What Separates The Bullies From The Bullied?

Why do kids get singled out for torment? The New York Times explores the topic today in its profile of Arkansas bully magnet Billy Wolfe. And It's really odd, because the kid looks so normal: no physical imperfections to speak of...clear skin...DC cap. "Maybe because he was so tall, or wore glasses then, or has a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension. Or maybe some kids were just bored. Or angry," the story's author speculates, but anyway, he gets bullied, beaten the shit out of really, over and over and over again and everyone — kids, parents, school officials — complies. (There's a Facebook group too, devoted to airing sentiments such as: "There is no reason anyone should like billy he's a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.") Now, I have always been pretty sure I know why I was bullied in school, and that's because I was basically asking for it. But that's maybe the wrong question.

Personally, I was weird, and shy, and ADD, and got good grades. I was the type of kid whose sixth birthday wish was that there would be no gravity. I was a fucking leper until...I got my braces out? Something like that. I've blacked it out, obviously.

It's a weird thing, being that kid who would do anything, anything, to trade places with anyone just one measly rank higher on the social totem pole, or the inconspicuousness pole. Time passes so slowly when you're a kid it's hard to fathom life after childhood; you're so much closer to innocence, to that kinder, more just womb of unconditional parental love that it's almost easier to conceive of the Afterlife than any Life After at that age, and so you cope and hold out and grow up and assume you were bullied so you would understand, so you would have empathy for others, so you would grow into the lovable misanthrope you turned out to be, so you would discover Dinosaur Jr., whatever.

Somewhere you forget kids are still getting bullied, that you boiled over with a rage you didn't know you still had when you saw that girl who mocked you every day in religion class — fucking religion class!? — at the reunion, and she's got a baby now, maybe they'll be bullies too; you should have gone and told her off but for the fact that she was posing for MySpace photos, admirably maintained backside turned toward the camera, with all those people she still hangs out with...and anyway you learned long ago to turn the other cheek as a life philosophy, not a weakness. That from alienation could come...if not exactly triumph, a pretty easy "A" on the big Kafka paper sophomore year. Etc. etc. etc. Etc. etc. etc. it's not about you, really. Have you learned nothing from the bullying? You still haven't answered any questions for your people.

Why do kids bully? And what of those precious kids who, for whatever reason, don't participate in the bullying? Who befriend the meek and the bullied from a place of social dominance? What are those kids smoking? Because the world needs more of that.

A Boy The Bullies Love To Beat Up, Repeatedly [NY Times]