The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

January 17, 2013

It’s not just joking around: Bullied girl grows up to help rescue victims — and bullies

BLOOMFIELD — Does any uncle, grandma, or parent really believe “if you just ignore the bully,” they’ll go away?

Jodee Blanco doesn’t believe it. And she doesn’t expect teens to believe it, either.

“I should have confronted them nonviolently and told the to stop,” she said about an incident from her childhood.

Blanco is the New York Times best-selling author, survivor and  anti-bullying activist who was addressing a crowd of about 300 students at the Davis County school district Wednesday. That makes it one of her smaller audiences.

These days, she tells students to speak up. Tell the bully to stop, or find a trusted adult who will listen. Cherish your friends, so you don’t become isolated and unsupported.

But they have to be sure they aren’t bullying. It hurts to be laughed at, Blanco said. Think about that time someone really hurt you, the worst you’ve ever felt. Close your eyes and remember. That’s how the victim is feeling.

“’What’s wrong with me. What’s wrong with me?’ She’s not going to just think that when she’s in school with you guys. She’s going to think ‘What’s wrong with me?’ her entire life. We’re damaged for the rest of our lives.”

Now a vegetarian and still an animal lover who has “never knowingly killed a bug” in her life, she was horrified to learn she was expected to dissect a baby pig or fail middle school. It was rare for her to question authority, but she got up the courage to tell the science teacher that while she meant no disrespect, she would not dissect a baby pig, and she understood that he was required to fail her.

Her tormentors laughed at her. Later in the year, the girl who tormented her the most pulled a partly dissected pig carcass out before the teacher arrived in class. She threw it at Blanco’s face. Some of it got in her mouth.

“And what were the [other] kids doing? Laughing at me,” she said.

She said she gets it. Some were laughing because they were nervous. Others laughed because they feared if they didn’t, others would laugh at them.

“I understand. Really. Do you know what that makes them? Cowards.”

That’s worse than being a bully, Blanco said. There are ways to stand up for someone without physically attacking a bully or even without having to say, hey, cut it out, though that’s a possibility. Get the victim out of there. I need help with my locker, Jodee, let’s go. Or just saying Jodee, let’s go, let’s get out of here.

“The opposite of a bystander is a rescuer,” she said.

But the second part of a rescue is even more important.

“You must include them. Because the worst part of being bullied is the loneliness. That’s why victims do crazy things. Bullying isn’t just the mean things you do. It’s all the nice things you don’t do.”

Let them hang out with you and your friends. Ask them to sit with you at lunch. Invite them to a party.

“Include them. Because that’s the real rescue,” Blanco said.

One of the few things that helped her survive high school and middle school leads to another tip. Go a town or two away for an activity. She joined a theater group in the region and felt a kinship with the kids there.

It’s OK to take the risk of rejection when it comes to making a friend. It’s painful when you’re hurt, and rewarding when you’re successful — which you may not be without taking some risk. In fact, she said, here’s something adults may not tell young people.

“Your whole life, people are going to break your heart. Not once, not twice. Your whole life,” she said.

But that’s not necessarily a bad sign.

“Your dreams are not impractical. Take risks. Work your butt off. Don’t be afraid,” she said. “In those moments you get rewarded, it will be sweeter.”

It shows courage to take a chance on a possibility: You’ve opened your heart, put it out there to love and care, and when you do that, there are times you’ll be rewarded. And there are times people or circumstances will break your heart.

Having your heart broken, Blanco said, means you were brave enough to open up anyway.

Questions from kids

Jodee Blanco gave Davis County students a chance to ask any question they wanted. Here’s three, along with there answers.

• How were your grades while you were being bullied? They ranged from all A’s to all F’s. When she couldn’t focus because of her pain, she got failing grades. During those times she wanted to “escape” she buried herself in her studies — and got straight A’s.

• Did they cyber bully or spread rumors about you? Since she went to school “when dinosaurs roamed the Earth,” there was no bullying via Internet. The bullies did circulate notes with hurtful things on them, and spread rumors in other ways. She feels these days she should have confronted the rumor spreaders and told them to stop.

• What was the worst part of being bullied? Being isolated. Besides being the victim of physical and emotional assaults, she was made an outcast, with no peers to share her fears or worries, and no friends to tell her some of the good things about her as a person.

“Worst was all the love and friendship I had to give that nobody wants. They threw it back in my face. It backed up into my system, and poisoned my self-esteem.”

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