Thursday, February 20, 2014

Can We Stop Calling It Bullying?

Bullying is back in the news as the NFL's independent report looking into the allegations of bullying involving members of the Miami Dolphins was submitted. In one corner you have the roid raging psychopath and alleged bully Richie Incognito and in the other you have the manifestation of Ferdinand the Bull in Jonathan Martin. I read through the juicy parts of the report and there's plenty of inappropriate behavior, before and after reading it I found myself thinking the same thing. How is this bullying?

When the tragedy at Columbine took place in 1999 there was almost no discussion about how the perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had been treated by classmates.  It actually felt like doing so was taboo.  Like trying to understand how these two could have been driven to such drastic measures would somehow justify their actions.  But as gun violence in schools became more common the call to stop bullying rose.  And like any problem being addressed by people with no real empathy or understanding on the matter, it has been horribly botched.  To the point where 300 pound, millionaire grown men can now claim to be the victim of a bully.  

When looked at honestly, bullying isn't just a problem because one jack ass has to be a dick.  It's a problem because those in authority have allowed it to exist.  They have done so by refusing to separate the bully from the victim. They have done so by making them equals.  How do you think the uncool kid who has been tormented for years just because of who he is feels when a teacher actually catches the bully in the act and merely says "You two.  Knock it off."?  You two?  The teachers and principals in schools lack any empathy for the victim.  They always have.  They are typically outsiders.  Either socially awkward nerds or greasy losers more obsessed with music and not bathing than they are with school. Teachers have largely ignored them as a problem that goes away with time. They feel no connection when they are tormented year after year for no reason.  And now we are asking them to solve the problem.  

So we have an anti bullying campaign that really just lumps any conflict into one category and in the process we have watered down what we actually consider bullying. Make no mistake.  Everyone attending school should feel comfortable walking down the hall between classes.  They should be able to focus on school.  But they don't have to get along with everyone and everyone doesn't have to be friends.  I think it's far more clear when someone is being bullied in school than those in charge will admit.  A blanket policy may be easier but its also ineffective.  Ask anyone who's actually been bullied and they will tell you.  There is no way Jonathan Martin has ever been a victim of bullying.  

He was a star athlete from an affluent family well before college. He attended the elite school Stanford where he starred on the football team before being drafted into the NFL.  He has been a popular athlete who has never had to want for a thing financially his entire life.  He is 6'5" tall and weighs over 300 lbs.  He may not have the mental capacity to endure the dynamic of an NFL locker room.  He may have even been the victim of workplace harassment.  But he has no idea what it feels like to be bullied. And apparently neither does anyone who's covering it.  If they did they wouldn't be tossing the term bully around.  This whole event has shown one thing.  We have a long way to go in getting rid of bullies.

For the record.  The only way to stop a bully is to send a message to him/her that is singular and strong enough to make them never want to do it again.              

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