That’s Me In the Corner

[Welcome to Center Stage. We’ve created this feature to highlight an old article we love and cherish. Each week, we will promote a new article on Center Stage to give our readers a taste of the show-don’t-tell method. A high-minded treatise on philosophy might be illuminating to some and educational to others, but to us they’re largely indecipherable and boring. We’re probably not educated enough to understand what they’re saying, but our fascination with our peers leads us a never-ending goal of trying to understand them better. In the course of trying to understand them better, we unavoidably learn more about ourselves. The stories in provide real-life examples of the various dilemmas we all face. We attempt to educate and entertain from the perspective of our mental bend directed toward trying to understand humanity as well as we possibly can. 

That’s me in the Corner takes Center Stage this week to introduce the reader to the art of participating in life’s most useless and useful activities. Dancing seems so pointless that few will rally behind a call to recognize its importance in our lives. “What do I gain jiggling my body around for three minutes, or however long the stupid song lasts? I get to meet women? I can assure you that no woman would want to date me after they see me try to coordinate my body into something someone might confuse with dance steps.” The vulnerability inherent in trying to find a dance move that doesn’t embarrass us or our lineage is such that most men would rather be dangling over the Grand Canyon by a fraying rope. For us, it’s a matter of control. We can control our impressions in a chair at the ballroom table, but that dance floor is a scary place fraught with so many random consequences that most of us would rather not risk it. Yet, the men who are bold enough to chance it appear to be having one heck of a good time. They’re laughing, and the women they’re dancing with are laughing with them and not at them.

No one expects to recognize one of the fundamental errors they’ve made in life while watching an eight-year-old dance at his mother’s wedding reception. It started when he began putting together some halfway decent, but mostly fun, moves together on a dance floor, then he wouldn’t, and a flood of epiphanies struck us when he refused calls for further participation. Thats me, I thought, That’s me in the Corner watching others talk and laugh and participating in life. We all know that those who participate in life get more out of life, but does that extend to the dance floor? It can, I thought, looking through the lens of my lifelong refusals to participate in one of life’s most useless, and possibly life-altering, moments.

I never considered the possibility that I might be witnessing a physical manifestation of me –that speculative writers might call a doppelganger– dancing on the dance floor. I did not expect this kid to take to a corner, open up an NFL preview guide and eat an entire bag of soda crackers, while listening to the band Kiss. I don’t know what I would’ve done, if that happened, as I had already reached a frequency of thought I might never have reached on my own –thanks to that near impenetrable, crusted shell of good and bad memories that prevents, and protects, the human mind from seeing who we were when we weren’t paying attention– just watching the kid. By watching the kid, to the point of an unusual, momentary obsession, some part of me thought I might be able to answer some unanswered questions I had from my youth.

I wasn’t watching the kid at first. He was the bride’s son, from a previous marriage, and as distant from my attention as every other participant in the wedding ceremony. He did little to nothing to stand out, in other words, until he took to the dance floor.

“Look at the kid,” I heard some wedding patrons whispering to others. “Look at Kevin!” I heard others say. I was already watching him. I thought everyone was. How could one avoid it, I wondered, this kid was putting on a show.

There was a ‘something you don’t see every day’ element to this kid’s step that challenged the audience to look away. He didn’t look out into the audience, he didn’t smile, and he did not attempt to communicate with us in a manner I suspect a well-trained dancer might. There was, however, an element of showmanship in his step that should not have occurred in a normal nine-to-ten-year-old’s “conform as opposed to perform” step.

The kid’s shoulders dropped low in his dance step. I don’t know what this suggested exactly, but he did appear more comfortable on the floor than any of the other kids his age. His handclaps were also a little harder than the other kids were. I don’t know if it was the volume of Kevin’s claps, but the other kids appeared to be struggling to follow the beat, or his beat. His gyrations were so out of step with the rest of the participants that those of us not in the wedding party had trouble stifling our giggles. This kid was dancing.

“Who’s the kid?” I asked my uncle.

“That’s Kevin,” he said. “The bride’s son.”  His smile mirrored mine, and those of all of the whisperers watching.

After I asked that question, I realized I was one of those whispering and pointing at Kevin. My initial assumption was that everyone watched this kid in the same manner I was, with one bemused eyebrow raised, but the sheer volume of whisperers called to mind the first time I heard Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Some consider that album a masterpiece. Some called it Davis’ Sgt. Peppers. I liked it, but I wasn’t sure it was a masterpiece. The structure seemed so simple. I discovered its simplistic brilliance after repeated spins, but the point is I may not have listened to it a second time if group thought hadn’t conditioned me to believe that there was something I was missing out on.

