“Growing up, I was a pretty nice kid. I made polite conversation with my teachers and friends’ parents, I got good grades and played on sports teams and I never, ever said explicitly mean things to anyone’s face.
If you’d asked me back then if I was a bully, I would’ve given you an emphatic ‘No Way! As if?’ and then hustled off to talk to my girlfriends about what a weirdo you were for asking such a rude question and wondered out loud what kind of dorky parents you must have if you never learned how to have a normal conversation. But I wasn’t being mean. I was just wondering because you were being like, SO weird. I mean, I only said it because I felt sorry for you!
Because I was what I like to call a ‘Background Bully.’ You know the kind – those Gretchen Weiner-type girls or guys who feigned shock when one of their friends said something hurtful, but then giggled about it anyway. Or the ones who said things like, ‘I don’t want to be mean, but why does *insert the easy target at your high school here* always have to dress like that?’
Under the protection of the ‘I Don’t Want To Be Mean’ clause my Nice Girl image could remain in tact, while still allowing me to poke fun at the kids who wore black trench coats or answered teacher’s questions too emphatically. Today, Background Bullies might be more familiar with the ‘Bless Her Heart’ loophole or the ‘I’m Just Sayin’ caveat; both of which allow for the speaker’s nose to remain clean while someone else takes the hit.
Sure, Background Bullies aren’t throwing anyone up against a locker or threatening kids with a ‘knuckle sandwich’ (My bullying imagery may be like two or three decades behind here – I think bulling has become much more nuanced and world wide web-y since I left school) but Background Bullies can often do far more damage than regular, old, in-your-face bullies. Because Background Bullies are the source of the quiet whispers you hear when you walk down the hall or read a mean comment about yourself on YikYak. They may not be the ‘original poster,’ but their ‘shares’ and ‘likes’ will echo into middle school and high school eternity.
Background Bullies would prefer their image be kept squeaky clean, so they’re the ones who stir the pot in the hopes of getting someone else to say that mean thing they’re dying to say for themselves. Yes, there are some high schoolers who are brazen enough to wear their bullying persona on their sleeve for everyone to see, but there are so may more who live in the shadows of counterfeit niceties and hide behind the anonymous apps like Jodel and Candid, that will do their dirty work for them.
I considered myself one of the nice kids, but in 1998 I sat with my next door neighbor and typed an anonymous email that listed the kids in our 8th grade class with the ‘Best Smile’, ‘Best Eyes’, and ‘Best Hair’ – never considering or caring that leaving people off the list would be as hurtful as actually saying something cruel about them. Because we Background Bullies just don’t get it. We don’t see the damage we’re causing with our quiet laughter or our heads nodding in agreement. We don’t see how we’re contributing to the hurt or the exclusion or the pain of others because on the outside, we’re smiling and ‘being nice’,’ just like we’re supposed to be.
Because simply telling our kids to ‘be nice’ to each other doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s far more important that we show them simply how to ‘be’ in the presence of something or someone different without passing judgment and whispering it to their bestie.
So the next time you’re talking with your kids about bullying, talk to them about the Background Bullies too. Remind them that whispers and liked posts and quiet giggles will hurt worse than they might imagine. Teach them about the importance of empathy and model it for them in your actions – our everyday behavior as parents speaks far louder than any anti-bullying lecture ever could. Because long lectures about the importance of good behavior, don’t instill values in our kids – we do.
Because it is our job to be the grown up and the model and because lectures are so very, very boring.
Bless their hearts.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly Bandas. Follow her journey on Instagram here and Facebook here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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