Monday, December 21, 2015
Questions I Get Asked (Part 3)
“My child is being bullied. What are you going to do about it?"
It’s not always asked in those exact words, but the meaning is intended and clear.
The issue of bullying has become arguably the biggest topic within schools next to Columbine and Common Core. Programs designed to “stomp out bullying” and make school “bully-free” have become numerous. I get several emails a year from companies touting their curriculum as the one that will do the trick. School districts across the country scramble to find the right combination of curriculum, emphasis, and training to eradicate bullying from their campuses.
However, the push to eliminate a problem that has plagued mankind since man started to coexist seems illogical at its root. People have been “bullying” people for millennia. Everybody from siblings to neighborhood thugs to organized crime bosses to kings bent on conquest, the list of those wishing to abuse others and/or take advantage of others for some kind of personal gain is endless.
Take, for example, a parent—the mild mannered, soccer mom type—who threatens a teacher and/or administrator when she finds out her child is being suspended because he/she got into a fight. This parent says she will “call her lawyer” if the school doesn’t change their mind. What that parent is really saying is, “You had better do something different to my child (i.e., no suspension), or I’m going to manipulate you into doing my bidding.” Isn’t that a form of bullying? Yes. Does she have a lawyer on retainer? Probably not. But within this litigious society we find ourselves, it’s the threat that carries the weight. A classic form of bullying, if you check the definition.
Bullying, according to Merriam Webster, means “to treat abusively” or “to affect by means of force or coercion.” You can see in my example above that Mrs. Soccer Mom would be trying to coerce that teacher or administrator into a different decision. It has nothing to do with, “Should the child be punished?” If the child was involved in a bona fide fight, then the answer is obvious. A loving, level-headed parent should be angry with the student, right? The teacher or administrator didn’t get into the fight. They didn’t force little Johnny to throw several blows. And if level-headedness prevailed, a compromise might be on the table if it is warranted. But when threats are made by the soccer mom, then one has to wonder little how Johnny got into the fight. It’s the “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” syndrome. Amazing how those who cry foul and demand a “bully-free” zone are actually pretty good at bullying. I see it all the time.
What about the politician who tells a fellow congresswoman that if she votes for his bill, then he’ll vote for hers, implying that if she doesn’t, there will be negative consequences for her legislation? Isn’t that bullying? Yes. Does it happen all the time? Most likely, and let’s not even talk about lobbyists at this time, okay?
Or what about the pervasiveness of treating others abusively across every facet of the entertainment industry? Comedians, rappers, late night talk show hosts, and a host of others are all guilty of using abusive language about others, belittling and dehumanizing others, making fun of others, using others as the butt of a joke, while doing so for personal profit. And yes, I know, it’s a free country with First Amendment rights. Rappers can call women all sorts of derogatory names and sing about how they use and abuse them for the property they really are. Comedians can make fun of people with disabilities, people who they think aren’t pretty or handsome, and people from other cultures, races, or countries, using these folks as punchlines. Movie/TV producers and actors/actresses can make fun of political parties, religions, and what many would consider wholesome living (think Andy Griffith here), and their profits may even suffer as a result, but they have the right to do so.
What’s puzzling to me, though, is we mysteriously support that kind of bullying. We buy tickets to the live shows and movies. We purchase the cable service to watch the TV shows, and laugh at the crude jokes. We purchase the songs, listen to the vile lyrics, even sing the songs out loud, and think nothing of it.
To add to this double standard, we actually encourage all of this by participating in it more and more each year. You never hear of parents saying, “We are going to stomp out bullying by no longer supporting these people. I’m canceling my cable. We’re deleting the rap music. We’re boycotting movies.” For the vast, vast majority, the very people who complain that their child “is being bullied” think nothing of allowing their child to watch the shows and the movies, download the aforementioned songs, or—are you ready for this?—possess a cell phone. Yes, with that device, that same student can not only access the foul and abusive songs that denigrate women, but they can listen to them 24/7, with an earbud hanging from their head all hours of the day. That same student can also view and share the Facebook pictures making fun of people who shop at Wal-Mart. He can share hurtful videos and posts via apps his parents don’t even know exist. These videos and posts make fun of and disparage other students at his school. Often, those same posts even threaten the targeted students with promised attacks upon return to school. He’s part of the problem, but don’t tell that to his mom and dad, or they’ll get a lawyer.
