I had this experience, way back in 7th grade, that I don't know if I've ever told anyone about. It was gym class - which, by the way, is TORTURE for an overweight pre-teen- and we had just come in from whatever we'd been doing out on the field for class. We were getting changed back into our school clothes in the gross locker room.
I'd always hated the locker room to begin with. I wasn't FAT, but I wasn't skinny either. I was right-in-the-middle chubby. I had glasses, and was blind as a bat without them. I wasn't the most athletic of people - I could hold my own, but let's just say I wasn't the most graceful athlete on the field. I hated gym class, and especially the locker room. I had no ounce of self-confidence, at all, when it came to that room.
On that day, as we were getting changed back into our school clothes, I decided to put my glasses down on the bench next to the lockers, so I could change my top more easily. One of the "popular" girls in the class decided it would be funny to kick them across the room. Remember what I said earlier - I was blind as a bat without them. This is not an exaggeration. I could not see past the tip of my nose without my glasses. Even now, I border on legally blind without my contact lenses or glasses in place. (I dream of LASIK surgery sometimes...)
The room erupted into fits of laughter as she continued to kick my glasses out of my reach, and I tried to find them so I could see what was going on. I was still only half-dressed - shorts and a bra (I had been working on getting my shirt on when she did it). It was humiliating. Mortifying. I can honestly put myself right back into that moment, and feel my heart racing the feel the embarrassment and pain I felt at that second. It was a horrible moment, and one that I don't like to think about very often.
Today, however, I was reminded - oh so clearly - of that experience. I thought, maybe naively, that as people age, they lose that mob mentality. Bullying becomes less of an issue as people age and mature, I assumed. And, I think for a time at least, it was that way. It seemed that while drama reared its ugly head occasionally, there weren't as many outlets for it as there were in places like school or the bus stop.
And then a virtual school playground was created.
That playground, otherwise known as Facebook, became the gathering place for all the adults in my life. Family, friends, acquaintances; it didn't matter, they all gathered in the little blue and white virtual school playground. I realized today that, while we all may be older, we never really lose that middle school mentality. As a group, we always seem to seek a way to make ourselves in the majority, and the create an "other" out of someone around us. Back in middle school, it was the fat kid, or the kid with glasses. As an adult on Facebook...it's the person who is affiliated with another religion, another political party - it doesn't matter what, just whatever you are NOT becomes the "other."
As soon as the "other" is identified by the group, the attacks start. Just like with the school yard bully, it's okay for the bully to use tactics such as name-calling or below-the-belt punches.....but it can never be okay for someone to fight back. The group will always find a way to allow the bully to continue to form the "other" into whatever he/she wants them to be. The group almost never contains someone that will stand up for the person being attacked. No one wants to become the next focus of the name-calling.
With election season ramping up again, and the plethora of "hot-button" topics that get flung around every day, I feel like this virtual playground is getting more and more out of control every day. The bullies can use every taunt in the book ... and no one stands up for the victim. It doesn't matter if that victim can present well-established articles and research to prove his/her point...if it's not in line with the popular opinion of that group, the bully (or bullies, in some cases) are merciless. Rules of common courtesy are thrown out of the window as accusations fly about the victim's personal morality. Negative assessments and characterizations are thrown around like confetti.
The virtual playground has gotten out of control.
As much as I hate to leave the friend and family that I love, I've made the decision that I will no longer be a part of this chaos. I hope and pray that I will not lose touch with those people that I love, but after seeing friend turn on friend and feelings be hurt left and right --- and having some of my own personal friendships (that I held dear and relied on) fall victim to this mob mentality -- I cannot continue to be a part of it. I couldn't help but be the one to try and speak out against half-truths and slander. I couldn't seem to keep my mouth shut when someone else was being called names or hurt unjustly....and it has caused my own family quite a lot of pain. It has, at times, taken over my days on an emotional level, as I cry in pain for my own hurt feelings, those of my friends, for my relationships, and for those who are being attacked. That emotional pain and anguish has been having a negative effect on my children and family, as I can't seem to put it out of my mind.
The only way for me to repair those effects on my family is to leave the playground.
I truly hope that I can stay in touch with the friends and family that I "saw" on Facebook through more traditional methods. I do care about you, and I worry that I will lose touch with you. I am willing to try and avoid that, at all costs (even if it means keeping the post office afloat financially all on my own).
If you could email me your snail mail addresses and phone numbers, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.