If this contains too much personal information for your taste, I apologize. There is a lot being said about bullying these days and this represents my attempt to contribute something different. Also, my original motivation was to meet a request for an article on bullying that would be appropriate for Angels That Care [whose main thrust is to help end domestic violence.] Hoping for Peace and
Brute. Beast. Devil. Savage. Sadist.
“Bully” strong enough? I don’t think so. To me, the term harkens back to a time of 3-ring notebooks with cheap cardboard covers, letters that required envelopes and stamps and clunky telephones with exasperating cords and tortoise-slow dials. Many people were under the impression that bullies and their victims were virtually always males, and attacks pretty much confined to fisticuffs, kicks, and hot air. Names got called and insults got scrawled in bathrooms, phone booths, and
playground sheds. If a bully did serious injury to someone from a “respectable” family, he’d get his comeuppance, just wait. None of this had nothing to do that nice young man down the street who killed himself or Jim Crow laws and lynchings or men who beat their wives and the fact that my mother whipped my brother so often and hard that he jumped on a rusted bicycle that belonged to our landlady and rode l8 miles through driving sleet in the middle of the night before police caught up. (They brought him home, but he ended up with the relatives he had been heading for.) Sometimes a case that went beyond the public’s notion of what constituted bullying drew serious attention, but the type that a lot of parents, teachers, and other authority figures practiced was usually ignored. In many cases, encouraged. The neighbor who called the cops on mother was looked upon with suspicion.
Today, many people would applaud the woman’s willingness to become involved. Unfortunately, that progress is overshadowed by an upsurge in the violent behavior that I will henceforth refer to as bulling has been increasing for some time. The anonymity and disconnectedness that come with overpopulation and constant moves are only part of the story.. Could it be that we need to return to the idea that Rules are Rules? That the good guys should win, the bad guys lose? We have be careful not to veer onto the road that leads to autocracy, but we don’t allow murder, robbery, and drug-pushing, do we. How many murders and robberies and overdoses could we prevent by nipping bullying in the bud? Granted, it is hard to pinpoint in neighborhoods that are largely deserted during the day. In the days the shoemaker and clockmaker operated in the front of their homes, “ruffians” and “n’er-do-wells” were grabbed by the napes of their necks and taught a lesson. Later, housewives were available to keep an eye peeled for troublemakers and issue alerts. Now, gated communities are unsafe. More bullies are on the roam, and many are packing guns.
It is even more of a challenge to locate and apprehend bullies now that many are hiding in cyberspace. Like cancer, if not caught early, their venom wreaks havoc as it multiplies and spreads. It is not that the venom is different, it is that the path to destruction has been cleared of most of the obstacles that slowed, or even halted, its progress. Sneak attacks are more common, and more destructive. A Neanderthal bully was restricted to the length of a chunk of wood or how far a rock could be made to fly. “Civilized” counterparts quickly figured out how to devise weapons that extended the range in which injury and death could be inflicted, and that protected them from backflash. Weapons became larger, stronger, more powerful, and at the same time, more portable. Eventually, inventions such as the telephone and postal service made it safer to engage in emotional blackmail and other forms of psychological torture.
Let’s go back for a moment to the type of assault that occurs in the real world.
Bullies are cowards. “What do you mean,‘fair?’ Gang up if you can. Turns into a mob, so much the better. Only in the movies are people able to overcome multiple attackers. The best scenario is likely to be limping home dabbing away blood and tears and praying it doesn’t happen again. Luckily, young bullies are often found warming seats in the principal’s office or in detention. Most act out in class, so the expulsion and drop-out rate are high. Older bullies are likely to be acquainted with the police. Many have been incarcerated, and are forced to keep looking over their shoulders. Still, it is a good rule to avoid isolated areas and stay in a group. Vary the route when on foot, even
at the risk of getting into trouble for being late.
Children with understanding parents may swallow their pride and “rat” about escalating threats and assaults. They may be comfortable going to a teacher or other adults. But in today’s crowded world, there isn’t always enough attention to go around. Children aren’t the only ones who get overwhelmed. Internal and external pressures keep eating away at family life. At school, on the job, at church, even at play, danger often lurks.
Around 1995, a virtual candy store for bullies threw open its doors. It was called the internet. How do you watch for attackers no one can see? How do you keep them from spying, when all they
have to do is push buttons? How do you keep up with friends and relatives without sacrificing every vestige of your privacy? Why is it so easy to ‘hack’ into a “password-protected” website or e-mail, and where will it end?
Bullies are having a heyday. “Let children be children,” I have heard people say. That would be ignoring mounting evidence that bullying is rampant. Might as well say, “Let’s let people who like to hurt other people go for it.”
School-related bullying is a major concern, but bullies range in age from 3 to 80 or older. All are experts at sensing and exploiting weakness and have an uncanny ability to time attacks when they
will do the most harm.
