Today millions of people are wearing (or facebook posting) purple, in support of GLAAD’S “Stand up Against Bullying” effort.
More and more folks are getting on the ‘stand up to meanies’ of band wagons these days. Since the evolution of the Trevor Project, more non-profits, celebrities, schools and entire communities are committed to this same message: stop being mean, meanies. And, if you are NOT a meanie, learn how to, you know, say stop.
Thing is, gone are the days of a bully = big kid on the playground stealing your lunch money. That’s the stuff of cartoons; and those are the kinds of bullies easily silenced by equal parts kindness and karma. Do they even still HAVE those guys on playgrounds?
No, the world of bullying has gotten way more sophisticated since we were kids. I can think of many reasons why: social media, and the constant and very public contact it enables; ridiculous beauty standards and gender-normative expectations; violent games and tv shows geared towards children; a growing economic divide; religion-endorsed homophobia; and, you know, just the death of good manners. Wherever you aim the blame, though, one thing is certain: we send our kids out into a complex minefield of meanness every day. And as we teach them to not be bullies, and to stand up to bullies on behalf of self and other, maybe we also need to give some direction regarding how to spot a bully. Since, you know, they don’t all look like Biff Tannen and Scut Farkus. (Yellow eyes! So help me God, yellow eyes!)
So, just real quick: here’s how to spot a real life, real time bully in its natural habitat:
1. A bully uses size, decibel volume and physical strength—or the created illusion thereof—to intimidate. In the wild, they can make themselves appear much larger than their actual size.
2. A bully employs name-calling, dramatic aspersions, and other ‘other-ing’ tactics; not just to make others scared of them, but to make others afraid of each other. This one is important. When its territory is threatened, a bully’s best defense is to turn the negative focus away from itself.
3. When a bully leaves the environment, the air becomes less dense, and the light becomes more salient. Other creatures in the vicinity can suddenly breathe more deeply and freely.
4. A bully does not always target a single mammal as its prey; rather, he or she might hone in on an entire vulnerable species, including but not limited to: gays, women, poor people, ethnic minorities, chubby kids, uncool kids, and, of course, the un-Christian.
5. A bully might make loud noises and threatening postures in an isolated area. However, a true bully does not usually strike without a gathering of witnesses. Otherwise, the demonstration of power is futile.
Looking over this list, I’m reminded that bullies come in all shapes, sizes and guises; they’re not all dudes, and they’re certainly not just children and youth. In the grown-up world, you’ve got your standard workplace bully; your soccer mom bully; your church bully; your internet troll variety; and then, of course, you’ve got your politicians.
Over the past two weeks, people have been vocally outraged and disgusted with the behavior of some of our elected officials. And while I’ve heard many names hurled in the general direction of Capitol Hill, I haven’t heard anyone use the word ‘bully’ to describe the government shut-down.
Can we read over that list again and call it what it is?
Whatever our political leanings, our dearly held beliefs, or our opinion on the best path to a livable future for our country, we should all be just plain pissed that a small, vocal base of people in power were able to make themselves look so much larger, and sound so much louder, and shut the whole thing down.
Just because they weren’t getting their way.
Let’s call that what it is: it’s bullying. When those who are elected to serve the common good can keep people from work, patients from care, and food from tables, that’s not democracy. A bully’s a bully.
Whatever changes need to take place in our economic policies, our spending practices, and our healthcare system, the big kids need to use their words, dispense with the name-calling, and get their drama off of our collective front lawn—before this whole business comes up again in a few months, which it will.
For the rest of us, in the meantime, maybe the best we can do is to teach our kids how to recognize a bully; how to not be one; how to stand up to one.
And maybe we can quit electing them to office.