Are some children pre-disposed to being bullies, and others pre-disposed to be their victims? Do the reasons for bullying and victimisation lie in nature or nurture? Why in the same family does one child often behave very differently from another?
When looking for reasons why people behave in the way they do – often very differently from one another in a given set of circumstances – one had better start by recognising that there are no simple answers. Reasons for bullying and victimisation will lie both in nature and nurture.
And what about the reasons for wanting to be a soldier? In my immediate circle of family and friends I have come across at least two boys who from the age of two showed a fascination for everything to do with war and weapons, despite the best efforts of their parents to explain the horror of both. When parents refused to buy them toy guns and army-type clothing, they used anything they could lay their hands on as make-believe swords, guns, whips, cudgels… Their games always concentrated on leaping around killing people. “CHARGE…! Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha…!!”
In both cases they had a grandfather who had been a career soldier.
When I began describing Gordon’s early years, I identified with him quite a lot. Of course I didn’t have any super-powers, but there were regular times in childhood when I’d wanted enough power to deal with those aspects of growing up I found particularly unpleasant: like being the victim of violence – from my father and from bullies at school.
One of the BIG favours I ask of all my readers – it is one of the three commitments which run right through this story – is to respect difference. At school children may exhibit many differences: in the way they look, in the way they speak, in the way they behave; and such differences are often what bullies give as the reason why they target particular individuals.
Here is a passage from a document I found on the net when I put in the question: “Why do some children bully others?” It is published by the University of New Hampshire in America.
“Most bullies try to make excuses for hurting other children. Usually they think their target is different in some way and deserves to be bullied. For example, the victim “is short,” “is fat,” “is ugly,” “wears stupid glasses,” “is a brain,” “is the teacher’s pet,” “talks funny,” “looks funny,” “walks funny,” or “is stupid.”
Bullies pick on certain children for all kinds of reasons. Adults must help children understand they are not at fault if they become victims or targets of bullies. Children need to believe that differences among people are wonderful. Differences make us unique and interesting.
Targets of bullies do not need to change. Bullies need to change.”
If everyone believed that and behaved accordingly, the world would be a much better place.
Gordon was certainly different in ways that were bound to make bullies notice him. As he got old enough to interact with other children there were going to be difficulties. For example, he had to learn himself at an early age not to be intolerant with those who made what to him were glaringly obvious mistakes – like not keeping within the lines when colouring in, or choosing the wrong colours for a particular species of dinosaur.
After all, most children haven’t actually been to the Jurassic era and seen a diplodocus for themselves…
So his first encounter with Tom – two months before his fourth birthday – was hardly surprising. At first I saw Tom as Gordon must have seen him: as a “destructive little toe-rag” who bullied his mother and anyone else he possibly could. He was uncontrolled, inconsiderate, violent and rude; and when somebody behaves like that it is hard not to derive a certain satisfaction from them getting their “come-uppance”. If I’d been Zack, I’d have given Tom a good push over backwards as well (Book 1, chapter 4).
But it often helps you to deal with unacceptable behaviour in others if you ask yourself why they behave in the way they do: because understanding that may help you to come up with the best strategy for dealing with it.
So I gave Tom a bit more thought…
…and I realised how angry he was at his mum for not having been able to keep his dad with them at home. He was also hurt because his dad hadn’t loved him enough to be there when he needed him. Of course he couldn’t admit that to himself; so he compensated by trying to turn himself into the man of the house, and what he imagined his dad was: a tough soldier out there fighting enemies. “Bang! Bang! You’re dead!”
His dad was far away killing enemies. His dad was the bestest, bravest soldier there ever was. He had to be: so that nobody could kill him. He did his tour of duty, then he came home to his wife and child who had been patiently waiting for him and missing him a lot. That was when he would see what a brave soldier he had for a son, and that would make him love him even more than his mum kept telling him his dad loved him, even though he couldn’t be there for him because he was far away fighting enemies so that other children and their daddies could be safe at home.
Gordon’s dad came home every night, and was there every morning when he woke up. What could that pampered, clever little weirdo with his posh voice and his imaginary friend know what it was like to be HIM?!
Gordon’s first day at Nursery School was a bad day at the office for Tom; but it was also a turning point. Everybody makes mistakes. What’s important is that we do our best to acknowledge that they were or are mistakes, and that we try our best to learn from them.
By the end of Book 4 you’ll have seen the better side of Tom. There is hope for him. But the jury is still out on a number of other characters you will meet along the way.
PS If bullying is something that you’re suffering from, I wrote this story for you more than anyone. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it, if you like. I have had a lot of experience, both of being bullied and of stopping it from happening.
I might be able to help.