With friends like these: The cautionary tale of a bully at Lawrence

Recently, circumstances forced me to have a disturbing realization: I had become a bully. However, I’m not the type of bully who shouts homophobic slurs or steals lunch money. College bullies are not quite the same as secondary school bullies. We’re much more subtle and just as cruel, but we act as groups with a single consciousness.

Perhaps the most important difference—the Lawrence difference, if you will—is that this school is full of nerds. We’re the kids who are most at risk of getting bullied, not of being the bullies. Before college, I was the one others turned their backs on, slurred at and hit, seemingly because I wore glasses and read fantasy novels.

Now, college allows us the opportunity to be among our own people. Freshman year, we’re overwhelmed with the number of awesomely nerdy folks we meet, but we always fall into our own little groups. Despite the cliques, this campus lacks stereotypical bullies. The plastic cheerleaders and leering jocks of high school generally don’t choose schools like Lawrence.

Instead of reveling in this new freedom from the high school hierarchy, we form a new system without even noticing it. My bully posse consisted of generally decent people. We played video games, watched “The X-Files” and stayed in on Saturday nights. None of us would have ever hurt a fly when we were without the rest of the group.

In fact, “the group” was its own entity, an idea that we all strived to uphold, despite its nonexistence. When a problem arose, the group would form a speechless consensus. Yes, we unanimously disliked so-and-so, we would no longer let such-and-such play video games with us because we loathed the tone of their voice or the sound of their laugh.

“We” is such a dangerous pronoun. As the group took shape, I found myself referring less to “I” and more to “we,” and I clearly knew whom “we” contained and didn’t contain. They and I aspired to affect cohesion, appearing as a single identity in multiple bodies. We became a mob.

That is the worst part of being a bully, I’ve learned. You lose yourself and your friends. I wanted to be friends with everyone in my bully posse because they all seemed kind and eccentric. However, the individuals are not the “they,” and they were not true friends.

Aspiring to false cohesion leeches the personality out of the individuals. I was friends with them in terms of the group, but I realized too late that I barely knew the actual people I was gluing myself to.

Circumstances arose, and I could no longer act as a part of a theoretical mass. From my perspective, they would not help me. From their perspective, I could not be helped. The details are complicated, but the situation revealed the shallowness of our friendships.

Any friend group held together by its disdain of others is inherently flawed, and it will crash due to the slightest mishaps. A bond cannot exist on negativity alone. Bullies, whether they’re in preschool or in a retirement community, always face this karmic unraveling, although it does nothing to heal the pain they’ve already inflicted.

I don’t mean this article to be atonement for my actions as a bully. This article is a cautionary tale. It’s so hard to admit that your friendships are toxic until something happens to derail them. If you recognize your own friend group in my words, then you should talk to them; if you can’t talk with them, leave. Leave your shallow friendships before you have to leave this school.

For my part, I cannot continue at a school where people know me as something I had vowed never to become. One reason for Lawrence’s low retention rate may be that we tend to form these venomous bonds, although this is probably not an issue unique to this campus.

College is a time to find yourself, not to throw yourself away. Pushing down your problems in the hope of conforming with your friends is the quickest path to self-destruction.