It was this fear of missing out, FOMO in common parlance, that prompted to continue to watch this kid. I knew as little about dance as I did jazz, so I figured it was possible that I was missing something.

“Why are we watching this kid?” I asked my uncle.

“Because it’s cute.”

My Uncle gave me a look that informed me that we shouldn’t try to make more out of it than what it was. He then went back to watching the kid, and he even regained an appreciative smile after a spell.

There was no simplistic brilliance going on in this moment, in other words, it was just cute to watch a young boy carry on in a manner that suggested he knew what he was doing. The kid didn’t know how to dance, most nine-to-ten-year-old boys don’t, but the effort he put into it was cute.

Anyone that focused attention on the kid’s step –as opposed to the surprising amount of bravado he displayed by attempting to dance– knew that the kid didn’t know what he was doing. He had no rhythm, no choreography, and no regard for what others might think of the fact that he had no knowledge of the crucial elements of dance. The latter, I think, was the point, and it was the reason we were watching him.

My guess was that at some point, someone somewhere had informed him that free form dancing has no choreography to it. You just get out there, lower your shoulders a bunch of times, throw your arms about, pick your feet up, and jiggle every occasionally. It’s free form dancing. A trained chimp could do it.

When the kid made a beeline to his chair the moment this obligatory dance concluded –a dance I assumed his mother had forced him to participate in– I imagined that some people might have been shocked at the manner he exited. I laughed. I thought it added to the spectacle. I laughed loud, believing that those that laughed while he danced would share my laughter. They didn’t. I received confused looks from those around me. His beeline exit did not elicit shock, or any other response. They’d moved on. I tried to, but I was fixated on this kid.

Some may have characterized this kid’s exit as a statement regarding what he thought of the art of dance, but I didn’t think that captured it. I thought that a desire to watch how this party would unfold fueled this kid’s exit.

The kid’s exit suggested that he was one that preferred to watch. It was aggravating to those of us that watched his initial dance steps and thought he had something to offer to this otherwise routine wedding reception. He didn’t appear to be the least bit embarrassed by his performance, so why would he prefer to watch?   

Psychologists state that we have mirror neurons in our brain that seek enjoyment from another’s perspective, and that that enjoyment can be so comprehensive that we may reach a point where we convince ourselves that we’re the ones performing these actions. Others describe it as a frequency of thought, or a through line to a greater understanding of being: being funnier, more entertaining, and better in all the ways an insecure, young man thinks that his elders are better. Honing in on this frequency is something that TV watching, video game playing nine-to-ten-year-olds know well. It goes beyond the joy of watching others make fools of themselves, for entertainment purposes, to a belief that when watching better performers attempt to be entertaining, we’ve achieved that level ourselves without having to deal with all the messy details involved in the trials and errors to get to that point.

I knew, even while I was doing it, how odd others might find it that I was obsessing over the actions of a nine-to-ten-year-old boy, in such an innocuous moment of the boy’s life, and I attempted to look away several times. Every time a member of the party made some kind of misstep, however, this kid would draw my attention by laughing harder than anyone else would. My guess was that the relief that he wasn’t one of those in the position to commit such errors fueled that raucous laughter. This kid would laugh so hard at every joke that it was obvious he wanted to be louder than any others laughing.

“He’s attempting to cross over,” I thought.

“What’s that?” my uncle said.

“What?” I said. “Nothing.” 

My uncle’s ‘What’s that?’ is often characterized by a preceding pause. The pause suggests that either they know that you’re talking to yourself, and they’re looking to call you out on it, or they believed the comment was situational, until they chewed on it for a bit and realized they couldn’t place it.

Whatever the case was, I hadn’t intended for anyone to hear that thought. I was embarrassed. I was embarrassed, but I also wondered if I intended to think that aloud, so that I might have it on the record if it went down the way I thought it would.

What I would not tell my uncle, for fear of being deemed one that is far too interested in self-serving minutiae, was that this ‘cross over’ is the Houdini milk can of the observer’s world. It is an attempt to establish one’s self as a participant in the minds of all partygoers without participating.

The initial stages of a crossover are not a difficult to achieve. Anyone can shout out comments, or laugh in an obnoxious and raucous manner that gains attention. The crossover does require some discretion, however, for it can be overdone. When one overemphasizes an attempt, they could run the risk of receiving a “We know you were there. You wouldn’t shut up about it” comment. The perfect crossover calls for some comments and/or attention getting laughter interspersed in the emcee’s presentation to lay the groundwork for the stories the subject would later tell others regarding his participation.

