Brian Sandford: Tragedy in Sparks puts bullying in the spotlight |

Brian Sandford: Tragedy in Sparks puts bullying in the spotlight

Brian Sandford

My mother preached the virtues of personal pacifism, of doing no harm to others. My father made clear that if I ever got in a fight at school, I’d be in for a bigger one at home.

I wasn’t the strongest, coolest, most masculine kid in school, nor was I particularly eager to conform. I also was viewed as a bit of an outsider, given my close European ties and my family’s slightly different values. As a result, I was bullied frequently between sixth and 12th grades.

Almost daily, fellow students picked on the way I dressed and talked, my intellect … anything they could come up with. In 10th grade, a fellow student put gum in my hair as others snickered. Other incidents were more violent; I’ll spare you the details.

For reasons listed above, I never fought back, which only encouraged some of my tormenters. I bottled up my anger, often directing it within and blaming myself for the mistreatment. It wasn’t until college that I began to understand, psychologically, that those who’d treated me poorly in my younger years were inspired by their own shortcomings, not mine. That’s when I learned to like myself.

Some were bullied by their parents. Others boosted their own self-esteem by tearing down others — a psychological ploy that some people continue to use in their later years, unfortunately.

My heart aches for the insecure boy I was then. I wish I could go back and tell him it would end, that someday he’d be extremely comfortable in his own skin and wouldn’t be subjected to unkind words and threats almost daily.

All this comes to mind, of course, because of the apparent underpinnings of Monday’s deadly school shooting in Sparks. It goes without saying that responding to bullying with gun violence is a psychotic and permanent reaction to a problem that, no matter how torturous, is temporary. But the whole ordeal is a sad reminder of the hell many of our community’s young people go through.

The proliferation of social media has given bullies more platforms through which to inflict torment. Facebook, texting and cellphone cameras were at least two decades down the road when I was growing up, and I count myself lucky in some ways as a result.

I’ve written before about how I consider it shortsighted to adopt a “kids these days!” attitude and stop trying to see things through younger people’s eyes. My heart goes out to children who are suffering at the hands of their fellow students.

Editor Brian Sandford can be reached at