School personnel bully a child. Classmates bully a teenager on Facebook. Pushed in a locker, beaten on the street, assaulted by strangers, clergy or schoolmates — these are horrible stories depicted in newspapers, novels and movies, or whispered tearfully to friends and family (if ever told at all). Lawsuits, suicides and untold psychological damage result.
Americans are worried about bullying, and large anti-bullying campaigns have been launched. Is it enough to start a campaign against these bullies? Or should we be asking: Why is this issue reaching such a crescendo at this point in time?
Bullying of those who appear to be different from the group, and especially those perceived to be weak, is a sad and sorry state of the human condition. It has existed across the millennia, across most cultures, and is often celebrated in America today in such forms as celebrity gossip and sleazy reality "entertainment." While we decry each publicized act of bullying, we turn our backs on a much larger cultural context, ignoring the slippery slope that often leads the most aggressive among us to seek approval from a group, or revenge against a perceived enemy by physical or verbal acts that hurt.
Acceptable bullying might start as "making fun" of a name that sounds different; of a harmless but unusual cultural practice; of clothing, food, or lack of knowledge of some pop-cultural fad. Not so fun for the new immigrant. Not so fun for the kid who is more fascinated with the arts, technology, or history than the latest thing on YouTube.
Bullying might take the form of isolating or ignoring the person who does not quite fit in. Again, not so fun for the child with autism or weaker social skills, or the new kid who just moved in and can't seem to fit into pre-existing friendships made as young children.
Programs are started to increase awareness, teach empathy and channel aggressive instincts into aggressive anti-bullying. Why aren't these enough? Just take a look at all the other messages we receive.
From pulpits every week, clergy assure parishioners that their beliefs and traditions are the only way, and others are not just confused — they are damned to hell or some other punishment for being of a different belief.
From the 24-hour news media, pundits purposely dissemble statements of their political opponents with the intent of turning reasonable positions into steppingstones of disaster. (In the meantime, truly dangerous actions and corruption are ignored because they are too complex and just not as fun or salacious.)
From the powerful few, organizations and PACs are created to ensure that wealth and opportunity are preserved for a shrinking elite using corruption and dirty tricks to limit access to their rank and privilege.
And while Americans dissect the latest adventures in bullying on the "Real Housewives of New Jersey," our current administration sends drones into countries where we are not, supposedly, at war — approving such attacks on people whose names we cannot identify, with the approval of politicians in both major political parties. Untold numbers of civilians die along with unnamed targets.
Bullying is a problem. But where should our campaign against bullying start, or stop?
Bonnie Bricker is a teacher in Howard County who writes occasionally on public policy and social issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.