I am not gay, black, yellow or red. I’m also not a woman. Nor am I a Jew, Muslim or Hindu. I’m part of America’s most dangerous and powerful tribe – the heterosexual, white, Christian male. I was never bullied as a child. This, despite being raised in my early years as one of the few white kids in a black neighborhood. It’s also no coincidence that I didn’t grow up with prejudice there. No, bigotry was always reserved for the monthly weekend trips to my father’s farm – a place where ignorance was in abundance and there was enough to go around.
I mention this because I wanted you to know that I’m approaching the bullying issue from a slightly different point of view. Which is to say that I saw it all around me as a child and have been the victim of it a few times as an adult (especially via unethical business practices). So I took a moment to do a little research on bullying and according to Wikipedia, bullying is “a repeated act over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful.”
But we all knew that. And it’s been going on since the beginning of time. Even war, at its extreme core, is an act of bullying. I’ll bet that if you scour enough cave paintings, you'll find depictions of bullying there, too. As the definition states, it’s an act based in a power grab.
JRR Tolkien once wrote, “And nine… nine rings were gifted to the race of Men…who above all else, desire power.” JRR Tolkien was no dummy. Power corrupts. Our forefathers knew this when they created our government based on a system of checks and balances. We might not all get along here, but if we did – absolute power would consume us and compel us to dominate anyone who didn’t agree. And then kings would come. And dictators. All in search of power. And all wielding sharp acts of bullying to attain power.
Still I wonder, what if our desire to obtain power is more than just ‘having’ power? What if it’s directly attributable to acute awareness of our place along socio-economic vertical planes? In other words, we don’t want power just to ‘have’ power – we want power to make us feel better about ourselves.
Think about put downs. You know them, ‘Your mama’ is this or that. A whole generation of Americans grew up watching sitcoms like ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times’ which taught us that the art of putting someone down was cause for celebrity. What were we thinking? Putting people down is funny? Well, maybe sometimes it is – amongst friends. But when it's not, it’s an act of bullying. Plain and simple. And when you think about the action of ‘putting someone down’ the equal and opposite reaction is ‘lifting someone up.’ In this case, the person lifted up is the person more skilled in the art of the ‘put down.’
So now here’s this kid. It doesn’t matter what kind of kid – gay, black, nerdy – the kid is picked on every day after school for weeks by a group of four boys with one chubby, freckle-faced antagonist leader. It doesn’t matter what happens to the kid being picked on. The important thing is that there’s a kid who desires power and enlists other kids, who are less powerful but who want to be associated with power as a way to force the perception of their own power onto others. Why? To lift themselves up. To embellish their own sense of worth. To ascend the socio-economic vertical plane.
But why does bullying have to happen so young? Just because it’s always been a human trait doesn't mean we have to accept it as part of our culture. We are human. We are blessed with the ability to correct our wrongs. Learn from our mistakes. Do better. Which means that children bullying other children is the direct result of bad parenting.
This is not to say that parents of bullies don’t love their children, but rather that perhaps the cycle of ignorance continues to repeat generation after generation until dramatic intervention occurs. With all the news recently about gay bullying, you’d think that this would be enough dramatic intervention. While it’s too soon to know, something tells me that with families everywhere coping to make ends meet every month, caring whether their kids are bullying other kids is not high on the parental priority list.
So with his family in economic turmoil, the freckled-face chubby boy feels bad. And what’s the easiest way to feel better? Yank a few people down from the socio-economic vertical plane above him, that’s how. Victims will always be the minority. The weak. The vulnerable. And in the case of gays, or of blacks in the south before the Civil Rights movement, when the majority are absolutely ignorant and yet in formidable solidarity, very bad things can happen.
Now the question becomes, what can we do to end bullying. Integrate sensitivity training in schools? Develop and deploy a comprehensive ad campaign? Make parents do jail time? Hell, make children do jail time? I have no idea. What I do know, however, is that the solution needs to be proactive and not reactive. If we punish children for things they’ve done, we’re not helping them avoid doing them in the first place.
The sad truth is that we may never eradicate bullying as long as humans run this joint. After all, men desire power. Our only saving grace may be to remember that, as humans, we do have the capacity to change. And maybe that change starts with a shift away from the idea of fighting fire with fire, and going with a dramatic intervention of love instead. Don’t laugh. It worked for for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Ghandi. And Jesus.
Know a bully? Give them a hug. It's a start.
Posted from Jim's posterous