I keep reading in inspirational letters, often addressed to newborn children, that their bullies will peak at 16 and lead miserable lives later on thereby allowing them to have the satisfaction of a long tail victory. This is bullshit and it makes me angry.
My secondary school bullies are respectively a tv director, a graphic designer, a midwife and the best mother I know.* None of them lies wasted in a crack den. And none of them deserve to. Wishing someone a life of misery because they lacked empathy at 15 years old is not pleasant. What those girls were at 15 has in no way defined who they are as adults. I appreciate that such a highfalutin list of jobs probably has a lot to do with the fact that i went to a convent school (nominally a state school, but it was basically a minor public school but with an added moral high ground) but even if every single one of them had gone on to work in Poundland or for Gazprom it would not be due to who they were at 15.
It is not a victory to have a better life now than you had then. It is simply the way things shake out. As you grow older you can try to make your life work for you. You have more agency, more control and a good deal more understanding of how things work. We all make choices. We find the life that makes us happy or learn to live within one that can't, for myriad reasons. Life offers so many challenges and difficulties and opportunities to each and every one of us. It is resilience that makes a successful life - I look at my life and find it successful and I hope I would have the strength to change it if I didn't think that this was the case. I have done in the past. Not everyone is lucky enough to grow up in a environment that allows them to develop resilience.
Shitty things happen to good people. Shitty things happen to bad people: There are people who were bullied at school who then made bad choices in relationships, in education, in careers who now have a shitty life. Being bullied in school does not give you a free pass to a happy life as an adult. To imply that it does is disingenuous at best, downright insulting at worst. There are children who were bullies in school because what they saw at home left them angry or scared or confused and they only had that model to copy. Their inability to change this is not your victory, it is their tragedy. There are many children who never had the power to choose the direction their life went in, both the bullies and the bullied.
There are people who were terrible humans at school and became wonderful adults. There are people who were lovely at school and became hardened by what life threw at them and no longer find it safe to be kind. There are people who were terrible at school and remain so. There are people, those happy few, who were lovely at school and remain lovely adults (I'd check their bank balance, it's a lot easier to be this person if you're rich.)
If you have made a success of your life and your bully didn't, it's worth looking at the other factors involved. Check your privilege. The choice of your bully to work in MacDonalds in their thirties is probably more to do with having been dealt a shitty hand when they were younger than a lack of direction. My mum always told me that my primary school bullies were jealous because I was cleverer than them. Of course I was; my mum stayed at home with me most of the time and read with me and played with me; my parents took me to the theatre, to museums, on international holidays - my life experience gave me a vocabulary and context that allowed me to be clever without having to try too hard. The kids who took the piss out of me for being posh in school got to go on school trips and the occasional trip to the seaside. Some of them will have been studying for their exams in the same room that their parents were fighting in. The deck was stacked against them, not me. Being bullied felt horrible at the time but I know now that I was the lucky one (Also I was insufferably posh for a child growing up in Slough and probably deserved the occasional taking down a peg or two**). It's worth remembering that sometimes the bullies are punching up.
I would argue that we need to move away from the focus in schools on what to do when you are being bullied and look instead at what is causing children to become bullies. If we want to stop the problem we have to understand it's causes. I think we are moving towards this approach but it is slow progress. The gut instinct to protect the victim rather than understand the perpetrator is strong in all walks of life but prevention is far more effective that post-hoc support. Having said that, when I look at the support offered in my son's school now compared to what I was offered in the eighties, I am glad to see such good progress. Has anyone done a study into the correlation between the rise in tackling bullying in schools and the decrease in alcohol/drug consumption in the younger generation? My gut tells me there's a link, but my gut is rarely research based.
* I will admit that there are others who don't have such easily recognisable jobs but I will say they are all doing as well as the rest of us even if they do dwell in the murky waters of media sales, HR and whatnot.
** I think the phrase 'a peg or two' would probably have earned me a gentle slap on the playground