"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bullying–Finally A Reasonable Response

I have written about bullying http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com/2012/01/bullies.html and have suggested that it has always been a part of growing up, and that children simply have to learn how to deal with it, for bullying behavior doesn’t go away once you hit adulthood.  Only recently have we started to call abusive bosses ‘bullies’; but they have been there for as long as there have been minions and underlings.  Police bully drivers unnecessarily when they pull them over for a violation.  Low-paid, sullen workers at the Post Office or at the DMV routinely bully customers who have no option but to take the abuse to get a letter registered or a license renewed. Bullies exist in corporate offices, intimidating subordinates with thinly-veiled criticisms of their ability and promise.

The Ugly Duckling syndrome is alive and well on playgrounds and in society as a whole because it is part of human nature to be suspicious of and to cast out the misfit, the one who does not fit the norm, who disrupts convenient and satisfied routines and tarnishes group image.  Addressing bullying now is an extension of addressing diversity and enforcing a Keep It To Yourself policy regarding the overweight, unattractive, and intellectually-challenged (i.e. the fat, ugly, and retarded to use the terms always used when no adult is around).  We live in an overly protective society where we insist on contorting reality to conform to our ‘progressive’ ideals.

This is not to say that extreme bullying cannot be savage and damaging; and teachers are well within their rights to separate the bully from the bully just as they separate kids who are fighting, shoving, or physically hurting others.  Yet the policing of bullying has been taken to illogical extremes.  Looks can now be intimidating.  So can a pointed finger, a smirk, an aside.  The words ‘stupid’, ‘gross’ and worse are banned in public discourse.  This unrealistic enforcement of behavior simply forces it underground where it festers and multiplies.

There has seemed to be no middle ground.  There are those like me who say that bullying is simply a part of life – not just the playground but everywhere.  Government leaders always try to bully other nations into complying with their demands.  It is called ‘hardnosed’ negotiation but it is taking advantage of an opponent when he is considered vulnerable.  Intimidation is perhaps the operative word.

There are others who say that bulling can scar a child for life, that it is an unacceptable breach of the social contract.  Stopping it will be beneficial to the person bullied and to the person doing the bullying who will in theory at least understand his wrong and reform.

A compromise position is emerging, although it is surprising that it has taken so long to come out of the mothballs of an earlier generation – parents should teach their children how to deal with bullies.  The primordial lesson taught for generations is that most bullies are more bark than bite, lack confidence, and use size, age, or bulk to cover over their insecurity.  Challenge them and they will back down.

I have fictionalized on my blog (above) an account which I witnessed as a young student.  A bully, nearly a head taller and 100 pounds heavier than most of us bullied us incessantly.  He tripped us going down stairs, pushed us into our cafeteria trays, and bumped us down stairs.  Until a scrappy kid from the mountains said ‘Fuck you Bobby Brown”, grabbed him and wrestled him around the playground, hung on like a terrier, banging his fists into his stomach, ripping and tearing at his new Brooks Brothers shirt and J.Press khakis, until Bobby stopped.  The bully bullied no more.

This does not mean that everyone should look for a physical resolution to the problem.  Other kids can be taught to simply walk away, ‘turn the other cheek’ or see that ‘discretion is the better part of valor’.  Each of us has had to deal with bullies in our own way in our own time, and we are better off for the experience.  Laws and regulations are there to prevent excessive insult, injury, or behavior; but not to be nanny-like intrusions into the normal give and take of growing up.  And yes, sorry to say, bullying is part of growing up.  Jerry-rigging a school environment to try to prevent it through engineering a clean, ideal, and perfectly compatible environment and to punish any infraction severely, is the wrong approach.  As an article in the New York Times (Elizabeth Olson 10.23.12) suggests:

“Parents talk to their kids about drugs, sex, drinking and driving,” said Peggy Conlon, president and chief executive of the Ad Council, a nonprofit group that addresses social issues like teenage dating violence and high school dropout rates. “But they are not always proactive about bullying”.

Another more reality-based program is promising:

The “Be More Than a Bystander” campaign, orchestrated by the nonprofit Advertising Council underscores the problem with a series of television, print and online ads and a Web site promoting the idea that if witnesses know what to do, they can take various steps, such as moving the victim away from the situation or reporting the treatment to an adult, to defuse the bullying.

This approach also rejects the intrusive, politically-correct policies to control behavior through policing.  It accepts that bullying is part of growing up, but also acknowledges that it can and should be stopped by peers.  The approach encourages moral courage on the part of the observer and provides a face-saving out for the bullied (better to be helped by a friend rather than rescued by an adult)

A lot of this well-financed ‘Don’t be a bystander’ campaign focuses on what the designers consider the pernicious (as opposed to normal) aspects of bullying and still want to engineer PC corrections; but at least it brings the issue down to practical basics. Bullying exists.  Children need to learn how to deal with bullies who will never go away; and they need to learn how right it is to stand up for the defenseless.

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