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    Those of you who have found this page will mostly fall into one of two groups: The put-upon and those trying to understand - and hopefully help - them. I'll address the latter group in a bit, but this first part (and, indeed, most of this entire page) is for the former.

For those harassed:

    Due to the unfortunate and tragic behavior of a handful of troubled youths - driven to acts of desperate revenge because they were isolated, ostracized and tormented by "normal" children and adults - people across the country have decided to single out anyone who shares any of the interests these children had (or are thought to have had) and make certain to isolate, ostracize and torment them. Mainstream kids, jocks, teachers, school administrators and parents are all participating in this "cleansing" action. When one school "security expert" was asked if this wouldn't just drive these children to the sorts of acts being used to justify these measures, he responded by saying "We've had our wake-up call. We're not hitting the snooze button." The stupidity of this seems apparent only to the people who fit the "profile" being targeted.

      Almost as bad as the people determined to help children by focusing hostile attention on them or trying to force them to be like everyone else, are the opportunists. Their primary action following the Littleton tragedy has been to use it to justify doing exactly what they were already doing, to support their existing goals. ("Ban guns!" "Ban movies!" "Ban computer games!" "Post the Ten Commandments!") If you find this as shameless as I do, just remember, you can vote, or soon will be able to. Let these people know this. And that you have a long memory.

      The biggest problem is that the harassment continues, no matter how many times the adults send a kid to therapy (or even detention) for complaining about being bullied. There have always been bullies, and always victims. Today there are mechanisms for helping both. (And, yes, bullies do need help. If they were well-adjusted they wouldn't want to hurt others solely because they are different. Only animals follow their instincts that blindly.) Don't listen to someone who tells you that there's nothing which can be done. There are schools with successful programs for ending violence and bullying. This stuff can work, if those in charge of schools are prodded hard enough that they get off their backsides and use it. Inertia - the social kind - is as much your enemy as any bully.

     Report every significant incident of harassment, especially if there is physical evidence, such as bruising, blood, etc. It is up to you to determine what is significant, but as a general rule anything which results in injuries or property damage (even if only to clothing or school books) should be reported. Don't use a whining tone, but describe what happened as dispassionately and calmly as possible. Give details, including the names of witnesses. You will probably be further harassed after you do this. Report that, too. Be firm. Be persistent. Support others who are being harassed, and ask for their support. If your teachers and school officials won't help (and much of what they do or suggest can't be considered "help") go to your parents. Even if that step isn't necessary, keep them informed. No matter how much your parents love you and want to protect you, they can't help what they don't know about.

     If your parents can't or won't help then use your local media and public officials. Write a letter to the editor. Write to your mayor. However, don't go over anyone's head unless you have to; that can turn a potential ally into an enemy. The most important thing here is to make sure people know there's an injustice being done. You will face disbelief, and accusations of exaggeration and even of lying. People are reluctant to have their preconceptions challenged, and "everyone knows" that bullying is "harmless." As a last resort, call the law. If the police won't help, ask a judge to file a restraining order on the worst offender(s). The ACLU is helping with this.

     How you present yourself to others in these cases if very important. Your words and actions will be judged much more harshly than those of the bullies. (This is actually fair; the burden of proof should lie with the accuser.) Don't make threats. Don't initiate violence. Don't exaggerate. Don't use violence at all, except to defend yourself or another against an immediate threat to life or limb. If you start the fight then suddenly everything done to you is justified. "See? I told you the little fag was crazy!" It's tough, sometimes, to swallow your bile and not get in an argument or - worse - start a fight, but that's both the right thing and the best thing to do. Make yourself a sympathetic figure (but not a pitiable one; keep your dignity as best you can). Even if that means dressing and acting "normal" on occasion.

     Document any harassment incidents in your own, private records. In these records be careful how you present your complaints. Don't whine. Record what is done to you by the bullies and your response. Also make note of what happens afterwards. Enter details about exactly what was done, as well as times, dates and locations. Don't complain or make insulting comments in your records. Use as much clinical detachment as possible. Just make sure that no-one knows about this who shouldn't. Keep your records in a safe place. If you have to make notes at school, use scrap paper for taking notes while the incident is fresh in your mind, and copy these into the permanent record later. Let a trusted person know where the records are, just in case.

     There are things which can be worse than overt harassment. Things more insidious than being beaten. Lack of support is perhaps the worst, especially if you get none from those close to you. For a social animal like a human, being ignored - especially having your interests discounted - is far worse than a beating. Find someone with similar interests. If not locally, then by mail or e-mail. Join an Internet interest group. A fan club. Something to give you sympathetic social contacts! A local Science Fiction/Fantasy club can be a valuable resource. (As a Christian I recommend God, but so much of this assault on those seen as different is coming from people who call themselves Christians that I'm almost ashamed to.) There are many people out there who not only feel like you do, but who want to know what you feel. Who want your opinion, maybe your knowledge and experience. Do something that makes you feel valued, worthwhile.

     Make sure you can justify the time, effort and people involved honestly, if your parents or teachers think you're spending too much time on your "hobbies" or are associating with the wrong people. If you can look them in the eye and say something like "These are friends, who share my interests. They have helped me with a lot of things." you are far less likely to have your friends taken away from you. This is especially easy to do with online contacts. (Yes, this has happened; I know two different young men in their late teens who tried explaining their on-line interests to their parents or teachers and who were not only cut off from those but sent to therapy. There are many close-minded people out there, so be careful who you share details of your interests with. And how you explain those details.)

     Your most important defense mechanism is a sense of humor. Learn to laugh at the absurdities. At the bullies. (Though not where they can hear you, please.) Expressing an unpopular view through humor is generally acceptable, even in this politically correct era.

     You have a right to express yourself, and to follow your own interests! To be you! Don't let "them" take that from you.

For those who want to help:

     Here's some important advice for you non-nerds reading this: Stop trying to make the kid normal! Normal people didn't crack the atom, put men on the Moon or figure out how to feed more people with less work on less land. Trying to make a child with intelligence and imagination behave like everyone else will ruin one of our best and brightest! You don't have to share their interests - or even like those interests - but ask about them. Know what your child/student/young friend or relative is doing and what he or she likes and dislikes. Be a parent! Be a sibling or a friend or a mentor! In short, be willing to pay attention to children in trouble and help and support them. Remember, they are our future.

     To put this another way, why would you want your kid to be like most people, when most people can't even figure out the directional arrows in parking lots?

Contacts and links:

School psychologists as a possible resource (lots of them are nerds, too, plus they are involved in prevention and treatment programs for both bullies and victims): http://www.naspweb.org/

Here is their position paper on violence in schools: http://www.naspweb.org/information/pospaper/violence.html

And another resource page, including links to many different state associations: http://www.schoolpsychology.net

Another possible resource - psychologists as a whole: /http://helping.apa.org/

Information on bullying research to share with school officials: http://www.ed.gov/databases/ERIC_Digests/ed407154.html

If you are "different" in a specific way, here are some contacts:

Atheists: http://www.infidels.org/

Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered/Questioning: http://www.glsen.org/

Check out "Voices from the Hellmouth" on SlashDot: http://slashdot.org/articles/99/04/25/1438249.shtml for stories from others who have been harassed (you are not alone), as well as news of what people are doing about the situation.

This document is Copyright 2002 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Anyone wishing to reproduce it can contact the author at: stickmaker@usa.net

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