Friday, February 03, 2012

Bullies, Bullying, and Ourselves

I had a disturbing experience last night.  I was walking my pit bull in my neighborhood.  I usually do this after dark or at dusk because I get home from work between 5:00 and 6:00 and right now it's dark then; in the summer I do it because of the heat and I want to stay out of the sun.  I am blonde and very fair and have had lots of bad sunburns in my life and don't want to risk too much sun.  So, I am the weird old lady who walks by night in XXXX Estates subdivision with her dark brindled pit bull, instigating a lot of barking frenzies from the fenced in dogs. 

All that is background.  Coming back down the hill, I heard a father yelling, yes, yelling, at a young boy.  "Get him out of here.  I told you to get him out of here."  I couldn't see them, but the man's voice was overloud (we have a lot of that here).  I assumed it was an animal that "him" referred to.  A few steps later, I saw the boy, maybe eight or nine, whipping at a little dog on the front steps.  The cord that he used didn't look all that fearsome but the dog was cowering.  After watching a few seconds, I called to the boy but didn't make my consternation as known as I should.

What I was witnessing was a case of second-hand bullying.  The father yelled at the boy; the boy, upset by his father's scolding, took it out on the dog.  I am a dog lover and this upset me; but I love children more and that the boy was angry enough to abuse the dog was even more upsetting.  Now, I don't know if the father's too-loud scolding was the real root of all the boy's whipping of the puppy, but it must have been part of the cause.

This experience, and some others lately, and some self-spection (word I just made up) have led me to think about bullying.  Bullying is not limited to men (although I've experienced more of it from men than women, more than my fair share, some of it intellectual, some religious, some physical and emotional).  I am not a woman that would usually be seen as a threat to other women (not scheming, not hot, not young, not ambitious, not covetous of their men, not gossipy), so I have experienced only a little bullying from women, and that as a teenager. (I have learned to stand up for myself and people are far less likely to mess with me now).  However, women are quite capable of bullying, and I've seen plenty of it, especially on children in grocery stores. Bullying is also not limited to a class or race or religion (or non-religion). 

Being bullied is also not limited to any group, especially not in terms of sexual orientation.  To listen to the media, one would think only "gay" children are bullied.  It may be that extensive bullying tends to lead a child to believe he or she is gay, whatever that means for a child, when he or she is not.  The prevalence of the word "gay" as a pejorative among children (and teens and older!) certainly doesn't help matters. 

Children are bullied whenever they show vulnerability due to size (big or little), family status (adoption, foster child), difference (disability, unusual appearance), clothing, or perceived lower social class. 

It's probably best I define terms now.  Bullying is abuse of power or authority, pure and simple.  Power may come from size or age or popularity or position.  Bullying does not have to be secondhand, as in my example with the boy and the dog, but I think it is more so than we want to believe.  Research has shown that it is not necessarily caused by poor self-esteem or poverty. 

As Pogo said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."   (and only people my age or older know Pogo--he was a cartoon character in the newspapers, way back in the post-WWII years.  Pogo was a muskrat or small mammal of some sort, who lived in a Florida swamp and philosophized.)  I am not saying everyone is a bully, but all of us have bullied and are susceptible to bullying unless we realize we are.  I have bullied my son, I hate to admit, by yelling and saying demeaning things rather than speaking rationally and kindly to him.  Why?  Frustration, passing it on, fear of what others would think of his behavior (which was rarely, rarely ever a problem), lack of self-awareness, lack of being led by the Holy Spirit to produce the spiritual fruit of peace and self-control.  I have bullied students, especially I fear in my past life of working with "funnymentalists." 

Many people bully because they don't know any other way to communicate!

The answer:  recognize that bullying is not something little kids do, but we are all capable of, and think before you speak.  The old "count ten when angry" is good advice, hard to do, but good advice.  The better step is to destress and wonder why we are so pushed, angry, frustrated in the first place that we displace our dealing with the sources of the stress and anger onto others, which is what we are doing.  For the more extensive bullies, ask yourself why you feel power is your due, why you are entitled. 

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