Wil Wheaton On Dealing With Bullies

Wil Wheaton, geek extraordinaire, was recently at the Denver Comicon when he was asked by a girl whether he was ever called a "nerd" when he was a kid and, if so, how he responded.  His reply was perfect.

I felt I needed to post a comment to his blog entry about this, but soon wound up with over 400 words.  That’s when I decided to re-use my comment as a post about bullying.

I was tormented from elementary school through high school for being different.  I wasn’t as social as the other kids.  I liked things they didn’t like.  I didn’t like things they liked.  I was smarter than them.

In high school, I became the target of a group of kids.  Individually, they’d pass me in the hall with no problem.  In a group, though, they’d get brave.  They’d follow me from class to class shouting insults.  They’d block me from entering my classes so I’d need to push past them and endure their heckling just to go to class.  I loved school for the learning, but dreaded the torment that every other second of school would bring.

I made one mistake, though.  I kept it inside.  I decided that not showing them any emotions would mean less ammo for them to use against me.  I pushed the hurt inside and built mental walls around myself to keep everyone – even people who weren’t tormenting me – out.  I began to get paranoid.  I was sure that any laughter in my area was directed at me.

Eventually, I told the one person I considered a friend.  At first, he didn’t believe me but eventually he became concerned enough and decided I wasn’t exaggerating.  He talked with the group of kids and they stopped tormenting me.  Turns out they were "just having fun" and "didn’t realize it was hurting me."  Exactly what did they think tormenting me every day was going to do?  (Answer: They didn’t think because they found it "fun" and never considered consequences beyond them.)

It took me a long time to recover from that.  In some ways, perhaps, I still haven’t.  Even though my high school years ended 20+ years ago.

My advice would be to learn from my mistakes.  Don’t seal yourself up.  Open yourself up.  Find friends and family to talk to.  Find people online or in person who share your passions.  Don’t listen to your would-be tormentors.  As Wil said, in the end this has nothing to do with you.  This has everything to do with them.  They are too narrow minded, too hurt by others, or too scared of not fitting in.  They are trying to get rid of their pains by putting them on you.  Ignore them.  Don’t let them define the rules of your life as you being bullied into submission by them.  You are stronger than they are.  You are passionate about what you love and you should never change that to suit someone else.

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