When one of my students is bullied, I feel frustrated. There are things we can do to help, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like enough.
I remember being little and being frustrated that kids would pick on me for being named “after a car”.
My dad’s philosophy was that you have a choice in whether you let yourself be a victim. He believed that there were people that chose and accepted the label of victim. I remember debating this with him when I was a teenager. I saw people that had awful things happen to them and I felt like his philosophy blamed them for those things. As I’ve matured, I realize that what he was talking about didn’t involve ‘blaming the vicitim’. It involved choice in how you react to certain situations. I’ve had unfortunate things happen in my life and remembering the idea that I get to choose whether I’m a victim has helped me to keep going. It’s made me strong.
We have a choice in how we react. When I was a kid and someone made fun of my name, I would cry. Then, it was clear I was a victim, and they would continue to do it. If someone were to make fun of my name today, it would have no effect on me and the person would probably never do it again.
Sometimes, I wish there was a way to give that understanding to my students. I think it is something you have to grow into though. We can choose how we react. We can choose to stand up for ourselves. We can’t always avoid unfortunate situations, but we can try. If we can’t avoid them, we can choose how to react to them.
I believe the fact that my dad tried to teach me not to be a victim helped me avoid a truly horrible situation one night in high school.
One night, after my church’s youth group, I didn’t want a ride home. I felt like being alone so I walked. On my way home, I stopped at the marina a few blocks from home. It probably wasn’t the smartest choice to sit on a bench alone at night, but my hometown was pretty safe. I was sitting there, brooding over some teenage problem, when a car pulled up. The parking lot was fairly empty but this car pulled into a spot that pointed their car right at me. I had noticed that the car had two men in it as it pulled up. I looked up at the car and couldn’t see anything because the lights were still on. I looked towards the water and expected the lights to go off and hoped the guys wouldn’t bother me. As time passed, and the headlights stayed on, I began to realize something wasn’t right. I felt like they were trying to intimidate me by leaving their headlights shining on me for so long. I considered why two men would want to intimidate a teenage girl and realized this could be a potentially dangerous situation. I took a moment and considered my options. I could run. Try running down the path that a car couldn’t follow, but it was a long way to a place where I could get help. Plus, running would make me look like a victim and running might make them get out and chase me. I decided I wasn’t going to be a victim that night. I decided not to be scared. I decided to be angry (and to look angry and unafraid). I stood up and started walking down the path along the parking lot towards my home. As soon as I started walking, the car began to back out of its spot. It slowly started following me. I knew in that moment I wasn’t being paranoid. I knew these men had bad intentions. Again, I considered my options. Should I start running? I decided again that it was important not to look like a victim. I stopped walking. The car stopped behind me. I turned around and looked at the car trying to pretend I could see the driver through the headlights. I gave my best I’m-pissed-that-you-are-bothering-me-and-I’m-not-scared-of-you look. I put my hands on my hips and just stared. I made sure to think angry thoughts so they’d show on my face. I knew I couldn’t out run or out walk the car. I wasn’t about to turn around and have them start following me again. If they were going to attack me, I was going to stand my ground and fight. I can’t say for sure how long I stood there. It felt like 5 minutes, but with that much adrenalin running through my veins, who knows. After quite a long stare down, where I imagine the two men had a conversation about the crazy girl staring at their car, they drove off. I walked home safely.
I’ll never know what was going on in that car or what those men were up to. Maybe they just found it funny to try to scare me. Maybe they had sinister plans. Either way, deciding not to be a victim in that moment helped keep me safe.
I know that strategy wouldn’t always work. I could have still been attacked. It’s never someone’s fault when they are attacked. I thought my dad’s philosophy involved blaming the victim. It doesn’t. It does help you avoid becoming one sometimes though. After that moment, I was stronger. When unavoidable horrible things happen, I still try to choose not to be a victim. It’s not easy, but it helps.
My students aren’t ready for that strategy quite yet. Although, when kids come complaining that someone is chasing them, I do tell them to stop running. I tell them that people can only chase you if you run. They don’t know how much I hope that advice sinks in and helps them like it helped me.
Tomorrow, I’ll post a video and free resource I used to have conversations about what to do if someone bothers you.