Monday, May 3, 2010

Cruel is never cool even if you're a grownup

I've been thinking about bullying lately, especially child and adolescent bullying.  It seems to be in the news frequently and at the forefront of school problems.

Bullying has been around for generations.  We've probably all been the victim of some name-calling, maybe some pushing and shoving and even painful alienation by a family member or a group of peers.  It leaves life-long scars.  Severe bullying can have major consequences, physically, emotionally and financially on the victim and their family. 

Bullying in the workplace is now a serious issue.  There are company anti-bully laws.  There are serial bullies.  There are bully survivor support groups.  Bullying has found its way to the court system with frequent lawsuits alleging harassment and bullying.

I keep wondering if children learn bullying by watching adults.  I think they do.  Think about it.  As adults do we often in the presence of others, see individuals make degrading, rude or negative comments about another person?  Sometimes the victim is present. Other times they are not.  It is still bullying.

And the second part of that, and maybe the most impacting, is the response or should I say, lack of response by those who witness the comment or behavior.  There are few who are willing to step out from the group and say something or do something contrary to the bullying.  This is the role that kids seem to observe and adopt....silence, inaction.  There is no demonstration to stand up for the person being victimized.  This gives the bully full-reign and empowers them to continue the harassment.

Unfortunately, kids get to watch this at home, on the playground and as they grow older, in the workplace, on television and in the political arena.  Late night talk show hosts, in the name of humor, shred family members or make light of serious personal matters of very public figures. Audiences laugh. It's very easy to get caught up in the cycle.  Our leaders bully one another and others remain silent afraid that a defense of someone in the other party or opposing group may bring on criticism or cost them their comrades or followers. 

People who bully send out a message about themselves.  They fear the exposure of their insecurities and inadequacies or a drop in their popularity.  In their desperation, they become predators upon a variety of people....those who are well-liked, respected, high achievers, hot tempered, kind, handicapped, ill and those who are quiet and passive.

How can we as individuals live daily in a way to lessen someone's power to bully, even if it's on a small scale?  How can we respond to bullying in a way that will demonstrate that we don't buy the argument that putting someone down somehow increases our standing in society?

What should move us to action is human dignity, not just toward victims, but also the dignity of each of us.  We ourselves lose dignity by remaining passive and silent.

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