When my son was 8 years old, we uprooted him from Canberra and moved to the Central Coast. I wanted a lumpy horizon (Canberra is flat) and my wife wanted a sea breeze (Canberra is inland). As a result, my son Rowan started third grade in a situation he was unfamiliar with: he had to make an entirely new set of friends.
There was a young lady in his class, we will call her Alice, and she had a kick on her that could level a brick out-house. She would run up to Rowan, kick him in the shins, and run off. Very puzzling, for him and for me, until I realised something: neither child had a particularly large conversation repertoire for making friends or asking other kids to play, and feeling like bad attention is better than no attention. I suggested that, the next time Alice came running up, but before she could kick him, he could say
“Hi, my name if Rowan, would you like to play? What is your name?”
This was quite successful, which saved a lot of bruises, and they were friends with play-dates and all, until she moved away. I wonder if bullies start out in similar difficulties? Over a period of years the behaviour becomes so ingrained, they become stuck in the pathological role.
Some time after befriending Alice, Rowan was related another incident with a child we will call Bob. He had gotten in trouble for soaking Bob with water at lunch time. His explanation was that he wanted to play with Bob, but that Bob was playing with Charlie, instead. I asked him what happened next:
“I accidentally spilled my water bottle on Bob.”
“Did you ask Bob if you could join in?”
Hmm. This sounded very similar to the Alice incident, but the other way around. Again, more repertoire was in order.
“Do you want to play with Bob?”
“Do you think annoying Bob was a good way to ask him if you could play?”
And this leads me to the observation I made in that moment:
Don’t annoy people who you want to like you.
You would think this was obvious, at least to adults, but in my observation, it frequently is not. It isn’t helped by a long Australian tradition of calling good friends by insulting nicknames. I speculate that the “tall poppy syndrome” is a facet of this:
“I want to be friends with X, but she is so smart she wouldn’t like a dummy like me, so I’ll call her elitist and make her miserable.” The unspoken ending being “… to conceal my disappointment from myself.”
Which is a very large number of untested assumptions. Smart people are still human, still need friends, and don’t necessarily judge everyone by that standard. And you may be selling yourself short. It isn’t just kids doing this to themselves, adults do it as well.
When people are sick or injured, they can often be quite scared, and this causes them to lash out at the people around them. However, there are cases when this is not just obnoxious, it is also a truly stupid course of action, especially if the people you are taking it out on are medical staff working in your best interests:
Don’t annoy people who are keeping you alive.
Again, something that one would think was self-evident, but spend some time in a hospital Emergency Department for any length of time, and you will see a lot of stupid.