I would have thought raising a generation of Americans on “Barney and Friends,” et al, would have precluded us from having to discuss the bullying problem for the same reason that so many of us no longer smoke cigarettes: We know it’s bad and we know others don’t like it so we don’t do it.
And yet the other night, as I went to use the water fountain (yes, they still exist) in the grade school where a bunch of local dads play basketball, I noticed that the walls were plastered with bromides about the need to treat each other with respect and dignity. I imagine similar scenarios are played out in grade schools across the Island, and yet the news is still rife with stories about kids bullying kids.
I can tell you there were no bromides on the walls of St. Williams in Seaford, where I went to grammar school in the late 1960s. It was survival of the fittest, and the bigger kids ruled. It was either fight or flight and given my propensity for seeing every comment as a slight, I often opted for the former.
As crazy as things got back then, however, I did not have to deal with the Internet. It’s one thing to have to battle the known enemy during lunch or after school. It’s a whole ‘nother fight when the enemy – or enemies – have technological weapons at their disposal that can do their damage at the push of a key and in the blink of an eye. Hiding behind a keyboard emboldens today’s bullies, too, because they can commit their cowardly actions with an utter lack of fear of physical retribution. I’m not saying I kicked anybody’s butt, but if you picked on me you were going to get dirty and possibly even bloodied because I was never afraid to fight. Surely that had to discourage more than one bully from piling on.
I’m not suggesting fighting fire with fire. I am simply pointing out that one of the reasons why bullying seems so rampant now is because it is so much easier to be a bully. You even get the glory of media attention, thanks to the youtubification of every little thing that goes on in our society. (I can only imagine how intriguing it would be to watch a videotape of one of my schoolyard scraps).
So how do we end bullying? Unfortunately, wherever there is bullying there is a good chance the ball has been dropped by a parent or parents in terms of either teaching their child how to behave or not being there in the first place. So it falls on our schools to continue the anti-bullying campaigns and have responsible adults intervene whenever possible.
I know that worked in my case. It was Sister Jean, who took over as school principal late in my St. Williams career, who set me straight. When I was in seventh grade I figured it was my turn to inflict rather than receive. After doing so (verbally, not physically) at the bus stop one morning, I was called down to Sr. Jean’s office. It seems the recipient of my obnoxiousness did not embrace the philosophy that being bullied was a rite of passage, even in a parochial school, and complained to the principal. Sr. Jean asked me why I was picking on a younger student who had done me no harm. I explained that that’s the way I was treated when I was younger. She asked me how it felt. Lousy, I said. “So why would you want to inflict that kind of pain on somebody else?”
I wanted to say “where the hell were you when I was eating the dirt at recess”, but I didn’t. I knew she was right. I didn’t want other kids to go through what I went through.
Bullies need to be confronted and challenged, with compassion if possible. Get to the root of why he or she is behaving in that manner and get the bully to understand the pain he or she is inflicting, and unless you are dealing with psychotic you will put an end to the problem.