A young boy named Jack, slight of build and mildly bookish, has a very serious problem. It dominates his school days and colors nearly all of his social life. He has a hard time escaping his problem because it seems to be nearly everywhere he turns. It’s in this class. It’s in that class. It’s in the hallways and at lunch, and sometimes after school too. It’s always in the back of his mind, and sometimes it literally slips up on him and terrorizes him. Jack is too young to understand that all problems are temporary, and that this too shall pass. All he knows is what he knows from the first dozen-odd years of his life.
Jack is dealing with a bully. The bully is larger than he is, is obviously stronger than he is, and he threatens Jack every day at school, every chance he gets. What does Jack do?
Jack has no idea of it, but he is at a fork in the road of his life. If he follows one path, he suppresses his problem. If he has a father living in the home in which he is growing up, and it’s increasingly common that boys don’t have that, he may say something to his father about it. But chances are, the father has been raised in the modern American way of thinking, which is that fighting is never right. He offers Jack no clear or effective way to deal with the bully. “Talk to him” and “avoid him” are equally ineffective options. At school, Jack knows that his teachers know that he is being bullied, but there is nothing that they can do about it. In fact, no one in his immediate community can help him at all. The bully is just smart enough to avoid getting into any serious trouble at school, while he is also just smart enough to know which of Jack’s buttons to push to hurt him in ways that leave no marks on the outside. Jack is trapped. This is his life.
This goes on for years, well into Jack’s high school years. The bully has become more and more arrogant and more and more contemptuous of any attempts to curb his behavior. Jack has become more and more withdrawn, and feels more and more alone with each passing day. These should be some of the most carefree days of his life, but Jack is miserable.
Jack is growing into a bitter, passive-aggressive young adult who cannot bring himself to really trust anyone. When he needed help from the adults around him, none of them had any answers for him. His grades suffer. He simmers with anger all the time, though he mostly hides it well. He has to submit to counseling and is soon put on a drug regimen to counter his moods. In his dress and appearance he exudes a dark image that belies his inner terror and weakness. His only outlet, the only way he finds any equalizer in his life, is when he goes online to play first-person shooter video games. He prestiges up the ranks faster than anyone. He knows his way around every digital battlefield. His kill-death ratio is ridiculous.
The bully’s arrogance grows and grows into a life of violence and eventually petty crime, then more serious and more violent crime, but society never stops him. Jack will probably never be a truly happy, fully functioning adult. And that’s if he doesn’t do what he is secretly planning to do. This Jack cannot imagine being free of his bully, ever.
If Jack follows another path, though, things may turn out differently. Suppose that Jack talks with his father when the bullying first begins, and his father tells him that if it comes down to Jack having to defend himself, and he takes that action, he won’t face any punishment at home. “You may have to stand up to him, son, but you shouldn’t be afraid because most bullies are weak inside. I guarantee you, they’re scared that you’ll fight back. And I’ll back you 100 percent no matter what.” Suppose that Jack comes to understand that not only do his teachers know about the bully, but they also realize that sometimes the only way to deal with such boys is to stop them from growing into worse men. One day in the seventh or eighth grade, the bully menaces Jack as he always has, but this time for whatever reason, Jack fights back.