When you’re joining the “It Gets Better” movement after celebrities, politicians, and the president have already weighed in, is there any new ground to cover? Comedian Patton Oswalt thinks so: Instead of aiming his new blog entry at the gay youths who need to hear that their lives will someday improve, he’s written it for the people who might bully them. Specifically, Oswalt is hoping to reach the sort of kid who joins up with bigger bullies (forming what Oswalt calls the “asshole entourage”) in an attempt to avoid being bullied himself. How would Oswalt know anything about that sort of bully enabler? As he confesses in his blog, he used to be one.
It was a survival strategy. I had a hand in tormenting an awkward girl named Robin in my eighth grade personal hygiene class. Also a fat(ter), asthmatic kid with a stutter at YMCA camp whose name I can’t remember and countless, faceless others as I glided painlessly in the wake of a trio of bullies whose names I also can’t remember. I only knew they weren’t bullying me, and were actually glad to see me in the morning, ‘cause here comes a guy who knows seven crueler ways to call someone an asshole or shithead (beyond just “asshole” and “shithead”) …
In someone’s memory — in many people’s memories — I’m a snickering, sneering asswipe who hurt and insulted them while peering out from behind the muscular lats of a bigger, more frightening asswipe. There are times when I firmly believe I should have also ended up like a lot of the bullies — stupid, directionless, job-bound and destined for obscurity, anger and oblivion.
It doesn’t fix a fucking thing, for me, to try my best to take the underdog’s side now. Or to embrace the awkward and outcast. That dark slice of regret and disgust with a younger self will never be erased.
So I’m talking to a younger self here - the young Bully’s Little Buddy. I’m trying to tell you that yes, I know how scary middle school and high school and the world must seem, with this clear demarcation (and it seems to get bolder and uglier every day) between abused and abuser. And I understand exactly why you’d want to be on the side of the powerful, cruel and, by default, secure. It’s the reason why some poor people get angry about rich people having to pay more taxes. It’s why people join celebrities’ entourages. It’s why two oppressed, disenfranchised groups fight with each other, instead of the powerful entity that’s oppressing and disenfranchising them.
All of that is true. But it doesn’t change the fact that you have power if you choose to take it. You have power to go stand on the side of the bullied, to stand up to the bullies, to set an example. You can take a deep breath and look at the popular crowd - are they popular because they’re good, smart people? Or are they popular because people are afraid of being their targets? If the second example is the truth, then you can reject them. You can form your own circle, be your own person, and start thinking for yourself early.
I didn’t. And I won’t blame you if you don’t either. It’s so fucking hard. It does get better for the outcast and the bullied. But you, in the bully’s entourage, can help make it better by taking away part of the bully’s power.
You can take away you. And if you take the dare, and do it, you’ll be shocked to see how deep it diminishes the weight and scope and space a bully takes up in the world. And when you see that, and experience it, it’ll be your first - and unarguable - taste of how much weight and scope and space you have.
I’ll never know. I never did it.
YOU CAN HELP IT GET BETTER [Patton Oswalt]