Ruby, by Steve Henderson, used by permission
As children, we were always taught not to make personal comments about another's physical features. Not a bad rule to live by.

Rabbits make lousy friends.

During our parental career, we have heard dinnertime stories from our progeny who have been happily socializing in a group when one of the clutch, a coyote, starts picking on the progeny who is telling us the tale.

“You’re fat."

"I’m not. I’m slender and willowy. That’s why boys like me.”

“Your front teeth are crooked."

"They aren’t. They’re perfect — and white, too.”

"What ugly hair you have. It isn’t soft and wavy like mine.”

Not once, but repeatedly, the coyote darts in with a variation of the theme while the surrounding rabbits who look like friends immobilize in silence, watching and saying nothing, some afraid that they, too, will be singled from the group and attacked, others so inured to one person making personal assaults upon another that this doesn’t seem wrong.

In our own case, most of the coyotes were oddly enough from good, religious families, attending all sorts of good, religious events, never taking the name of Jesus in vain in front of their parents but regularly stomping on it with their words when they were away from the authoritarian eye. This is not to say, however, that atheists, agnostics and persons of widely divergent faiths cannot be bullies — all you have to do is flatter the people more powerful than you and flatten the ones who aren’t.

“Did you speak up for yourself?” we invariably asked.

“No, that would have been rude.”

That one floored us.

“It is not rude,” we repeated repeatedly, “to say something along the lines of, ‘What’s with the personal comments?’ or ‘When you’re out of the attack mode, maybe we can get on with this game/project/conversation.’”

“I was afraid that, if I said anything, she (it’s often a she, isn’t it?) would tell her parents, and since you know one another, it would ruin your relationship.”

It’s not much of a relationship that can be ruined by one person’s child standing up to another’s.

Fortunately, after years of our fruitless counsel and years of their growth and maturation, the older progeny found their voice. Recently, one of them countered an attack on her physical features by pointing out a physical anomaly of her attacker.

The rabbits in the room thawed en masse turning not on the coyote, but on the progeny:

“How can you say something like that?”

I am to the point now, with the younger progeny, of communicating more explicitly about the reprehensibility of what the coyotes are doing, and emphasizing our unequivocal parental support of whatever actions the progeny deems necessary to counter the attack.

Gracious eloquence would be nice, but not realistic, so if that doesn’t work, and transcending the situation with aplomb isn’t possible, then something truly shocking like "Why don't you be quiet now?" passes muster.

(Frankly, with the parents of some of these children, overhearing an innocuous sentence like the one above is just as bad as our child uttering a vulgarity. So if I was too subtle, allow me to clarify that I gave her permission to say pretty much anything, keeping in mind that, while it's easy to degrade onself to the level of one's attacker, it is not always wise.)

Snarky girls and berating bullies don’t just go away; they grow into insecure widgets stuck inside adult bodies who learn to finesse their attacks, which they then perpetrate upon co-workers, subordinates, relatives, retail clerks, relationship rivals, under-deaconesses — anyone they perceive to be weaker, smaller, frailer or more vulnerable than they.

Rabbits — masquerading as friends — allow them to do so.

We don’t so much need anti-bullying legislation as we do people of backbone and character who stand up for themselves and for others. Perhaps this could start with all of us who consider ourselves parents of good, exemplary children — taking the blinders off when necessary, teaching our progeny that what comes out of their mouths looks unerringly like what resides in their hearts.

Carolyn Henderson is a freelance author and writer of the Middle Aged Plague blog ( Carolyn is also the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art (