“He knows what I’m talking about,” the groom, acting as the emcee of the event, said at one point. He was alluding to Kevin, and Kevin’s over-the-top laughter.

It would be almost impossible for me to know if this kid achieved a total crossover, for I had no familiarity with the family, and I would have no opportunity to hear the kid’s after-party stories. The kid did accomplish an excellent first step, however, thanks to a groom that, I assume, had spent the last couple years trying to have the kid accept him as an eventual stepfather.

The answer to why I was so obsessed with a 9-to-10-year-old crystallized soon after the groom’s comment. Kevin’s mother called upon Kevin for increased participation. The kid waved her off. He waved her off in the manner I waved off so many of my own calls for increased participation. It dawned on me that my preference for observation went so deep that it was less about fearing increased participation and more about a preference for watching others perform that was so entrenched that any attempts to have me do otherwise could become an obnoxious distraction.

That’s me in the corner I thought. That’s me in the spotlight, losing my sense of belonging.

“You were just integral to the party,” I wanted to shout out to that kid with such vigor that I would’ve revealed myself. “Why would you prefer to sit on the sidelines of your mother’s wedding?”

Could it be that this preference for observing has something to do with the idea that we’ve all been participants and observers in the audience at various points in our lives, and we’ve all witnessed this idea that those roles can somewhat interchangeable in people’s memories? Unless the participants are so over-the-top funny, entertaining, or in all other ways memorable, observers have can manipulate the memories of participants, if they know how to enhance their role as an astute observer.

When one is an athlete, for example, the members of the audience may cheer their athletic exploits in ways that display the pride they might feel through vicarious connections. When an athlete commits an error, or underperforms in any way, they may feel sorry for the athlete, but they won’t associate with them in any meaningful way. They may not disassociate themselves from the athlete, depending on the error, but the error allows them to believe that put in the same position as the athlete was at the time of the error, they would not have committed it. ‘All you had to do was catch the ball,’ is something they may say, ‘and it was hit right to you.’

Some may view the desire to view an activity, as opposed to partaking in it, as a bit of a cop out. It may have been a cop-out for this kid, just as it may have been for me, but I do have fond memories of various events that I refused to participate in, in the same manner this kid might have of his mother’s wedding. I laughed with my fellow party goers, as we all recalled those past events that took place with fondness, and I did offer funny anecdotes to those conversations, but my role was often limited to that of an observer. Actual participation in these events was the furthest thing from my mind.

If this kid shared as many traits with me, at nine-ten-years-old, my guess was that he was already documenting stories that he would retell for years. Some of these stories might involve slight exaggerations regarding his role in them, but my guess is that few listeners would have the temerity, or the memory, to dispute him. Some of his versions of the story may offer interesting insights, and if those little vignettes involve creative, entertaining nuggets, they might become a part of the narrative in a manner that listeners to join him in making the leaps of re-characterizing his actual involvement.

If this kid manages to accomplish this, and he gets so good at it that others start corroborating his version of other events, he may make the leap to an almost-unconscious discovery of a loophole in his interactions that provide him a future out on all requirements of participation.

If he already does this, on a conscious level, and his evolution is so complete that he’s already choosing vicarious participation over actual participation on a conscious level, then that is where the similarities end. I thought he was too young for all that however, but I did consider the idea that he might be slipping into an all too comfortable position where he is neglecting the importance of participation on purpose.

The problem that I foresaw for him, a problem I now see as a result of watching him act out a page in the first chapter of my autobiography, was that he was learning what to do and what not to do through observation alone. I considered this portal equivalent to the type of learning one can experience while watching too much TV and playing too many video games, with all the same vicarious thrills of victory and dissociative feelings of failure. I also thought that he would come to a point where he had problems learning the lessons, and making the vital connections, we only make by doing. If I had been in a position to advise this nine-to-ten-year-old of the lessons I’ve learned, but did not heed at his age, I would’ve shouted:

“Get back on the dance floor, kid! I don’t care if you were already out there. Get out there and do it. Then get out there and do it so often that you tailbone is on the line and you’re making an absolute fool out of yourself. Then, when that obnoxious observer steps up to laugh at you for making such a fool of yourself, you can turn on them and say, ‘At least I was out there. Doing it! What were you doing? Sitting on your can watching me!’”

