I happened to walk in on the incident when I was picking my 7 year old up from school last week: Another little boy tackled my son to the ground and then taunted him when my son started crying and asking him to stop. I transformed from harried mother on my cell phone at after school pick up into the raging force that is “Mama Bear.”
I grabbed the offender and pulled him off my son and demanded that he apologize. I told him that he could not treat his friends this way if he wanted to have friends any more. He stuck his tongue out at me and ran away.
There’s something about “Mama Bear” mode that infuses the voice with a special timbre of authority. It carries with it unspoken violence and brooks no disobedience.
“Johnathan Smith,” I called after him.* “Get back here this instant.” He heard the implied threat and turned around and came back and apologized to my son, so I let him off the hook (very giving of me, don’t you think?).
Bullying has become a pretty serious problem at the school my kids attend in the past year, and this is not the first time my son has been on the receiving end of it. The principal and teachers are on top of it – they have a whole program they’re implementing to try to weed it out.
Only, I’m not convinced this new program is going to work. Bullying has become so rampant and accepted in our society that a few lessons in the classroom can’t compete with what these kids see day in and day out – on television, at home, on the Internet, even at Church.
Our town has a new initiative that speaks to the scope of the bullying problem: It’s called The Oshkosh Civility Project. Their mission is to help people share “ideas and opinions with other in thoughtful and considerate ways.” So basically, our town has a whole project (well-funded through many different grants) to encourage people to be nice to and stop bullying each other. Honestly, it’s the biggest “let’s just all be nice and get along” campaign I’ve seen since 1985’s We are the World. It’s sponsors include the newspaper, the school district, the library, the chamber of commerce, the mayor, the common council and more. You only have to take a look at the online comment section of our newspaper or follow the presidential nomination on Facebook to see that it’s not really working.
But, really, how can we expect it to? When we see bullying everywhere, it’s either join in the fray or become a victim yourself. At a state level we’ve seen massive amounts of bullying in the recall process for our governor. “Sharing ideas in thoughtful and considerate ways?” More like, “Call each other names and blast the character of anyone who disagrees with us.” We’re seeing it on a national level with the Obama Administration’s illegal HHS Mandate that forces Catholics to choose between violating their consciences or pay massive penalties. Not to mention the way Planned Parenthood attempted to bully Susan G. Komen into changing their newest funding policy.
Politics might be the easiest place to see bullying, but it’s far from the only place. Almost everyone who has in the worked in the business world has watched a lame video about harassment and been able to point out at least one co-worker who violates the policy regularly. Harassment = Grown Up Bullying.
The Church isn’t exempt either (unfortunately). I know of more than one instance when a priest was bullied into requesting to be transferred from a parish by either parish staff or angry parishioners. Not to mention my own business manager who bullies me on a regular basis (at least that’s what I call it when he reminds me I’m over budget for our Spring Retreat).
As I’ve mentioned before – I don’t have any answers. I don’t know how to fix the widespread and socially acceptable bullying epidemic that crosses all demographics. What I do know is that after watching what happened to my 7 year old, I’m going to be a lot more careful to “share my ideas in thoughtful and considerate ways.”
I’ll rant about and poke fun at how we’ve gotten to the point that we feel like our whole town needs a “Let’s Be Nice To Everyone Project,” but their principles are a good reminder to me before I engage in conversation with others whose ideas conflict with mine – whether those be political/religious discussions or discussions with my husband about our finances.
At the very least, I know what 9 principles I want to instill in my own kids so that they don’t grow up to be bullies. After all, the secular world can call them “Civility Principles” but I’m fairly certain they are what Christ calls us to as well…
Nine Principles of Civility: Speak Your Peace
- Pay Attention – Be Aware of Others & Sensitive to the Immediate Context of Actions
- Listen Closely – Understand Other Points of View
- Be Inclusive – Welcome All; Don’t Exclude Anyone
- Don’t Gossip – Remind Others of the Importance of this Practice
- Show Respect – Honor Others (Especially in Disagreement)
- Be Agreeable – Find Opportunities to Agree
- Apologize Sincerely – Repair Damaged Relationships
- Give Constructive Comments, Suggestions & Feedback – No Personal Attacks (Focus on Issues)
- Accept Responsibility – Don’t Shift Blame; Share Disagreements Publicly
* Not the bully’s real name – after all, he is only 7 🙂