Bullying“The nail that sticks out the farthest gets hammered the most.” ~ Patrick Jones.

Bullying is a flaccid word. It doesn’t capture the true essence of what really happens to children and adults when someone sets their aim on physically and emotionally doing harm. I prefer words such as torture, human rights violation, crimes against humanity, and inhumane treatment. Any time a life is attacked, denigrated, and a person is reduced to the confines of being an object we have a serious problem.

I have lived long enough to understand that problems exist in our world, culture, country, and communities. My longer life has also afforded me an opportunity to witness change in many areas whereas I sigh with despair over areas where no change has taken place.

Bullying has changed little over my lifetime. I remember being taunted and can still remember who said what.

We have protocol to deal with bullying now, but the ways in which youth are bullied have become more sophisticated thanks to social media, violence in the news and film, and video games. However, I recall a great deal of violence I did not understand as a child. Let me explain.

When I was young there were no video games, cell phones, computers, and most homes did not have televisions. We had a land line telephone and it was a party line. Just as the term implies, use of the line involved more than one party. We didn’t have a private phone line.

Cartoons at the time included things such as Donald Duck, Woody Woodpecker, The Roadrunner, Slyvester and Tweetie Pie, and one of my sibling’s favorites, Fractured Fairy Tales. Fractured Fairy Tales featured the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show with memorable characters (Russian spies) known as Boris Badenov, and Natasha Fatale. Catch the names? So, my older brother would tease me and call me Natasha. He would pretend to be Boris Badenov. All in fun. My older brother would laugh and laugh hysterically. I was intrigued and I was a different kind of child. I wasn’t sure how to interpret this humor; some of it failed to have the same effect on me as my brother.

Another television program on at the time was I love Lucy. This featured Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. This comedy sitcom made my stomach queasy and I felt anxious and nervous watching it. It wasn’t funny to me, but my family and friends thought it was. I didn’t think it was funny that Lucy made so many mistakes. It wasn’t funny that people yelled at her all the time. I hated waiting to see what fate would befall her each time she did something wrong due largely to her simple way of viewing life (what we might call ditzy) or due to a lack of knowledge and skills (often referred to today as disabilities).

I was a child who was different and different is a good thing. Its just that being different as a child may be the one thing necessary for would-be bullies to use as the deciding point regarding who will be their next target. When you think about it, it has been this way for a very long time.

Throughout history there have been those that were a part of the group and those considered outsiders. Outsiders were once the tribes that lived over the hills to the West and hunted elk. Outsiders then became those that lived on the other side of the village or town. Outsiders might be people of a different color, people who ascribe to a different religion, or people who wear their hair long (hippies) or shave it off (skinheads). Outsiders might be those who choose to love women or to love men. Outsiders can be the poor or the rich. Outsiders might live in the country and not in the city or they might be those that live out West.

People have a tendency to label, assign value, rule in and rule out, qualify, disqualify, and otherwise judge that which they determine needs judging.

Why do people do this?

Humans like order. They like things to make sense. We have tons of things to process day in and day out and having labels likely contributes to a certain expediency. However, people have been labeling things since the beginning of language. Perhaps the real reason is related to something as primal as fear. Do people fear less if they say someone is bad because they have red hair? Do people fear less when they make fun of the really smart kid in the class? Are people less afraid of something when they condemn homosexuality?

Fear permeates much of what we do. It makes our decisions and it guides the way we interact. Fear is one of the primary emotions and without it we wouldn’t be able to survive. However, I believe there is informed fear and reckless fear. Bias, judgment, bullying, hate crimes, discrimination, and plain old rudeness come from reckless fear.

I think we need to look at the pattern of how fear is woven into our culture, our beliefs, and even our economy. People make lots of money from the fear of others. It is a marketing tool. I heard someone mention the other day that a market could be made from providing terrorist insurance or school shooting insurance. Hmm.

Lots to think about while we ponder where we want to be in the fear equation.

Take care and be well,

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD