Letter From A Bully.

Via Marylee Fairbanks
on Oct 13, 2010
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Dianne sat next to me in second grade. Her last name started with a G but I can’t remember it.  She never looked you in the eye, rarely brushed her hair, and always sat alone. She concealed her bitten fingernails under hand-me-down sleeves and poked a hole in the end for her thumbs to stick out. I think of her every time I buy an expensive jogging shirt with a convenient  “thumb hole for added warmth”. I have always wanted to find her because I need to tell her something.

Dianne was bullied in school.

It was the early 1970s so the tormenting lacked the mercilessness that today’s cyber-bullying provides, but she seemed unhappy and alone.

Today, I listen to the news, a continuous loop of bullying stories ending in arrests, controversy, and heart breaking suicides. I am frightened for the future of my young son.

Massachusetts is the 42nd state to adopt an official anti-bullying law. It requires staff members to report bullying, principals to investigate, and law enforcement to become involved in extreme cases. But many say that it’s not tough enough.

Bullying comes in many forms ranging from the concrete hallways of school, to the uncivil anonymity of cyberspace. Kids are no longer singled out in the back of the parking lot. Bullies attack on social networks; no one witnesses the victim’s pain. Cruelty has morphed since I was young; it now disguises itself.

It was Valentines Day. The art projects were brightly colored, glittery mailboxes made from empty tissue containers. We taped them to the side of our desks. Popularity was determined by how many Valentines you received. As kids walked by Dianne’s box they knocked it to the ground and kicked it. I gave one Peanuts valentine to everyone in the class, including Dianne.

We watched the clock and willed the hands to hurry to 2:00 p.m., time to tally votes.  Dianne didn’t rush to undo the glittery flap and dump the contents with a flourish. She had no expectation.  I was counting; “Six, seven, eight, ooh! One from Mark.” Finally, Dianne lifted the lid and there he was, Snoopy. Her eyes filled with tears.  She turned and hugged me. Her uncombed hair went into my face and mouth.  “Thank you,” she whispered.

Bullies act out of fear and sadness.

They recreate their internal state in others, and find harmony with the turmoil. This eases their isolation by perpetrating the abuse they wish to avoid.

I am not suggesting that the bullies are the victims, but from a Yogic perspective we are co-creators of our existence. Repetitive thoughts shape our internal and even external worlds. We become the way we think. Perhaps, instead of relying on a “kids will be kids” attitude, or laws to curb this plight, parents need to teach each child to move through the world with higher consciousness and personal accountability.

We need to instill the foundation of compassion and empathy in children, and this begins at home.  If we assign this responsibility to schools or government, we lose our self-determination, invite paternalism, and relieve ourselves of blame.

Studies show that children who practice yoga cope with and control aggressive behavior. They demonstrate higher grades, more confidence, less headaches, less fidgeting, and an improved ability to manage stress.

One study, in Colorado, done after the Columbine killings showed a 4 ½ hour exposure to yoga over two weeks resulted in up to a 93% decrease in aggressive behavior in 4th and 5th grade children.

Perhaps, introducing the language of yoga at a young age can inspire permanent change. Instead of relying on vague threats of legal punishments, parents and schools can turn to yoga’s fundamental principles like Ahimsa, (do no harm in word, thought, or deed to any living thing) and a child will be guided by a conscience and the self confidence to do what is right.

Yoga translates to mean Unite.

It unifies breath and movement, mind and body, and each living being.  The largest and oldest living organism is the Aspen tree.  They are made up of a single root system, with up to one million shoots per acre, and have been in existence for 80,000 years. The root structure provides the tree an ability to heal itself after a wild fire, but if one tree falls prey to canker disease, it quickly spreads and wipes out the grove.

Human beings are entwined like Aspen roots and when we harm another we damage ourselves. Yoga’s highest goal is Samadhi, union with the Divinity in each of us. It shows us that we are all one —identity without differences. Our linkage can transmit empathy and healing, or provide fertile ground for a black, sooty wound to fester.

I hugged Dianne back, but not out of kindness. I kept her close to return a whisper.  “If you tell anyone I gave it to you, I will say you are a liar.” Later, I confessed my cruelty to my Mother. The words tumbled out of me before the kitchen door closed. She reminded me that the world is not only about our own experience, but also the experiences that we offer to others.

Thirty-seven years later, I still think of that moment and feel the callousness of my words. I am ashamed of my cruelty, my unwillingness to stand behind such a small kindness. I want to tell Dianne that I am sorry.

But Dianne, I owe you more than an apology. I owe you my gratitude. Since that day, I remind myself that I have the capacity to be unkind. Your sadness, on Valentine’s Day, instilled in me something that a State Bill cannot; it confirmed that every choice has significant consequences that travel further than we can imagine. And that has helped me, a little. I am a better person than I was, because I sat next to you.

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[Update: for more information on the studies referenced ( re: yoga’s ability to decrease aggression in school children) please visitCalming Kids Yoga. ~ Ed.]

Check out Marylee’s other article, “I Hate HandstandsThe Apprentices Gift, and Where Sleigh Bells Ring.”


About Marylee Fairbanks

Marylee Fairbanks is a columnist for Gaiam, elephant journal, My Life Yoga, and Bliss.com, Her essays explore Motherhood and yoga, but mainly focus on her experiences with her young son and the many ways he helps her grow. She is a registered yoga teacher and founder of Chakras Yoga and The 24 Things. She teaches Chakras Balancing workshops and yoga classes. Prior to having her son, she performed in Broadway musicals across the country. Marylee lives in Massachusetts with her husband, son, and dogs. Find her on her website and follow her on twitter.


50 Responses to “Letter From A Bully.”

  1. Marylee says:

    Thank you for reading Charlotte. I couldn't agree more. Yoga is a tool for transformation and breeds compassion not only for the others but for the self.

  2. elephantjournal says:

    If you remember her last name, look for her on Facebook and send this to her. Might mean a lot. I was bullied really badly one year in 7th grade, and it really took years to recover from…years and years…even though I covered up fast and successfully the next year, becoming tougher, more shallow and unfeeling, "cooler" in how I dressed…learned to swear less, and take fewer risks. Sad lessons all. I'm now FB friends with one of the bullies…and am, thanks to friends, family, Buddhism etc in a good place with it all. But when you're young…oof.

  3. alignbetween says:

    What a beautiful article, I HEART you Marylee 🙂 I love seeing children learning about yoga and being exposed to the heart and mind philosophies of what it teaches. So enjoyed reading everyone's comments, too. Great stuff!

  4. chakras yoga says:

    I wish i could remember her name. I hope this story somehow finds her. I do think of her often.

  5. Magatte says:

    Simply beautiful! You said it all with this sentence:
    "every choice has significant consequences that travel further than we can imagine"
    Good for you, Marylee! And even better for your son, for where I come from, Senegal, we believe that our parent's actions give us an edge or not. With this letter, you just gave your amazing son a huge boost in karma!!!
    Can you tell the African godmother I am to him is beaming with joy and delight? Much love and huge kisses to all of you!

  6. Hassan says:

    Love the Aspen root analogy! Keep up the good work.

  7. glaydah says:

    Kiyitirivu! Great!

    This is such fresh and rich writing. The way you inter-twinned the yogic perspective with BULLYING, creatively giving us such a vivid experience you had with Dianne. I am sure Dianne will read this someday and I am sure she will appreciate because this sure comes from your heart. And indeed “Human beings are entwined like Aspen roots and when we harm another we damage ourselves.” This is a lesson we all should have learnt when we were young. Still we can learn it today and live to teach it to our children. I am going to forward this article to all my friends. Marylee, you are not only a writer, a yoga teacher, a mama, just mention it, but you are also a ‘changer’ of lives. Regards from Uganda.

  8. CHARLES .B. says:

    loved the piece. reminds me of those many decades ago when i was in high school.

  9. […] Bullying comes in many forms ranging from the concrete hallways of school, to the uncivil anonymity of cyberspace. Kids are no longer singled out in the back of the parking lot. Bullies attack on social networks; no one witnesses the victim’s pain. Cruelty has morphed since I was young; it now disguises itself. Read the full story at Elephant Journal… […]

  10. Joan Simpson says:

    Pretty cool blog you’ve got here. Thank you for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to this matter. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

    Joan Simpson

  11. […] moment. For more of Marylee check out her previous articles, “I Hate Headstands” and “Letter from a Bully, and Where Sleigh Bells Ring.” ChakrasYoga.com Yoga helps me to notice and give meaning to […]

  12. […] more of Marylee check out her previous articles I Hate Handstands, Letter From A Bully, and The Apprentices […]

  13. […] bully is someone who says, ‘Give me your lunch money and stuff like that; and when someone says that to […]

  14. YesuDas says:

    Marylee, this is beautiful. I remember so well the agony of all those popularity-contests-thinly-disguised-as-something else. I also remember a "Dianne" in my own class. Painful memories, but you have brought them back lovingly.

  15. Marylee says:

    Thank you for your kind comment

  16. Michelle says:

    Being a “Dianne” myself I remember that feeling of rejection. And one small act of kindness even followed by mean words, probably meant more to her than you will ever know. I also started yoga not so long ago and now involve my daughter after I pulled her out of school due to bullying. The proudest moment of my life was when she saw her bully in public, walked up to her and invited her to church with us. She did something I only wish I would have had the strength to do.
    On behalf of all the “Dianne’s”, Thank You!

  17. Wow. Michelle. This really touched me thank you for sharing you thoughts. You made me cry. You are raising a strong and peaceful soul and should be proud

  18. chakras yoga says:

    You have no idea how many people have written me saying they too were bullied as a child. Its great how it all flipped for you! I wonder if they remember being unkind.

  19. chakras yoga says:

    we do have an obligation to defend others. I agree. Thank you for reading and responding.

  20. chakras yoga says:

    Thank you for reading Alignbetween

  21. chakras yoga says:

    Moms rock! its so important to keep telling kids these things.. eventually it becomes a part of who they are
    thanks for reading

  22. chakras yoga says:

    Its such a difficult thing. I am sorry you went through it Tracy

  23. chakras yoga says:

    Thanks for reading!

  24. chakras yoga says:

    Thank you. You are too kind

  25. chakras yoga says:

    Thank you for reading and sharing Patrick

  26. chakras yoga says:

    Makes us feel old huh? thanks for reading

  27. chakras yoga says:

    thanks for reading

  28. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Education.com and Dave Kubel, Nusrat Zoha. Nusrat Zoha said: RT @Education_com: I'll admit it; this post made me tear up a little. Letter From a Bully: http://bit.ly/dGUM3u via @elephantjournal […]

  29. […] Marylee’s other pieces; Sing Out, Clara, Letter From A Bully, I Hate Handstands, The Apprentices Gift, and Where Sleigh Bells Ring. Yoga began for me as a […]

  30. […] covered bullying many times before. It’s the dark side, the underbelly of childhood. It’s the font of […]

  31. […] fun coverage of It Gets Better on elephantjournal.com. A moving article re Bullying. A funny one, It Gets Worse. […]

  32. […] For another look, click here. […]

  33. Nicole says:

    Is there any way you could contact the school and see if they have records of the students names from that year?