Any individual who intentionally inflicts pain and suffering qualifies. School and internet bullies are getting the most press, but wherever power is out of balance, expect one or more to jump in and wreak havoc. Rape, ‘date rape,’ and violence by intimates (often referred to as intrafamilial, or “domestic,” violence) are committed by bullies. They can be found on police forces, in fire houses, on mental health staffs, in kitchens, boardrooms, banks, clinics, stores, at sea, and on beaches. Some are electricians, some nerds, some preachers, some pimps. Architects, actors, nannies, artists, homemakers, CEO’s, commentators, senators, congressmen, and stevedores. Bullying is older than prostitution. Think about it. Weak don’t bully the strong into selling their bodies. Scratch a murderer, a rapist, or an armed robber, find a bully. Which is why we have to develop better screens to prevent them from being elevated to positions of power. They must not be allowed to have close contact with children, people with handicaps or who are ill or enfeebled, or anyone else who could prove to be easy prey. If a bully appears to have reformed, give the person a chance, but provide good supervision.
Harassment, intimidation, and smear tactics tend to be especially hard on adolescents and people who suffer from clinical depression, but who among us is immune? Workplace bullying has had tragic consequences, and it is on the rise. While more people are reporting bullying, there is evidence to suggest than an iceberg has yet to be uncovered.
Barely a day goes by without another bully-related tragedy coming to light. A man in his seventies shoots a neighbor to death over a card game. A woman forces a car off a freeway, then shoots the driver, using road rage as an excuse. A note left by a well-thought-of student who jumped off the roof a a high-rise dormitory says, “They are never going to leave me alone.” Three New York City residents are murdered in cold blood because of their sexual orientation. All of us could fill pages with such horror tales. Pages that often grow damp with tears shed for the victims, but even more for loved ones left to grieve.
Social networking websites, texting, and e-mail are great, but they make it easy for bullies to send worms and viruses, torture with unflattering and/or obscene photos, ‘out’ people, turn friends against friends, and lie their heads off. Once an accusation or a picture is out there, it is out there. (Seeing is still believing, PhotoShop or no PhotoShop.) We need to lean hard on site owners and webmasters to increase security, screen more often and more thoroughly for suspicious activity, and bounce slander back to those attempting to spread it. It may literally mean life or death. The free flow of information that the internet makes possible is transforming society the world over. It is giving us more and better education,, access to up-to-date medical information and resources formerly beyond the reach of the average person. It is easier and cheaper to organize charities, alleviate suffering, foster understanding, and may one day help level the playing field for the poor and disadvantaged. The World Wide Web is arguably the greatest force for healthy change and international unity ever invented. But if we don’t find a way to convince site-owners and webmasters to be more responsible, there will be ever-increasing pressure to curb the flow. We can’t let it happen!
To be abused is a nightmare. To be abused before a voyeuristic public is to multiply the horror untold times. For an adolescent who wants nothing more than fit in, the pain can be too much to take. Whatever current laws say, cyberbullying is cruel and unusual punishment. To be raked over coals repeatedly for being “fat,” “ugly, “retarded,” or any other trumped-up reason is worse than criminal. When the self-doubt that raging hormones, an awkwardly developing body, and balancing shakily on the wire between childhood and adulthood is nagging, it can be the straw that breaks.
All have our breaking point, don’t we.
None of this is news. “Bully” is having its 15 minutes of fame. Which is not altogether bad. It appears that some bullies have been scared off by public scrutiny, and more victims and their families have been inspired to speak up. Spreading the word that bullying can be lethal! That survivors often suffer from eroded confidence and shaken faith. Not a few suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Physical, mental, and emotional health are in jeopardy. If we don’t find ways to stop bullies in their tracks, the suicide rate will continue to climb. How we can stop them without becoming bullies ourselves, I don’t know, but with the internet fast becoming their weapon of choice, if we can turn it on them by using it as a tool to press for better and more effective laws, policing, and bully-related education and treatment, it would surely go a long way.
With very rare exception, bullies are made, not born. One creates another. . .and another. Some may be reachable, it tolerating their behavior helps no one.
You read about schools where bullying does not exist. Students say they feel safe and are able to concentrate on getting an education and participating in extracurricular activities that improve their health and expand their horizons. If those schools are bully-free, why can’t all be? Is it apathy that is in our way? Underfunding? Poor priorities? Being a student shouldn’t mean living in fear!
Here’s a question I haven’t seen come up. How many schools and classrooms are run by bullies? I doubt that there is an adult American who was not bullied by at least one teacher. When I was screening hearing in a county school system, I glanced into a classroom and caught sight of a teacher grabbing a ruler off her desk and shaking it violently. Her face was livid. Take it from me, the ruler was not on her desk in case measurements were required. “Corporal punishment” (a polite way of saying beating) is still legal in twenty states. Where illegal, selected staff have ‘vays’ of getting around the law. Sometimes with parental approval. Punishment frequently extends to harsh criticism, unfair grades, and shunning. They have a ripple effect for which we all pay a price. Plus anyone who uses their authority as an excuse to bully is unlikely to discourage others from doing so. What a terrible example to set!