If you enjoyed this piece, you might also enjoy the other members of the seven strong:

The Thief’s Mentality

He Used to Have a Mohawk (This is not a prequel to this piece, but it is another story that occurred in the same wedding.)

A Simplicity Trapped in a Complex Mind

You Don’t Bring me Flowers Anymore!

… And Then There’s Todd

When Geese Attack!

Everything from Z to A: Misery Loves Company

“Why is everyone on TV so miserable?” Z asked. “I’m serious, nothing can make these people happy. They’re hopeless, angry people who raise miserable children. It’s all so realistic, and I say that in the most sarcastic, or sardonic, way possible. Does this reflect us, or do we reflect it? The truth, as they see it, is that we’re not happy, and anyone who says they are is lying in these movies.”  

The Sopranos didn’t start the miserable anti-hero motif,” A said, “but it definitely popularized it to the point that negative and nasty themes are just more interesting to us. We want complicated, torn characters who do awful things to one another. We don’t want to see a show about positive people anymore. Miserable people are more complex and entertaining. Happy, positive people are simple-minded, and as we’ve seen in the 50’s and 60’s, they always find a reason to break into song.” 

“I loved Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, and all the negative, realistic movies and shows that dot the recent past,” Z said, “but our comedies are negative and realistic now too. When did that happen?” 

“I think it started as a set up for happiness,” A said. “A character couldn’t truly be happy without first being truly miserable. Then they got more miserable to make the happiness at the end resound more. Then we started saying, “I hate happy endings.” Everyone I knew started saying it, and we all thought it was funny, until it caught on.”  

“I remember that,” Z said. “It didn’t last long, but everyone started saying happy just wasn’t very realistic. Negative cynicism is the truth. The happy endings diminished the drama of the unhappiness, because everyone knew, eventually, the happy ending was coming. The enterprising writers then wrote unhappy endings, and we said that’s real. We’re all miserable people. Life is book-ended by two screams. The one at the beginning of life and the one at the end, and everything in between involves groans of misery.” 

“I don’t think people hated happy endings so much as they hated the predictable lead-up,” A said. “I think the ‘I hate happy endings’ line caught on so much that screenwriters and directors thought they might lose street cred if they wrote another happy ending, so they wrote the ‘all hope is lost’ movie that ended when they discovered that there was no hope.” 

“The actors influenced it too of course,” Z said, “as they would only work with directors and writers with street cred.” 

“And the critics, don’t forget about them,” A said. “Back when they had influence, they hailed the misery as a tour-de-force.” 

“As a teen, I was attracted to most pessimistic, cynical people I could find. I thought they were real, hilarious, and so fresh and honest. They were also original to me. I grew up in a broken home, but my people were mostly normal with normal outlooks, normal habits, and normal relationships with normal people. We were unhappy people We bought into this whole idea that happiness was a big lie sold to the public. We thought normal people were covering up all of their indiscretions, and once we successfully uncovered them for who they were, we’d all realize we’re all just as miserable as everyone else.” 

“And that was the big lie.” 

“That was the big lie,” Z said. “Maybe not 100% of the time. I’m sure some of these happy people were unhappy, but I grew up in a broken home, and we were counting on the idea that this happiness was a lie. We thought they were covering up a number of indiscretions. When I entered the work force, I found out that most of these people were happy, well-adjusted people, and there was no big cover up. They led happy, uneventful lives. It also didn’t do me any good to think that they were corrupt and evil. Did it get me some laughs? Sure. Did it make me appear more worldly, and that I had street knowledge? It did, but it never paved the way for a raise or a promotion, or some kind of unforeseen career path. These ideas did not serve any purpose for me. Most important, they clouded my mind to such a degree that I had to unlearn their ideas and learn the truth. All those ideas did was make me feel better about myself in a short-term, unproductive way. 

“I know one entertainment medium more miserable than the movies,” Z continued. “Sports. Watching sports on TV, and following a team, is just a miserable experience. I’m not going to tell you what teams I follow, but let’s just say that the lifetime I’ve spent watching sports has been miserable. I was born with an NFL jersey, and I’ll probably die that way, but I wish I could remove whatever gene I have that causes me to care so much about my teams. I wish I could just pluck that gene right out of my body.” 

