Gelotophobia – Fear of being laughed at or ridiculed.

He’s bigger than you! He’s meaner than you! He’s about to take your lunch money! For the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies. If only they were limited to the sort of person noted above. If only they were only in high school. If only we could all put our finger on exactly what a bully is.

Sadly, they come in all shapes and sizes and aren’t limited to the male of our species. From my experience the female variety are even worse! Male bullies usually just want to beat the snot out of you and take your valuables. Females don’t have to lay a hand on you to do damage. The females I’ve encountered, directly or indirectly, tend to go for the sneak attack. They scheme a lot more and the damage a female bully does leans more towards the mental/psychological than the physical. They may not be strong enough to kick sand in your face but they’ll still leave you feeling battered, bruised and helpless. I’ll never really understand why bullies do what they do. It makes them feel special and in-control and all that, but I can feel special and in control without stamping all over the feelings of another person. I’m sure there’s a galaxy of articles, books, speeches, classes, studies et al out there about these people. I’m not here to rehash any of those.

I’d like to say I completely lucked out in life and was never bullied by anyone but I can’t. In fact, a few years ago I was able to escape such a relationship. Sometimes finding out your partner is cheating on you is a good thing. It was the little push I need to get rid of his arse once and for all. I know my abuse wasn’t as bad as what some of my friends have had to endure. I like to tell the story of a friend of mine from high school and how I stopped him from getting pounded without lifting a finger.

We must have been sophomores. My friend, let’s call him Fred, through no fault of his own beyond being very smart, polite and sticking to his religious convictions of turning the other cheek, found himself cornered on a stairway during lunch. Unfortunately the school bully, we’ll call him Abner, shared the same lunch period. There was the usual ruckus through the masses, the whispering grapevine, through which I got wind of what was going on. With a hard, hot knot in my stomach, I pulled myself away from whatever book of witchery I may have been reading at the time and went to see what was going on. It wasn’t out of morbid curiosity. This was MY FRIEND and well, there wasn’t much to me back then but I’d be damned if I was going to let Fred get pounded. I’d beat the crap out of Abner myself if I had to. I’m not a violent person by nature, mind you, so punching Abner in the face would certainly be a last resort – though I can’t say I’d have minded doing it.

Upon my arrival to the scene, Abner was standing over Fred who was sitting on the steps. Abner was going through his Bully Posturing and Tough Talk. Abner was demanding Fred take the first swing, don’t be a chicken, you sissy, the usual shpeel. Fred wouldn’t do it cuz we all know, the one who throws the first punch is the one who started it, right? I knew Fred would never take the first swing and slowly nudged my way through the gathering peanut gallery until I was sure both Fred and Abner could see me. I casually crossed my arms and leaned against the nearby pillar and watched Abner. Maybe watch isn’t quite the right word.. more like, ‘evil-eyed’ the bad boy. If looks could kill, sorta thing. It was an unblinking, cold stare. After a few minutes Abner looked towards the crowd and saw me. I gave him an equally icy smile and shook my head ever so slightly back and forth.

Abner stood motionless and silent for a moment then looked at Fred and said, “She’s one of your friends, isn’t she?” Fred saw me and nodded. Abner looked at me again. I hadn’t moved an inch and my anger was increasing. It must have showed because Fred backed down. “She’s a witch or something. She knows stuff,” he said. Just about this time the school VP showed up and carted the two of them away. Not sure what the final outcome was back at The Office, but I’d like to think I played a role in preventing Fred from being hurt that day or any days that followed. I went back to my table and my book and finished my lunch now officially dubbed a witch. It was a title I’d carry with me for many years with a certain level of pride. Maybe that’s why I was never bullied too much.

But, as stated prior, bullies don’t just go away when you leave high school. I’ve come to think that the worse sort of bullies maybe aren’t though of as bullies at all, and maybe they don’t do what they do with any intention of harm, but what they say still hurts and makes the victim feel less of a person.

A lot of people suffer from phobias. Some are mild and easily overcome. Some are so bad the sufferer can’t leave their own home. I have a few phobias. I also have some deep-seeded insecurities that I am working to overcome. Facing ones fears to overcome a phobia is one thing but to have that fear pushed upon you is or to have that fear or insecurity totally ignored and mocked is completely different. If you’re a real friend to someone who is afraid of heights you AREN’T helping by taking them up in a twenty-story glass elevator. You don’t toss a snake or spider on someone who is deathly afraid of them. And you really shouldn’t mock anyone who has an insecurity about how they look or feel. That’s being a bully just as much as Abner was to Fred. The phobic feels bad enough as it is. You are making them feel worse, like they’re feelings don’t matter to you at all and like there is something more wrong with them than they already believe there to be. That doesn’t sound like a friend to me at all. It’s okay to be light-hearted to try and  make them feel better but don’t tell them what they are feeling is nothing or silly or stupid. It isn’t NOTHING! It’s very real. It’s very painful. An off-handed remark that what they are feeling doesn’t matter strikes just as hard as a punch to the jaw or a slap across the face. It makes you a bully.

I’m not talking about being overly Politically Correct either. In my mind, that’s a whole different ballgame.

Being kind to each other is so much easier than being cruel and it’s so much more rewarding. Words can hurt just as much a those sticks, stones and fists. Think before you speak and treat others as you would expect to be treated. Being respectful, even to total strangers, goes a long way.

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