Failures of kindness

I was bullied in primary school by a boy who seemed to really enjoy controlling and humiliating people. I wonder now what his life might have been at home. Did he witness abuse? Was he abused? We find it difficult to believe that kids can be cruel for no particular reason.

A few years later, I turned into a bully myself. It happened one time and there was no physical abuse, just words.

“Just words” – how sadly ironic. I was deeply wounded by words so many times since then.

There was this girl in my class, very shy, always pulling down her blouse as if she needed to cover something shameful. Something invisible that could never be fully covered. She spoke with difficulty. When she did speak, she sounded like a girl much younger than her age. She was never at ease among us.

I don’t know how it came to be but I started making fun of her. Of her speech difficulties. Of her habit of pulling down her blouse. At some point, her mom came to the school and talked to me. She wasn’t aggressive. She asked me why I did it.

I don’t think I was doing very well at the time. I felt lonely, out of place, clumsy, inadequate. I felt unloved. I desperately wanted to be accepted.

I was probably scared too, because I couldn’t make sense of what was happening to me.

Every time I remember that girl, there’s a wave of shame and self-contempt washing over me. It seems inconceivable. I never saw myself as a jerk preying on people’s difficulties but for her I surely was one, back then.

Was it the same for my bully from primary school? Was he, above all else, a scared boy hiding from the monsters under his bed? It’s almost impossible to think about him that way, but I simply have to admit the possibility. No matter how outrageous it feels to compare myself with him, I have to at least envisage the possibility that I once was, in somebody’s eyes, exactly what he was for me.

There is something liberating in accepting this possibility. I doubt there can be self-forgiveness or acceptance as long as we remain in the cocoon of our own suffering, disconnected from the suffering of those who were hurt by us.