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I Walked Up Until It Nearly Killed Me

I get the intention of the #WalkUpNotOut. I do. Everyone can stand to be nicer. Bullying is bad. High school wouldn’t be the setting of so many dark comedy and horror/scifi shows and movies if it weren’t so agonizing, and having everyone be cool with each other would be so damn nice.

Beyond the fact that that will never happen, lets shred a myth right now: victims of bullying don’t necessarily become killers. If they did, we’d have mass shootings in every school every damn day. Not even all psychopaths become killers. And walking up to that loner kid or the awkward kid to “be nice,” isn’t necessarily a good idea, let alone a solution. (Never mind that being patronized to isn’t fun, either.)

Speaking of hellish high school shows, actually tackles this. In a powerful episode called “Earshot,” Buffy gains the ability to hear thoughts. One day in the school cafeteria, she hears someone think, “I’m going to kill you all.” Panicked, she and the Scoobies identify the friendless, awkward Jonathan as a potential shooter, and Buffy sees him standing in a tower with a gun. She confronts him and gives him a typical Buffy speech about loneliness and pain and all that — until he tells her he only intended to kill himself. This episode was scheduled to be aired to April 20, 1999 — the same day as the Columbine Massacre. The airing was postponed.

If you’re not Buffy, walking up can be dangerous. In all seriousness, Buffy jumped to a reasonable conclusion, but she never would have helped Jonathan had she not believed she was averting a mass killing, and indeed, the show keeps him on as the perpetual loner, with neither really having learned any lesson.

I “walked up” throughout my young adult life, devoting time to one toxic, lonely person after another. I thought that lonely people needed each other, but loneliness is not always a personality type — sometimes, it’s a side effect. My ex-abuser doesn’t have many friends, and I realize now there is a clear reason for that, while my loneliness was due to my introversion. I gave him hours, weeks, months of time to “be there” for him, to “help” him, to “care for” him. To “be nice.” I believed that compassion was a panacea, that everyone was innately good. I no longer am interested in any such philosophical questions. What I know now is that loneliness is undesired, while being a loner is not necessarily so. Meanwhile, my happiness is more important than I allowed it to be. I am indeed interested in moral questions: Is my happiness destroyed in my attempts to bring happiness to a toxic person? If so, I’ve caused pain to myself, which is immoral, and my moral act of kindness to another is canceled out. If you believe that moral acts “weigh more,” consider that many sociopathic and psychopathic people are limited in their emotional range. The amount of happiness you’re causing them likely doesn’t match the pain you’re causing yourself.

In my experience of abuse, the endless emotional torture, sexual abuse, and general fear for my own safety was much greater than any kind act I did for my abuser. I lent him money. I cooked him meals. I listened to his woes. I gave him gifts. All of these things that would make a normal person happy only gave me a short reprieve from the nightmare…a tiny — and fake — good dream in the middle of a night of terror. And I had to “be nice” — or it would be worse.

So let kids walk out, not up. As long as they’re not bullying, it may very well be the moral thing to do.

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Writer by day, circus artist by night. I write about art, media, culture, health, science, and where they all meet. Join my list:

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