“If I could advise a younger me on living life well and all that,” Z continued. “I’d tell a younger me to watch sports the same way you do every other program on TV. If it isn’t going your way, turn it off. You think you get some kind of fan points by sticking with them to the bitter end? You don’t. No one will ever know that you turned that game off, and if they find out, guess what, they won’t care. They might rib you. They might call you a fair-weather fan, but how many weekends have you ruined by sulking about the house, because your team lost? It’s ridiculous and embarrassing.”  

“Or fast forward the game,” A said. “Tape the game on the DVR, wait an hour to watch the game, then you can FF through the horrible plays, the moment after a referee drops a flag, the constant replays, and the commercials.“

“I do that now,“ Z said. “I usually need two hours of lead time, because I FF so much, but I cannot shut the damn game off. I blame the gene, because my dad had it, but as you say I can FF it. It’s the wimpy way out, but I can’t take watching kids who could be my grandchildren let a game slip away with silly mistakes. I wish I did it sooner. I just fast forward through games when my team is getting blown up now, and I go outside and do something else, but I can’t help getting agitated. To this day, I still get so angry that I wish I had the option now to go in and pluck that gene right out of my body.” 

“There’s so much frustration and pain in life,” A said. “Why double down on it when you have a choice in the matter?” 

“My dad used to tell us to shut it off,” Z said. “If it’s making you that mad, just shut it off. He used to say that about sports on TV and video games. We’d laugh at the simplicity of it. With our laughter, we were basically saying, ‘Dad, I don’t think you don’t understand how much we have tied into this.’”  

“That’s really the nob of it is, isn’t it?” 

“It is,” Z added. “It’s personal. If your team of players on a football field beat my team of football players, I see it as a condemnation in the most personal way. It suggests I have a character flaw, and you’d better not rub it in, or we could go down. It’s also, as I said, a family tradition. When I was younger, we would get together with friends and family to watch these games, then as a teen and into my twenties, I got together with my own friends and fellow employees. So, if your team beats my team, and you rub it in, you’re desecrating my family. You can see why it took me so many years to arrive at a point where I could finally fast forward through all the misery.” 

“Seinfeld has a bit where he says, and I’m going to mess this up a little,” A said, “but he says with free agency in the NFL now, there’s little to cheer on anymore. Now with the ease with which college players can transfer schools, the same element applies to college football. We grew up cheering on Franco Harris, Tony Dorsett, and Walter Payton, and their modern-day equivalents are changing teams every four years now. Those old players stuck with their respective teams for most of their careers, and you could make an argument that they were forced to stay, based on the stifling contracts and collusion back then. We could argue that the current collective bargaining agreements are better for the players, more capitalist in nature, and all that, but the end result is it’s more difficult to maintain loyalty to teams that are changing dramatically every four years. Seinfeld doesn’t go into the inherent positives and negatives of the current systems, but he does say, with players switching teams constantly, nowadays, we’re basically cheering on laundry. My team’s laundry is better than yours.” 

“And, as I said, we’re cheering on kids young enough to be our grandchildren.” 

“I accepted that fact long ago,” A said. “I’m over that now.” 

“While we’re plucking genes,” Z said. “We should eviscerate all of the genes that clog our arteries over things we can’t control. It affects our quality of life. It affects my quality of life anyway, and life is too short to scream about the house that some eighteen-year-old kid can’t catch a pass, and some twenty-two-year-old can’t throw properly. We’re here one day, gone the next. Why don’t we just enjoy the fact that we’re alive today, and greet each day as if it’s our last.” 

“Because one day,” A said, “in the not so distant future, your team could start crossing their lines with impressive regularity, and they could prevent the other team from crossing lines with equal regularity, we could experience a championship, and I use the word we in the most sarcastic and condescending manner possible. We could experience a level of vicarious joy that is so vicarious that it could be our own. We could have our very own championship. We could buy a T-shirt that says it. “I stuck with them through all of the vicarious pain, and I am a true fan. Look, my T-shirt says it.”  

“We could jump up and down and scream, and finally be happy for once in all of the decades-long viewing experiences,” Z said. “We’ll have a day to remember for months, decades, years. You remember that day that one guy caught that football and crossed that line? What was his name again? Oh yeah, if I ever run into that guy, I’ll buy him a beer for providing me such a glorious moment in my life.” 

“Put in that context, watching sports feels pretty silly,” A said. 

“Especially when you put it into the amount of pleasure we experience as a result of us winning that championship,” Z said, “and I say us in the most sarcastic and condescending manner possible, then when we compare it to the overwhelming amount of pain experienced in all the years we don’t win a championship.” 

“In our dreams,” A said. “We rewrite the past.” 

