What I learned From the Playground Bully


During my childhood, the playground bully was a staple; usually ruling recess with an iron fist.  While I went to great lengths to avoid his and at times her attention, some days it was my turn in the barrel and that was the accepted reality of the times.

The bully’s of my youth were usually larger, meaner and more comfortable with confrontation than I was at the time. Their reputation usually preceded them with anecdotal stories which were relayed from student to student and thus the bully became larger than life. That was the playground. That was life. We survived and moved on.

As I look back, I realized that the bully’s of my childhood and the people who confronted those bully’s, taught me volumes about existing in the real world beyond the playground.

1. Size Matters: You don’t run your mouth to someone twice your size and expect to walk away unscathed.

2. I learned very early to think strategically: To get from A to B required a plan of action in order to avoid a confrontation, especially when I knew they were looking for me.

3. You learn to think quickly and measure your words: Every utterance had the potential to either provoke or calm the situation.

4. You learned diplomacy and the ability to reason your way out of trouble: I learned the importance of “engage brain before mouth”. I also learned how to reason with the bully, which rarely worked but was worth trying.

5. I learned team work: When the bully would go too far and it became time to end his reign, I learned early that by joining with others and confronting the bully, he would ultimately cave and run.

6. I learned to respect bravery: Every once in a while, someone would say “no” and square off with the bully. Win or lose, I admired the one who was brave enough to say “no more”. Their singular action usually started a chain reaction, in which a group formed and drove the bully away.

7. I learned compassion: I also learned why they were a bully. Their home life was a struggle and they were generally unhappy and acting out. I also learned that most bully’s would rather have friends than enemies.

8. I learned to choose a side: Either you were part of the bully’s circle or you weren’t. I learned the value of compromising with those who disagree. Everyone has their own problems, wants and desires and you learned, to whatever degree, how far you were willing to tolerate their position . The bully affected us all: either you were with him, which made life easier, or you were against him. Either way, you chose.

9 I learned to adapt and to cope: The playground  was your world now.  It’s not like you can just leave, so you learned to make it work.

10. You learned who you DIDN’T want to be like in life: In the presence of a bully, who you are, is defined relatively quickly. I wanted to be the one who “stood up”.

I remember two pivotal events in my life that formed a core belief that I still live by to this day.

The first occurred when I was about 10 years old during a Boy Scout meeting at a park. We were surrounded by eucalyptus trees when we heard the sound of a boy screaming for help. We spotted a large tree house and saw older boys hitting him with belts. I was stunned at the cruelty. My next door neighbor, Renée, immediately went to the tree, climbed it and the older boys began suffering her wrath and were jumping out of the tree in all directions, running for their lives. She then returned with the greatful boy who was without a shirt and covered with welts. She was my hero. We all just stood there with our mouths open, including the other adults; she didn’t fail to act, she took charge.

The next event occurred two years later in junior high school. I was wearing a religious shirt that said “Only He can prevent eternal fire” with a picture of Smoky the Bear on the front. I really liked that shirt but an older kid, who enjoyed picking on 7th graders, didn’t. He grabbed my collar and stretched it almost to the point of tearing the shirt. I was furious and attacked him. At 5’ 6” and maybe 120 lbs, I was no real threat but I did everything but chew his ear off and he actually fled never to bother me again.

Those two events changed me forever; I learned to never underestimate the sheer awesome will and power of a Parent in defense of a child, whether it’s her’s or not. I also learned to never, ever tolerate a bully. You either step-up or you sit down and shut up. Dante reserved the anteroom of hell for those who can’t decide which.

The Playgrounds of my youth were a microcosm of the outside world. After high school, I felt generally ready and prepared for the harsh realities of adult life.

In an bizarre way, we owe a twisted debt of gratitude to the school bully. Unintentionally, they contributed to the overall social development of the students they encountered. Sadly, I do recognize, however, that while some were able to overcome the bully’s existence, others, tragically were not and took their own lives.

Bully’s are a reality of life. They cannot be legislated away nor can they be ignored. I feel our best course is to explore the reason why children become bully’s and try and effect a change on that level.




Winners and Losers? Wow, did I miss the mark…

I recently wrote an article, “Winners and Losers. The intellectual cost of labels”, in which I attempted to make the point that “labels” are dangerous to our intellectual development.  I received some interesting responses:

  1. “This is a very Liberal article” and “if everyone is being told that being second is of no consequence, why would they ever strive to be first?”.  She makes a few further points, “Growth depends on our ability to want to become more” and “I think it’s sad that kids are not allowed to “fail”. How will they ever feel the thrill of winning?” (The above quotes are a few of the many points that were made)
  2. Another reader commented that “I didn’t like being the last picked to play in sports”
  3. A reader stated that she liked the statement “Most successful people lose more times than they win” which she found helpful in lifting her morale during a challenging career event.  She further adds “Although I do want my kids to realize and understand winning and losing, it doesn’t have to be in those exact terms”  She further says that “kids who lose a game or something, don’t need to be punished when the winners are taken out for ice cream.  Losing isn’t a bad thing, because so much growth can come from it!”

