It seems like we see and hear news stories about bullying nearly every day. We’re told that some eight-percent of the nation’s kids skip a day of school each month out of fear of bullies. Every seven minutes a child is bullied. The incidents of adult intervention are pathetically low at around four-percent. Intervention by classmates or peers is only about eleven-percent. Bullying with no intervention occurs around 85-percent of the time.
Bullying is commonly defined as a verbal or physical action that disallows an individual to be who they are, to be safe, to be happy, and healthy. When we think about bullying, we know that it can happen to people of any age, anywhere–not only schools. Yet, the most common bullying situation involves young people being attacked for different appearances, clothing styles, interests, tastes in music, perceived sexual orientations, religion or disabilities.
Perhaps knowingly, bullying can cause the victims to suffer, fear, anxiety, loneliness, depression, low self-esteem, physical ailments, and suicidal fantasies. Most bullies understand that picking on someone causes pain, that’s why they do it. Nobody wants to be judged or belittled–victim and bully alike.
Bullying has been a part of the national dialogue for the past several years because of greater public awareness of the problem. However, many people believe that bullying is a normal part of growing up. There will always be disputes between children and there will always be intentional cruelty and harrassment among young people. This will cause physical and emotional torment for as long as we can imagine. There seems to be an inborn trait within people to harm other people who seem different. This trait is often observed in non-human animals, as well.
The current approaches regarding bullying aren’t working. What helps is one on one listening, mentoring, and meaningful communication. The practices of coaching and cheering victims along work as temporary measures. However being told platitudes about how beautiful and special one is, is only band aid relief.
Bullied individuals are told to stand up to bullies or to tell a teacher or other authority figure. Ultimately, this doesn’t work because bullies usually threaten and carry through retribution against “tattle talers”. Sometimes teachers and principals are also bullies. We have well-intentioned events like today’s World Day of Bullying Prevention–“Blue Shirt Day”. It would be wonderful if simply by the act of wearing a blue tee-shirt today could cause bullying to magically disappear.
People who are bullied and their advocates know that feel-good efforts can help morale, for awhile. More importantly, they know that the problem is socially ingrained and that selling blue shirts with slogans does little to actually solve the many serious bullying situations. By all means, if a person feels compelled to wear a blue tee-shirt today, she should certainly do so. Awareness is a good thing, but much more than awareness is necessary.
To really end bullying we need to eliminate the much more problematic beliefs and behaviors by authorities, social institutions, and ourselves. As long as religious leaders and politicians, and we espouse negative attitudes and advocate violence against people who seem different, bullying will remain as a symptom.
People hear some leaders decry people of different races, religions, sexual orientations, genders, and disabilities. Many of the people who are predisposed of causing harm to others find validation from these attitudes. In effect, bullying is an integral part of our civilization. This overall problem will not go away when we slip into our blue shirts.
The problem of retrograde religious leaders and politicians who cater to public fear and ignorance about different belief systems, nationalities, and human traits will be with us in the foreseeable future. Nations bully other nations, people with strong religious opinions bully people who hold other religious opinions. As long as power and money act as wedges to divide people, we will have bullying. Bullying at the top filters down into society at large.
If we are going to “stomp out bullying”, we need to start with meaningful dialogue and action with authority figures. The symptom of bullying must be addressed by working on the cure needed at the heart of the problem.
We can go ahead and wear our blue shirts today. These displays will show that our hearts are in the right place. At the end of the day, when we remove the and toss them into our laundry baskets, we must remember that there remain more meaningful tasks ahead for all of us.
The Blue Jay of Happiness thinks about the implications of this quote from Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “Schoolboys are a merciless race. Individually they are angels, but together, especially in schools, they are often merciless.”