Cross-posted at Firedoglake.com/MyFDL. A special thank you to the MyFDL editor for helping with the image.
This morning, Mason and I logged on to our respective computers. We both have browsers that automatically open to Google, and on the Google screen, spanning the page from top to bottom, is a zipper. Out of respect and a good deal of social conditioning, I decided to leave Google’s giant fly zipped. However, I could not run to the Google news tab fast enough, because I was absolutely certain that there would be yet another news story about Secret Service folks not paying their sex workers, during working trips abroad. In my mind, I connected a closed zipper to an open fly.
Mason, on the other hand, had cursor to zipper and was saying, “Well. I guess they probably want me to unzip this.”
As you know, this was under the Google zipper. As he unzipped the zipper, and even as I was cueing the striptease music with a light, off-key, “Chik-a-wow…a-bow-ra-ow-chik-a-wow-a-wow,” I thought to myself that adult men not paying their sex workers is bullying, plain and simple.
Bullying has evolved since I was a kid. Growing up, I never heard the terms ‘bullycide’ or ‘cyberbullying.’ When I was a kid there were bullies for sure, but there were also equally strong anti-bullies who sided with the underdog being bullied and stopped the bullying. On occasion, push did come to shove on the playground, and some kid might turn up with a scrape or bruise. But in general the kids handled things, and sometimes the bullys and the bullied became friends. In high school the cliques were: jocks, heads, socials (pronounced soshes with a long o) and nerds. At the reunion many years later everyone blended with everyone else, or at least, that is the way it seemed.
Our schoolyard chants in 1968, the same year that Bobby was killed were as follows: Humphrey, Humphrey He’s our Man; Nixon belongs in the Garbage Can…or vise-versa. We trick-or-treated for UNICEF, wore POW-MIA bracelets that we vowed never to remove, and made CARE packages to send overseas.
Looking back, there is no doubt that we were influenced by our parents, and that contributed to our collective political awareness, but also to our compassion. I cannot help but wonder if today’s bullying epidemic could be curbed by a) the country as a whole not being such a self-righteous holier-than-thou bully and b) by getting back to teaching and practicing a bit more compassion.
As it stands now, we are in bully defense mode. Just today, a woman in Kentucky wants a restraining order against a fourth-grade bully, because she fears that the bully may hurt, or even kill, her daughter. Over the weekend in Iowa, a 14-year-old boy who was bullied at school committed suicide.
Zero tolerance for bullying must be accompanied by de-escalation of inflammatory rhetoric regarding various perceived groups. Hateful talk spills over into the schoolyard. Also, how can we realistically expect our children not to be warlike bullies when a good many of them have never lived a single day knowing peacetime? How can kids even want peacetime when they have never seen it? How can kids be compassionate when they have never witnessed compassion? How can kids tolerate and accept when they see only intolerance and the unacceptable?
Shunning is a popular form of bullying that adults engage in, and it is very painful for the person being shunned. When we shun others, our kids will learn to shun and exclude as well. After a while, the shunners can shun everybody but themselves…and that cannot be a good place to be either.
If anyone reading this has been bullied and is experiencing some pain behind it, I will share a couple of things that I heard out and about, here and there, and it has helped. a) ‘what others think of me is none of my business’ has proved helpful over and over and b) When all else fails, say “Tell you what. You do you, and I’ll do me, ” and walk away if you possibly can. I think that it is important for kids to have some adult to speak with, in the safe insulation of an anonymous encounter as well, so that the kid won’t be ganged up on and deemed a ‘tattletale.’
Bullying is both a current epidemiological problem and a social indicator of broader problems. Is bullying on the rise, or is it simply being reported more? What can we do as individuals, what concrete actions can we take, to curb this painful problem in both children and in adults?