Tuesday, August 1, 2017

the lowdown on bullying

"There is no such thing as a bad boy." ~Father Flanagan, founder of Boys' Town Omaha, NE




in your life, are you an Eddie Haskell...or Wally?




Bullying.

Everyone in life has been exposed to it at one time or another. You may have been bullied...maybe you are a bully or perhaps know a bully. At school, at work. Road rage incidents are incidents of bullying. Bullying has been around since Cain killed Abel out of jealousy.  You could say that the Eddie Haskells of our day are in fact, people who show domination towards another with the outcome of creating submission through humiliation, power and control. "That's a lovely dress you're wearing today, Mrs. Cleaver!" When he said it, it was a slimy retort meant to cover up whatever malicious intent he was hiding. In Mrs. Cleaver's case, it didn't work.

Why do people bully? In life, even the animal kingdom, there are those who are dominant and those who are submissive. Unlike animals, however, people have brains to make choices. What bullies lack is a sense of empathy. Empathy is what gives us pause to think about how the OTHER person must feel when bad things happen to them. 

Empathy isn't always inherited, it's a learned trait and if no one teaches it, how is someone supposed to know about it let alone put it into practice?

I am reminded of Mister Rogers, that delightful soul of public TV during my growing up years. His calm demeanor would always reassure those watching that all was well. We were unique. We were special. We were his friend. And the way he looked into the camera, you came away with the feeling that it was to you that he was speaking. The world, though unsafe, could BE safe, because you were cared for and loved.

This meant so much to me, growing up in an abusive home. To be told that I was "special," even if not to my face, gave me hope that perhaps, it really WAS true, that I really WAS someone. Even while at school, as kids tormented me for not having the latest in clothing or hairstyles, with my bucked teeth and funny sounding last name, somehow deep inside, because Mister Rogers said I was special, then maybe I was. I had no sanctuary at all, no place of refuge, except within my mind.

Kids today are not so lucky. There are so many choices and conflicts in today's world that weren't there even thirty years ago. Back in my day, Viet Nam was a war on the other side of the world. I tuned it out, as it had nothing to do with me. Today, kids have all these in-your-face issues such as gender identity, drugs, sex trafficking, alcohol, absent parents, parents who need to work long hours to provide income. Kids are all alone to deal with outside pressures and so, they make up the "rules" of how to deal with that. Eat--or be eaten. In this case, bully if you must or be bullied- it's all about survival of the fittest.

Who among us turns away from a troublemaker? That kid, like Eddie Haskell, who is crying out for attention and will get it, either by domination or submission? If only we could be a fly on the wall to see what kids deal with at home! They cope by using power to control a situation they have no control over. Even among adults, pressures at work or home can turn someone into a domineering bully. Spouses, too use force to get their own way.

I knew a boy at the school where I work, who, in the 9th grade, sat by himself during lunch. He rarely spoke to anyone, he kept to himself. I determined in my working at the lunch counter, that I would, before the school year ended, get him to smile. I called him by name. I made small talk. I never pushed but rather, encouraged. Occasionally, I'd see a hint of a smile. Many times, though, he'd just sigh, as if worn out. In the hallways, if I saw him, I'd smile, I'd nod in his direction, but again, I got nothing. His hair was long, his clothes shabby, as if he didn't care what he looked like. You could say that for all intents, he shut down...put up that wall to save himself. By Springtime, I didn't see him anymore. When I inquired, I'd heard that he was having hard time with his dad at home and had been relocated.

Flash forward to a few weeks later. I was at the groomer/vet building to pick up my two dogs. There was an old dog on a quilt, hovered over by a boy with long hair. He was crooning to the dog and when he briefly turned his head, I recognized him. The receptionist just then ushered him into a room and he, as well as an older lady he was with, took the dog in. I knew right away what the outcome would be: the dog was being euthanized. I could hear the boy speaking calmly to the dog through tears. My own throat tightened up as I realized he had spoken more to that dog in the few minutes than he did to me in almost eight months while at school. The door then closed.

I went home and cried. I cried for the boy who I could not "save." I cried for the reasons he felt he had to put up a barrier between him and the world. I cried because I felt inadequate--what more could I have done? Mostly I cried because that had been me more than 40 years before. The baggage he carried....who else recognized it, let alone offered to help him carry it? When I inquired about him at school, I was met with shrugs of the shoulders, of an attitude of, "well, that's just the way it is." Nothing more.

To me, every child needs recognition. Every child. Even those for whom we turn away or want to tune out. How many teachers, when they realize what child they will be teaching, look away with the eye roll and shake their head? "Oh, THAT kid...yeah..." Those kids are the forgotten ones. And they WILL get attention, no matter what it takes. Even if it means picking on someone else to do so. How many of them want to be called by name? To be told, "hey, you have worth! You're special! I like you just the way you are!" To have that "you and me against the world" attitude. To be given the respect of being present in the world. Going back to the Cain and Abel story, had Cain also been shown more appreciation for what he had done in his life, is there a chance his anger towards his brother would have dissipated? I think so. We are all special and unique. What we bring to this thing called "life" is our own gifts and talents....are they appreciated enough...if at all?

Jesus was very much like Mister Rogers...or you could say that Mister Rogers epitomized who Jesus was. Jesus had that way of making each person feel special...why do you think he was so loved during His ministry? He called people by name ("Zacchaeus, (who was a tax collector) I am having dinner at YOUR house tonight!") Tax collectors were people whom the "Law" deemed unworthy! When His ministry was just beginning, He called people by their name: "Peter! James...John...come follow Me!" To hear your name is probably the best gift ever...why do you think when salespeople find out your name, they use it often? It is a way to make people feel good. To feel recognized. When was the last time you heard YOUR name being used?

Let's go back to Mister Rogers. The qualities he had were not just for television. All throughout his life, he had that special way of making people feel worthy. How could one even think of bullying others after dealing with him?

In today's world, we must look for the many opportunities to be kind towards others. When you arrive at your workplace, to whom should you devote your attention?

Towards all, my friend...towards all.