There has never been, nor is there ever going to be, a magic bullet that immunizes a person against being bullied, but positive reinforcement comes close. Doses have to be strong and frequent.
Pooh-poohing the importance of rewards is like saying, “I work for the fun of it. Put that check away!” “Or, I’ll do the laundry and cook and clean even though you never say thank you or give me a hug.” We need to feel appreciated. Praise, particularly when combined with concrete rewards, is powerful! Children and adults do best if rewarded for each step in the desired direction, no matter how small. “Good” and a sincerely-meant smile are wonder-workers. Repeating an unrewarding task is fool’s work. If it is rewarding, it is self-defeating to quit. Punishment has the opposite effect. Want to squelch attempts to learn and grow, punish, punish, punish. “What’s in it for me?” is simple self-protection. Only by being self-serving does a a human infant survive. ( Negative reinforcement, used judiciously, is not the same as punishment. A short time-out or temporarily withheld object or activity is often effective, provided it is used within a framework of regular and strongly positive reinforcement.) Even plants react well to gentle words of encouragement.
It could not be more important for a child to have access to at least one adult he or she feels it is safe to confide in. Not to is part of the recipe for an victim. (Add a lot of vinegar, leave out the leavening, and expose to extreme temperatures, might just end up with a bully.)
It couldn’t hurt to encourage real world hobbies and interests. Self-defense, dance, and art classes are fun and they are apt to boost self-confidence. Healthy new friendships are likely to form.
Internet domain sellers have made it a snap to set up a free personal site accessible by invitation only. As computer savvy as children are these days, many could probably set up and maintain such a site with little or no help. It would give them away to communicate with friends and relatives more safely that at sites such as FaceBook and MySpace. Invitees abuse the privilege, block ‘em! Insuring maximum security might take a little parental research or an hour of Computer Guy’s time, but the added protection would almost certainly be worth the cost.
A pet is often a good idea. To be loved unconditionally is a rare and precious thing. It is why therapy dogs are becoming common. It is a great feeling to rescue an animal from being put down. Other than paying for necessities such as shots and neutering, cost is negligible. The added compassion and self-respect that come with saving and caring may form a bully-resistant shield. If a bully manages to pierce it, recovery may be quicker.
Overpopulation and social and geographic mobility increase loneliness, alienation and a sense of uselessness. Competition for attention is so fierce that it is little wonder that people get hooked on “chat” forums, and texting. Connecting electronically isn’t as good as a hug, but it feel better than nothing. May alleviate some of the pain caused by what I call “transplant fever.” None of us are immune, but children tend to suffer most. If it is to survive, an uprooted plant must be transplanted quickly and carefully. The younger it is, the more gently it needs to be handled. If it lives, give it time to adjust. Children are not small adults. We shouldn’t expect them to adust to a new environment as if they were. Almost see them wilt.
Children who aren’t given enough time bury their feelings, and it makes them easy pickings. Those who do not may end up doing the picking.
History tells us that ignoring or tolerating bullies can have very grave consequences. Here are a few names you may recognize:
Adolf Hitler Benito Mussolini Pol Pot, Napoleon Bonaparte, Catherine the Great, Queen Mary I [aka Bloody Mary], Ayatollah Khomeini, Idi Amin Dada, Josef Stalin, Maximilien Robespierre, Elizabeth I of England, Mao Tse Tung, Ivan the Terrible, Saddam Hussein, Hirohito, Tz'u-hsi [“The Dowager Princess”]. . .you will have no trouble adding to the list.
During a recent break , I caught part of an affecting plea by Ft. Worth, Texas, City Councilman Joe Burns’ for a crackdown on bullying. Talking about the bullying that drove him to the brink of suicide reduces him to tears. He has gone public to let victims know that not only is it possible to survive, but to be happy and successful. (The speech is available via U-Tube. Hits almost immediately soared to over a million.]
Twenty-five percent of elementary and high school students in the U.S. report that they have been bullied. The percentage is lower in many countries. [sample links below]. Why this is so, no one seems to know. I have seen reference to studies conducted in the l980's, but have been unable to find the results. What is it that we are doing wrong? What are we neglecting? We need to know!
Not to state the obvious, every allegation of bullying need to be investigated quickly, and investigators need to be objective and thorough. If it’s I-say-you-say, I am all for siding with those making the allegations unless there is strong evidence that they are not true . Those who are innocent would do well to allow police computer consultants to take a look at their internet and cell phone records.
Every day, more bully victims come forward. One shudders to think how many do not.
Billions have been crushed under the heels of bullies.
Began a heel at a time--?
States having no laws concerning bullying:
District of Columbia
Synonyms for bully include: brute, hooligan, heavy, ruffian, criminal, mugger, hood, hoodlum, gangster, goon, yob, cutthroat, ruffian, hoodlum, Thug One [re a band of professional assassins formerly active in northern India], gangster, aggressor, wild animal, barbarian, devil, fiend, ghoul, & ogre..
(c) Phyllis Jean Green, 2010