Friday, April 6, 2012

So you hate bullies, do you?

I was watching a story on an upcoming movie, "Bully" and it was saying how 18 million kids are bullied this year (that we know of).  It is a sad indictment on this country, but where does it come from?  Did 20th -21st Century kids invent bullying?  No, it has been around as long as humanity as been.  Bullying is part of the human condition as long as there exists one person who out of selfish motivations needs to feel as if they are superior to another.  The bully needs to be number one.  They need to be the center of attention.  They will get that attention any way they can.  Maybe it is by gossiping or verbally running down another person.  Maybe it is by exposing another person's faults while ignoring their own.  Maybe it is by making blanket statements about entire groups.  Maybe it is joining a group and using intimidation to get one's way.  Maybe it is physical attacks.  However it happens, it is ugly.  It has one focus, to quiet, bring into submission and , if necessary, destroy anyone that gets in the way of them.  Now, with the internet and 24/7 TV, Facebook and other social media, bullying has found all new avenues beyond grade school taunts.  It is easy to focus on the bullying that children do to one another.  It is sad to see a crying child or a scared child.  There is something in good people that wants to see such things stop.  However, the kids are mimicking behavior they already see.  You want to stop children from bullying?  Then you better start with their teachers...the adults who model and revel in the behavior.  That is a tall order as it is so pervasive in our society.

Let's start with politics.  Politics has become more and more an exercise in sheer bullying.  Ad hominum attacks are as common as milkweed pollen.  Politicians, political pundits, and entertainers make their stock in trade on it.  For example, I am not one who thinks that Sarah Palin is presidential material, but the way she was personally savaged was disgusting.  Worse yet, the attacks on her children, including her infant son with Down's Syndrome, were unbelievably gross.  If one wants to disagree with her views, that is fine.  Knowledgeable  adults should be able to rationally debate ideas.  Personal attacks are a sure sign of a lack of knowledge. People laughed at these horrible jokes and attacks and said she and her family were fair game as they entered the public arena.  Would you like to guess why a lot of good people want nothing to do with politics or refuse to run for office?  Smear campaigns are just another version of adult bullying.  Whether that comes in the form of a conservative radio show host publicly calling a college student a slut or a late night 'comedian' referring to female conservative politicians as words I just refuse to even is bullying either way.  If the radio host commentator wanted to debate the testimony of the college student...fine..that is challenging an idea.  If the late night 'comedian' wants to debate the politics of these women...fine.  Name-calling is a form of bullying.  It is also in politicians who paint entire groups with disparaging names, make blanket (and mostly false) statements about the other political party, presume to know the motivation of someone else, and use tragedies to their advantage to push their agenda (and call their opponents heartless). It is political activists who see intimidation and other bullying tactics as fair game in pushing ahead their agenda.  Our kids see this. They hear it.  They see it glorified in the media and lionized by pundits.

How about the way we entertain ourselves?  Why do we laugh when a person is mocked in the entertainment industry?  Why do we allow stereotypes to carry the day?  Whether it is the starlet who is getting raked over the coals because of her outfit, or the person made fun of because they are too thin or too fat, or the actor who made a big mistake, or the singer who had a meltdown after years of harassment from the paparazzi?  How about the hate filled statements directed at certain groups and the return fire sometimes offered back?  Watch you favorite TV show and see the stereotypes and bullying fly!   Our kids watch these shows and know certain groups can be called anything and everything and it not only considered fair game but as hugely entertaining as well.  How many of our shows, music, video games, and such encourage aggression against weaker people?  If we really want to keep our kids from bullying, then perhaps we should quit feeding them a steady diet of it!

We cannot be selective about which bullies have to quit bullying.  We can't say the kids have to quit but the adults can continue.  We can't say that bullying needs to stop unless the bully agrees with my positions or makes me laugh.  We can't say it is okay to bully some people but not others.  We can disagree about issues and even agree to disagree. That is fine.  But we do not need to personally attack to win.  My Catholic faith (as it is 'on paper' and not as it is sometimes practiced) tells me that every single person must have their dignity respected, even if we disagree.  I can say this or that action is good or bad, but I cannot make the jump to saying therefore the person/s who do such are evil.  That is not my call.  On this Good Friday, when we see that God was much more interested in saving us than attacking us, maybe learning the lessons of Christ are that important.

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