I am both thrilled and thankful for the opinions.  However, I’m afraid that the point that I was trying to make was missed.  I genuinely hope this helps to clarify my intended position.

I don’t like labels, whatever they are. I chose winners/losers as the article’s primary focus but it could just as easily have been crazy/sane, smart/stupid or kind/cruel.  It really doesn’t matter as the thought that I was attempting to communicate was that once we label someone and no one asks “why’, we’re done.  The label sticks and the brain stops.

Instead of defining ourselves with labels, we should be trying to learn “the why”. Why did I win, why did I lose, why are others calling that kid stupid, cruel or crazy?  Thomas Edison scored a “win” because he made the light bulb; ok, I get that, but he’s bigger than that term. It should be, “tell me about the WAY in which Thomas Edison made the light bulb, including both his successes and failures”.  And after the soccer game; “I know that I won/lost, but talk to me about “why” I won or lost. Either conversation improves me!”

My point is:  Don’t label me or someone else and then move on, TEACH ME “THE WHY” SO THAT I CAN THEN LEARN.  Why did I win?, why are you calling him cruel or stupid?  STOP LABELING AND START EXPLAINING.  It’s easy to label someone as this or that, but to have to explain it, especially to a child… It is at this humbling moment that we may actually, finally start to grow.


Winners and Losers. The Intellectual Cost of Labels

The word’s “win” and “lose” frustrate me.  They are a leash about our necks, restraining us from any forward momentum. These two verbs do more to hinder the intellectual growth of humanity than most people would ever imagine.

Pause for a moment and think about that.  Those two words are at the core of how we define ourselves; am I a winner or a loser?  Examples of both abound; “Winner’s want the ball”, “let’s put a check in the win column” and “this is a win-win situation”.  Alternatively, we have “losers never win”, “it’s a lose-lose situation” and it’s bad to “lose your mind, the game or your cool”.  This is what we have been taught, this is what we know and this is how we live.  Winners and Losers.

But, is it really that simple?  Are we so shallow as to think that because our side won, that we are a “winner” and that the opposition is a “loser”?  We seem to do it every day, so yes, we are unfortunately that shallow.  This is where we need to change, to grow.  I suggest to you that those two words are so incredibly inaccurate and restrictive to our thinking and self-worth, that they should be relegated to where they belong, in the land of the spoken obsolete.  Think, Jalopy, Comely and Dastardly.  Old, unused words from our past.

We need to replace those two words with the question, “what did you learn?”; not did you win or lose, which grossly  oversimplifies the emotional outcome of an event. To use “these” two words is to deny an incredible opportunity for intellectual growth.  Imagine you’re at a soccer game in which your child’s team scored less than the other.  Your child says “we lost” as the other team loudly celebrates their victory.  You say “No, you didn’t lose, you just scored less today so let’s talk about what you’ve learned” and a discussion follows, hopefully about the value of perseverance, sports tactics and methods of self improvement to reach their goals.  To the child who “won”, a conversation desperately needs to occur regarding the value of humility, perseverance, sports tactics and methods to continue being successful in their endeavors.

…Or we can take the winner out for ice cream and the loser home to sulk until the next soccer game.

I would like to think that we all know better but being “us” we continue to ignore the obvious; that labels are terribly detrimental and restrictive to our social and intellectual evolution.  We are ridiculously quick to label.  Can you imagine a football team that played 500 games, failing 499 times before finally prevailing?  How would we describe the team?  They’re Losers.  Yet Thomas Edison failed at least 1000 times before getting it right and ultimately creating a working light bulb.  He’s a winner.  Ironically, most successful people have lost far more times than they ever won.  They “showed up”, dug their heels in and never stopped trying.

So did Trump “really” win the election?  Did the democratic party “really” lose? I suggest that nobody won, based on today’s gridlock, in the election.  I’m sure that both sides are asking themselves “what did we learn, what could have been done differently?” I’m certain the democratic party is “learning” from the event.  Thinking deeper, did we really win World War II and lose in Vietnam?  Does it matter? Or did we learn.  I hope we are beyond winning and losing and focusing on the lessons of history and the tragic loss of human life.  When you use the words “win” and “lose” it’s like putting a period at the end of a sentence.  It signifies the end of a thought.  Period.

How we “define” ourselves is essential.  These two verbs fall far short of any useful means of describing what we, our children and humanity are truly capable of.  We need to stop with the labels and start looking deeper ie: intelligent conversation about issues that are important, whatever they may be.  It’s here that we will begin to finally grow, to learn, to become ultimately more than winners and losers.

Note: This article had some passionate comments which I felt required clarification.  The next article addresses this “Winners and Losers, did I miss the mark”  Thank you, Michael