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Bullies Beget Bullies

You’re not going to like this, so let me just get it over with. I think the increase of bullying among our young people is because so many of us have become bullies. Aggression has become a behavior that is deemed acceptable among larger and larger circles of people, those circles rippling outward and swamping our children in the resultant tidal wave of fear, physical abuse, and aggression.

Our lives have been shaken apart at the seams in the past decade or so, between 9/11, wars, and the fissures that weakened the economic foundation under our feet and our lives. Families have been torn apart, homes have been lost, jobs have disappeared by the millions, all while many of us could only stand by in horror as it all came tumbling down around our ears. We overspent, we didn’t save, we ignored the warning signs, we believed the people in charge. The end that was never in sight, the one that promised our prosperity and security, has finally arrived.

This all has led to massive uncertainty and the seeming human need to blame someone. Anyone. But, of course, it can’t be ME that I blame for taking out a home loan beyond my means to make that huge mortgage payment every month. I can’t be responsible for buying a big-screen TV instead of saving that money for my future. “I’ll worry about it tomorrow” worked fine for Scarlett O’Hara, didn’t it, even while Atlanta burned down around her.

So, let’s blame them. Let’s take out our frustration and anger on the guy who turns in front of us at the intersection, leading to road rage that releases a bit of the tension we amassed after leaving the bank that is foreclosing on our house. We scream obscenities and entertain others with universal hand gestures extended out our car windows.

Maybe we have to endure a boss who is a bully, someone who was promoted based on qualities that had nothing to do with his leadership or management ability. Or maybe it’s a woman who was given a fast track up the ladder of success, but in either case, this boss uses intimidation and fear to exert control over us. We end up working an 80 hour week, taking up the slack from downsized positions because we’re afraid we might lose our jobs if we don’t go along with the bully.

Pity anyone who gets in our way when we finally leave the office or plant, exhausted and angry. Heaven knows we are not routinely taught to recognize our emotions, so dealing proactively with all that inner turmoil probably isn’t going to happen. Mental health care in this country is usually considered taboo, both to discuss it and to get it, so we stuff it all down deep until the sludge can’t be held back any longer. We lash out, verbally or physically, in whatever way will release the rage.

We stop at the convenience store to buy some beer to take off the edge, and chew out the clerk who takes a bit too long to wait on us. Why should we have to wait while this jerk in front of us buys $50 of lottery tickets, anyway? He looks like he’s on welfare, what is he doing spending OUR tax dollars on gambling? We fume, our mutters turn into snarls before it’s all over and we slam out of the store, the clerk nearly in tears.

The powder keg smolders. We don’t help ourselves, either, by plunking down in front of the TV and watching Springer or an equivalent letting their “guests” go after each other. That guy better prove he’s not the daddy of that child or he’ll be paying forever. And you know those crazy talent show contestants have to be shaken back into reality by judges who grind them up in public. Civility? Are you kidding? That’s for wimps.

We spend a lot of time diverting all this anger and angst outward. And our kids are watching. Maybe they are the unfortunate recipients of some of our rage, beaten and berated merely because they’re in the vicinity. And then they go to school.

Many adults don’t believe the situation in our schools is as bad as Oprah and Dr. Phil would like us to think, while others discount bullying as normal, coming of age behavior. Both viewpoints reflect an unwillingness to get involved in the issue. Let’s let the kids duke it out, as we adopt a survival of the fittest attitude?

Are we being intentionally disingenuous? Or are huge segments of the population actually this out of touch with reality? I hesitate to believe that we honestly don’t understand this dynamic, the relationship between what kids see and experience at home and how they behave at school. But it so pervasive that I have to accept that this ignorance might be so.

Bullying behavior has increased in schools, and it is no longer the brand that most of us grew up experiencing at one time or the other. It’s different. It is vicious and it is ongoing. I walked the halls of schools for fifteen years as a teacher and now continue to do so in other capacities. And it’s frightening. We’re talking about kids who torment one or more of their peers persistently and with great glee. Anything to make the victim live in fear, every day, all day, and even after school via the Internet. I watched a beautiful girl torn to shreds among her peers until her parents had to withdraw her from school and find another place of “learning” for her. Because she was overweight.

As adult role models, we also have to take our own pulse about who we ridicule. There is an attitude that seems to give us a pass on our own prejudices and the unfortunate targets of those prejudices. For example, if I said we shouldn’t allow our kids to use vicious homophobic terms, do you snicker and turn away with no intention of stopping YOUR child from making fun of “those” people? If bullying is wrong, it’s wrong. Or it isn’t, and we are forced to live with it. Unfortunately, we might be the target someday, too. Just don’t blame anyone else.

Frustration and its resultant aggression are unfortunate cousins that often lead to bullying. And we are the teachers of this behavior. Our children are the unwitting students, and it is not a pretty picture. But it is time to accept that bullies beget bullies.

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