So, before we accuse others of bullying, maybe we should look in the mirror. And maybe we should be more realistic about our abilities to “stomp out bullying.” I wish we could, but human nature has set a precedent over the last several thousand years. Bullying has permeated every country, every kingdom, and every society. There isn’t one group of humans that has existed in human history who lived “bully-free.” Those are just the facts.
I often tell students that they need to ignore those who make fun of them because people who make fun of others are doing it for one of three reasons: 1) They want to make people laugh and cover up their lack of self-esteem in the process; 2) They need to belittle others to make themselves look more important and improve their self-worth in the eyes of others; or 3) They have a serious self-esteem issue and become mean-spirited by attacking others. In any of these cases, the problem doesn’t lie with you, the target. The bully is the one with the problem.
Ignore them. It’s hard to do, I know. But I believe teaching students how to handle it realistically is a better method than promising to do something we all know will never happen, like stomping out bullying. Even making it illegal and punishing it severely won’t work. If it won’t work for murder, probably won’t work with bullying, either. Besides, we all know that the politicians responsible creating that law would find a way to exempt themselves. I mean, how could they legislate our countries and stay in power if they aren’t exempt? (Do you see my tongue in my cheek here?)
Now, should we deal with those who do bully others? Yes. And most school districts have policies in place now which deal with such issues. But not all cases of supposed bullying are actually bullying. They often are cases of both parties exhibiting bullying behavior until one party shouts “I’m the victim,” or one party says, “Enough is enough,” and turns the words into some kind of physical retaliation. In either case, it’s not true bullying. Not when both parties are involved.
Only if one party is treating the other abusively or trying to coerce the other into doing something they would not do otherwise do we have a case of bullying. Sadly, most children retaliate against others who say hurtful things by doing the same. Often using social media to do it. All that does is escalate the matter and involve more individuals, making it harder to ignore.
Be careful when you chant the mantra of “Stomp Out Bullying.” That highway travels north and south. Usually the latter. And usually in a hurry.
Teaching your children to not bully and to treat others with respect (Does “turn the other cheek” and “love thy neighbor” sound familiar?) is the best way to eradicate bullying from our families.
And even that is a tough job to complete.
*Generic photos courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
C. KEVIN THOMPSON is an ordained minister with a B.A. In Bible (Houghton College, Houghton, NY), an M.A. in Christian Studies (Wesley Biblical Seminary, Jackson, MS), and an M.Ed. in Educational Leadership (National-Louis University, Wheeling, IL). He presently works as an assistant principal in a middle school. He also has several years experience as an administrator at the high school level.
A former Language Arts teacher, Kevin decided to put his money where his mouth was and write, fiction mostly. Now, years later, he is a member of the Christian Authors Network (CAN), American Christian Fictions Writers (ACFW), and Word Weavers International. He is the Chapter President of Word Weavers-Lake County (FL), and his published works include two award-winning novels, The Serpent’s Grasp (Winner of the 2013 Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference Selah Award for First Fiction) and 30 Days Hath Revenge - A Blake Meyer Thriller: Book 1, as well as articles in The Wesleyan Advocate, The Preacher, Vista, The Des Moines Register and The Ocala Star-Banner.
Kevin is a huge fan of the TV series 24 , The Blacklist, Blue Bloods, and Criminal Minds, loves anything to do with Star Trek, and is a Sherlock Holmes fanatic, too.
Facebook: C. Kevin Thompson – Author Page
Goodreads: C. Kevin Thompson