I have had quite a few inquiries on bullying lately, so I thought an article or two might be helpful. Bullying has been around, and will be around for a long, long time. Some say that it is just normal pecking order behavior that we see in all other animal species, and it should be left to sort itself out. (I think it would be a safe bet to suggest that these people were never victimized to a degree that left lasting emotional scars.) There are those who suggest that name calling, taunting, pushing, shoving, and etc. are as bad as bodily injury and theft of personal property and should, therefore, be unlawful. They believe that there should be a sentinel at every corner of every building to immediately detect, apprehend, and ultimately punish even the slightest bullying behavior. Somewhere in the middle lies some common sense approaches to handling what appears to be a growing epidemic. Is it really an epidemic, or are we just reminded more of it due to media coverage?
Any of us can probably remember bullying that went on when we were in school. However, the events at Columbine High School, and other such disasters, have heightened our awareness of the devastating effects of bullying. It has cast our nation into a full scale onslaught on bullying, and the damaging effects it has on people. Why didn’t I say young people? While most of the focus is on bullying in school, it has no age, race, sexual, or environmental boundaries. It is alive in the adult population as well as on the school ground. It is alive and well in corporate towers, in board rooms, in civic meetings, in shipping and receiving areas, in worker’s lounges, in check out lines, on the highway, and in hospitals and churches. Wherever there is a gain to be had by stepping over someone else, there will be bullying, and someone will get stepped on. The frequency and intensity with which it happens separates normal competition from actual bullying. For the purpose of these articles, bullying will include behaviors that consist of intentional torment of another, over time, in an attempt to dominate that person. Laws exist to define rape, murder, theft, etc., so we will let the law handle those.
Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and ethnicities. Some are easy to spot as they push people around like a bulldozer dozes brush. They deliver pain and agony swiftly, obviously, and with pride. They are relentless as long as they think they won’t get caught, or know the consequences will be negligible. They have few friends, but may have a following of those too fearful not to go along with the terror. They sound like, “Get out of here, Punk, no one wants to play with you!” Or, “Who you looking at, Loser?” In the adult world it might sound like, “Can’t you read a watch?!”, or “Hey, dipstick, do you want a pink slip or a paycheck?” Bullying might come in the form of a threat, such as “If we don’t use pink paper for our bulletins on Sunday, then I quit!”, or “If she brings that 46 bean casserole one more time, I’m not helping clean up!” You’ve heard and seen many, many more.
Some bullies are not so obvious, however. They use sneakier, but just as effective, ways to get the lunch money, to torment, or gain domination. They are afraid of getting caught, so they act in the absence of watchful eyes. They pick their time and place carefully, as they fear the consequences of what they know to be wrong. They use intimidation, smiles with lingering leers, untrue rumors, and exclusion. In the adult world they can also use legal jargon, unfair hiring and firing practices, work load discrimination, placing blame on superiors or controlling boards by using the ole ‘they made me do it’ routine. They may rely on understudies to deliver the pain or do the ‘dirty work’. It might sound like, “Go tell Johnny I won’t be his friend anymore if he doesn’t let me play with his football.”, or “Timmy said if you don’t let me sit here, he won’t help you with your homework.” In the adult world, it might sound like, “I want him out of here, so it is your job to make it happen”, or “Go tell Joe if he’s late one more time, I’m canning him!” These bullies are manipulative, and are not above pitting friends against each other. I can just hear one of them now saying something like, “Do you know what I heard she said about your 46 bean casserole?”
Why do some people, young or adult, feel the need to torture, intimidate, and eventually dominate others? The answers are as varied and as numerous as there are psychiatrists. The reasons range from the bully trying to relieve pain and low self-esteem by dominating others, to the far end of the spectrum where the bully is overly confident and ‘drunk’ on power and everything in between. ‘What are we going to do about it?’ is the question plaguing parents, schools, enforcement agencies, and society as a whole. In the next installment we will look at the two schools of thought currently offering guidelines for curtailing this age old dilemma. I will be the first to admit that these articles will not stop bullying, but it might prevent someone from becoming a victim. If you have an immediate concern that you would like some help with, please feel free to call or email me at 347-1122 ext. 239, firstname.lastname@example.org.