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The Solution Is Power
Refections on adultism and childhood bullying.
As a child, when I would state an entirely reasonable perspective, people would try to bully me out of that opinion. Because of my age and newness in the world, they perceived me as weaker and my opinions less valid. Any statement against their norm was met with tests and attacks. Often, it was dismissed entirely on account of my age and treated with belittling humor or contempt.
As a middle-aged man with a wife and children, I can make far bolder claims than I’d ever even dream of making in my youth, and they are met with listening, respect, or fear. As an adult, people assume I must have a reason for my perspective and more likely to hear it out. Even if they disagree, because of the social proof of my success, they at least treat my perspective with respect. If they feel threatened by my perspective, their response is fear rather than bullying. They understand that an adult can’t be “bullied” the same way a child can and perceive my perspective as more dangerous.
In many cases, I am sharing the same information, experiences, and perspectives. The only thing that has changed is their identity prejudice towards me. The prejudice that the experiences and opinions of adults are more valid is a form of identity prejudice and internalized dominance known as adultism. As a young man, I experienced testimonial injustice on the basis of my identity. As an adult, I experience privilege. I haven’t changed. The world’s perception of me has.
The bullying I experienced as a young man came from adults and people who set themselves as “teachers.” At the time, they had greater power and status relative to me. As an adult, I have greater status than them. From my current perspective, most teachers are losers. If we met again, I might be the one bullying them.
I wish I could say there is a lesson here about how we all need to overcome our own biases, listen to children, and treat their perspectives with dignity and respect. Though true, who cares? Even as a child, I knew that the way I was treated was because of my age. I tucked my opinions away and made a deal with myself that when I was older I would use my adult power to advocate for the me who didn’t have power in the past (Children’s Justice is a fulfillment of part of that promise). The real lesson was: get power. No one cares otherwise.
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