“Speaking of which, have you ever rewritten an incident with your grade school bully?” Z asked. “It’s three in the morning, and you’re staring up at the ceiling, reliving that moment in the boy’s bathroom, and instead of passively letting the bullying go, as you did at the time, you haul off and punch him in the mouth?” 

“How many coming-of-age movies did they build around that premise?” A said. “I think we’ve all had that dream.” 

“I wake from these dreams, reliving them in real-time,” Z said. “I’m serious. In my mind, I’m twelve-years-old again, and I’m in the bathroom with that bully saying whatever silly thing he said, and I come up with a great line to put him in his place, or I drop the haymaker on his chin. I know the dream was silly the moment I wake, but I then spend the next couple hours staring at the ceiling, remembering every detail of the moment. These obsessions are so embarrassing, but I get so tied up in them that my muscles tighten up, and I’m in the throws of a minor anxiety attack, until I grab my device and watch a movie for five minutes to void my mind of it. I have to do that, or I’ll never get back to sleep.”  

“You want to know what a priest said to me? He said, ‘The best way to rid yourself of bullies is to pick the biggest one and punch him in the mouth,’ a priest, a priest, once said to me,” A said. “I didn’t expect that from a priest. “Some kids are violent,” the priest, who was our prefect of discipline, said, “and to avoid violence, some of the times you have to learn how to be violent.” Can you believe he said that to a sixteen-year-old kid? Then he said, “I know it’s hard and scary and all that, but it might give you some confidence, and animals can smell confidence.” 

“So, what did you do?” 

“I didn’t punch the guy,” A said. “He was bigger than me. He would’ve annihilated me. I couldn’t believe a priest, someone who should be married to pacifist principles, said that to me. He concluded by saying, “I could say something to these kids, but I think you handling this yourself will be better for you long-term.”  

“So, what we have here is a young you at an existential crossroads in life,” Z said. “Nerd punches bully, nerd’s whole life turns out different. I understand that this is an exaggerated cinematic assessment but I think there might be some elements of truth in it.”  

“The alternative route should also involve that nerd being fully prepared to have his bottom kicked. That’s the alternative reality. That’s the harsh reality of such situations that no one wants to talk about when discussing these matters theoretically. That dream you talk about involves the nerd delivering a haymaker that sends his bully flying into a rattling trashcan, but the reality is that 200-pound bully has two older brothers who punch him all the time. He’s used to getting punched, and he loves to fight. The nerd is 160 pounds, soaking wet, and he’s never been in a real fight before. He probably had to punch twice to kill a housefly. In his dreams, this punch is the shot-heard-around-the-world. In reality, the bully takes this haymaker and turns on the nerd with menace, and the nerd ends up being violently placed in that trashcan. No one remembers the punch. They just remember him sitting in that trash can with injuries that require a soft diet for a decade. I’m exaggerating, but no one would’ve remembered his haymaker. 

“How does a small teenager deal with a bully then?” 

“I wish I found a universal answer that would work for all parties concerned,” A said, “but there isn’t one. The answer is there is no particular answer. The answer is it’s situational. The answer to ending bullying is as complicated and situational as starting a friendship. The playground is a jungle. There are hierarchal structures and moves for advancement on the playground that are similar to any in the jungle, and that metaphor extends to high school too. There are times when a kid needs to fight back to establish themselves somewhere in the hierarchical structure of the playground, and there are times when a kid should demure and concede to his or her station in the jungle.” 

“Some kids overreact to every slight imaginable, and bullies love that,” Z said. “They end up doing more harm than good. Kids, like adults, love to get a rise out of us, and if you’re well-known for reacting to every slight, they’ll drop the hammer on you harder and more often.” 

“It’s because they’re desperate to make it stop,” A said. “I tried to tell my friends how to manage it better, but it’s difficult to foresee strategic reactions when we just want to do anything we can to make it stop.” 

“I know it’s anecdotal, but I know a woman who was never bullied as a kid,” Z said. “She was so beautiful that everyone wanted to like her, and everyone wanted to be liked by her. She’s now an adult who doesn’t take kind-hearted teasing well. She takes it to heart, because no one ever teased her before. My question, is is there some merit to bullying?”  

“That depends of course,” A said. “Bullying is a broad term. If we’re talking about simple teasing that’s one thing, but we all know how far some can take it. It’s a tool of dominance as evident as any other kind of display in the animal kingdom. If we were able to vacate it from human existence, I don’t see any negatives coming from that.”