and sometimes the nail.

And here’s where the story turns sad. At least for me.

In that same school I talked about, when I was a kid, there was a girl who was not so pretty (at least by our standards). She was chubby. She didn’t have great clothes. She spoke with what seemed like a very unpleasant, funny voice, especially when she got mad. And she got mad pretty often because she was teased. And I hate to say, though I like to think I wasn’t the worst, that I was in there too with my share of taunts.

One day, she didn’t show up to school. That one day turned into one week. Then two. And three. There was no explanation.

The teacher asked for our attention one day and told us that our classmate would not be back to school again. That she had died overnight. She was the first person I knew in the flesh who had died.

I sometimes think of her now and how miserable we made her few short years on this earth. The memory helps to keep my self-righteousness in check when bullying is under discussion.

May she rest in peace.

And may we be forgiven.

Author: Jim Hagarty

I am a 65-year-old retired journalist, busy recovering from a lifelong career as an unretired journalist. This year marks a half century of my scratching out little fables about life. My interests include genealogy, humour and music. I live in a little blue shack in Canada and spend most of my time trying to stay out of trouble. I am not that good at it. I also spent years teaching journalism. Poor state of journalism today: My fault. I have a family I don't deserve, a dog that adores me, and two cars the junk yard refuses to accept. My prized possessions include my old guitar and a razor my Dad gave me when I was 14 and which I still use when I bother to shave. Oh, and my great-great-grandfather's blackthorn stick he brought from Ireland in the 1850s. I have only one opinion but it is a good one: People take too many showers.

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