Friday, May 06, 2011

Bully Beatdown

Rich's Note: This post got un-blogged during the recent Blogger meltdown/maintenance thing so I apologize to the couple of people who may have already seen this

In the wake of the unsatisfactory decision in the Phoebe Snow bullying case here in Massachusetts I got to thinking about bullies, bullying and modern day bullies. Let me first state in the case of Phoebe Snow I am of mixed emotions as I feel the "punishment" did not fit the crime in that 3 of those involved did not look regretful in the least. On the other hand it's hard to send 5 young people to jail in a case and circumstances which were multilayered to say the least. I don't know that the decision was the ground breaking, eye opening verdict that would help to dissuade bullying from reaching the harmful levels it often does. No, I'm afraid bullying is still with us and likely always will be

To get it out of the way, I was bullied a lot as a kid (as I'm sure were a lot of people reading this). I was undersized, had horn-rimmed glasses, an easy going disposition and (then as now) talked too much. I can remember still to this day enduring humiliation and fear on many occasions. What was odd is, and what a lot of people don't realize is often the case, I was a pretty popular kid at the same time I was the victim of bullying. I remember being despondent and looking at my "friends" like why didn't you stick up for me? I know, it sounds crazy but it's true. One of the major issues with bullying is no one ever wants to step in for fear of physical harm or, more likely, a loss in social standing. I was lucky as I filled out physically and hardened emotionally and in time was able to stick up for myself. Others weren't as lucky. I can also look back on one particular incident where I was, in retrospect, the tormentor. It set off a series of events which went on for years after and which I am, once again in retrospect, truly regretful. It's a complex situation. Sometimes the bully doesn't realize from the onset he's bullying. Sometimes the target doesn't realize he's a victim right away. In most cases the sides either learn to coexist, it just stops, or, as it seems more and more frequently, ends in tragedy

First things first. Bullying, whether called by that name or not, is a part of life. It will never go away. It shouldn't go away on it's basest layer. Let me explain. Overcoming our fears and the obstacles in our way is one of the ways we progress in life. Sometimes these obstacles are in the form of a person looking to hold us down. To move to the next level you need to go over, under, around or through this obstacle. Now, excessive bullying, that's another story. Excessive bullying is when a person or persons inflict physical or emotional harm on someone they perceive as weaker or an "easy target". This is not limited to the schoolyard and pops up in other situations such as the workplace, sports, or even relationships. I had a friend who I admire a lot and who I perceive as pretty tough. Well, she told me about a situation in her corporate job where her boss bullied her something awful. I was stunned as I always thought this was something that happened in the movies and TV but that in real life no adult would take that kind of abuse. She told me it was real and it was scary and it was her fear of losing her job that forced her to take it. So, again, this is not a simple, black and white issue.

To make things worse modern day bullies have the power of the internet at their finger tips to take their tormenting to an all new level. There have been several recent, high profile incidents where private things were made public on You Tube, Facebook and Twitter. With texting and, god forbid, "sexting" something said or done will be on everyone's phone in a nanosecond. So, yes, the only thing scarier then a bully is a bully with a knowledge of social media

The more important question is how do we deal with bullying? How do we prepare our kids for bullying (theoretically speaking as I don't have kids) and how do we prevent tragedy from bullying from happening? I have a few thoughts. They are my thoughts and are based both in theory and reality
  1. The tried and true method for dealing with bullies is standing up to them. It worked for David vs Goliath and it works today. Now, in some cases it doesn't work (reference Dazed and Confused...under rated movie). But, and especially if you have back up, this is still the most direct route to end bullying. Even if you get your ass kicked it is still the best way to put an end to it
  2. Parents, you need to talk to your kids about bullying. Find out if they or anyone they know are being bullied. If you get the feeling your kid may be a bully don't just blow it off but speak to them. Find out where this anger comes from. Most importantly, and I mean this, tell your kids if they are witness to bullying it is almost as bad to watch it happen and say or do nothing as it is to be actively involved in the bullying
  3. To expand upon that last thought a bit, those of us that can and don't stick up for victims of bullying should be ashamed of ourselves. This is especially true in the circumstance I mentioned earlier where we don't get involved less because of physical concern and more because of social standing. Honestly, is what your standing is in the eyes of those kind of people that important? I was once faced with a scenario between doing the right thing and what my friend termed "social suicide". I chose the former and said to my friend "eh, I'm not that popular with that crowd anyway, so fuck em"
  4. Be cautious of electronic media. If it's yourself don't go doing stupid things like take inappropriate pictures or videos of yourself as that is cannon fodder for bullies. Set you privacy settings on EVERYTHING to friends only. If you have kids, as much as they may get pissed, monitor their Facebook, email and texts as the seeds of bullying will probably be found here
  5. This is the hardest one as it flies in the face of what I believe. I am a true proponent of being who you are and not who the masses say you should be. Drones suck and individuals rock. Now, all that said there can be something said about making yourself less of a victim. This isn't easy and involves compromise but sometimes it is the simplest way around bullying
The modern day bully tends to be more of a clique of popular types picking on those they consider not to their standards versus the classic mean spirited, loner type that was long the stereotype (although they still exist too). The tormenting is more likely to be emotional then physical but it's bullying nonetheless. At some point in our lives most of us will have to deal with bullying in some way, sort or fashion. It's becoming a more serious issue then ever before and needs to be taken more seriously. No more turning a blind eye or claiming "they're just kids" etc. I still think the key to stopping the bullying lies in realizing if we are watching it happen and do nothing about it we are almost as much to blame as the bullies. There is strength in numbers and the rest of us will always outnumber the bullies. Stick together, stand up for each other and bullies will show their true colors as a bunch of dipshits with low self-esteem who stroke their own fragile egos by making others suffer.

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