“From out of nowhere the smallest kid came. Nobody knew him, not even his name. These mean guys laughed and ripped the kid’s shirt but this little kid refused to be hurt. He stood and looked ’em straight in the eye, daring those bullies to even come try. There was no way they could hurt his pride. If he would find his strength from inside. Something happened no one could expect. By finding courage, he’d found his respect. Stand up, stand up for yourself.”
Excerpt lyrics from the children’s song Stand Up (to Bullies) by Caroline Figiel and Danny Jones
In recent weeks the Obama Administration reiterated its position to address the serious issue of kid bullying within our schools and communities. This is a fine gesture. I’m sure when we were kids, we’ve all suffered some humiliating experience in school in which “a schoolyard bully” has taunted us; picked upon us for being small, weak, different, or smart. Often these experiences leave an emotional scar that is more difficult to heal than any physical scar. I think we can all agree that cruelty to others should be reprimanded whereas civility and common decency toward others should be praised. However, does this political gesture truly address the root source of bullying in our American society? After all, where do kids learn these harmful habits? Might there be negative influences within our adult society? Before we focus on those influences however let me first define what is meant by bullying.
Bullying is a form of abuse. It involves repeated acts that attempt to create or enforce one person’s (or group’s) power over another person (or group), thus an “imbalance of power” is established. The “imbalance of power” may be social power and/or physical power. Bullying type of behaviors are often rooted in a bully’s inability to empathize with those whom he or she would target.
Bullying consists of three basic types of abuse – emotional, verbal and physical. It typically involves subtle methods of coercion such as psychological manipulation.
Bullying ranges from simple one on one bullying to more complex bullying in which the bully may have one or more “lieutenants” who assist the primary bully in his bullying activities. This bullying technique in school and the workplace is also referred to as peer abuse.
So, what does a child learn when they observe a parent bullying a child, a spouse, or a neighbor, with impunity? What lessons are taught our children when they personally witness or hear their parents talking about certain government and/or business leaders who bully/harass their constituencies, their employees, their competitors, threatening retribution if they don’t get their way?
Bullying can occur in any context in which human beings interact with each other. That includes school, church, family, the workplace, home and neighborhoods. A 2007 WBI-Zogby survey found that nearly half of all workers (49%) have been affected by workplace bullying, either being a target themselves or having witnessed abusive behavior against a co-worker. In the majority of cases reported workplace bullying was perpetrated by management. This is often called corporate bullying where an employer abuses an employee with impunity, knowing the law is weak and the job market is soft.
Bullying is even a common instigative factor in coerced ethnic migration. Bullying can exist between social groups, social classes and even between countries, in the form of jingoism.
On an international scale, perceived or real imbalances of power between nations, in both economic systems and in treaty systems, are often cited as some of the primary causes of both World War I and World War II.
If children in school were allowed to study our true American history, they would discover that our nation has often employed a bullying style, whether through “manifest destiny” or recent neoliberal foreign policies, compelling lessor nations to do our bidding or suffer the consequences.
Today, bullying takes a world stage when America and Western European countries coerce developing countries to agree to policies set by the world institutions like the WTO, IMF and World Bank that are not in their citizens’ interest but in the international banks and multinational corporations’ financial interests.
Terrorizing is also a form of bullying for to terrorize is to coerce by using threats or violence, or to inspire with fear. Our War on Terrorism is a great distracter (as well as a great Military Industrial Complex money maker) from the true terrorists that reside within our country. Who promotes fear mongering in this country? Is it not bullying, or terrorizing, our citizenry when banking, oil and insurance corporations hold Americans hostage, employing their “lieutenants” such as Fox News and talk radio pundits, as well as bank-rolled politicians and lobbyists, to manipulate the American public through fabricated threats to national economic interest and fear mongering diatribes in order to extract more money from Americans, or get them to vote against their own common interests such as corporate abuse reform.
In truth, tyranny, intimidation and terrorism are forms of bullying and our adult society rewards this behavior. During last year’s televised political debates, did our children receive a valuable lesson in civil discourse or rather a lesson that he or she who shouts the loudest, most abusive vitriolic language toward their opponent achieves the winning edge. This certainly was the case in last year’s election in which Republican candidates emphasized fear mongering, a form of psychological manipulation bullying, over any constructive solutions to American society issues, in order to get elected.
What our society calls “successful capitalism” is often strong arm bullying tactics. Corporate press will shower accolades upon the “pillars of capitalism” CEOs who most successfuly embrace Carnegie’s philosophy Social Darwinism, or survival of the fittest, without empathy or thought given toward those harmed in their wake.
Now you may ask yourself, how does one fight back against the bully? What recourse can an individual take?
In the schoolyard, sometimes the art of self-defense, such as a solid first punch to the bully’s nose or stomach will achieve justice, successfuly silencing the bully. Other situations might require a strong person to stand tall in peaceful defiance, ultimately winning the bully’s respect and eventual acquiescence.
In the adult world, the means available for an individual to stand up against the bully may be more complex and more difficult, yet achievable.
Solely relying on legal recourse in our society as a means may prove futile. Remember, it’s OUR legal system that allows government institutions to coercively collect fees and taxes from its citizens. The only difference between federal, state, county and city agencies who utilize police agencies as bully enforcers to collect their inequitable fees and taxes, and the developing nations’ police who extort money from you directly is, in the United States its legal.
In the United States, comprehensive workplace bullying legislation has yet to be passed by the Federal Government or by any state governments, though, as of April 2009, 16 states have prepared legislation. The proposed anti-bullying bills typically allow employees to sue their employers for creating an “abusive work environment”, supported by the rationale that laws are necessary to protect public health. A strong support for these bills, putting pressure on legislators to advocate such legislation, would certainly be to the workers’ benefit. Maintaining vigilance toward continual enforcement would also be needed since even existing employee whistle-blowing laws are often halfheartedly enforced, creating vulnerability for the employee’s necessary protection from management retaliation.
Sometimes the individual alone must seek remedy. Since David challenged Goliath, our cultural myths and legends, here in the US and around the world, are often based on the many courageous individuals who have stood up against the oppressive tyrant, their tales admirably told through books and films.
Their heroic stories are legendary; Robin Hood and Joan of Arc to the lone brave sheriff who confronts the wealthy cattle rancher and his hired gunmen.
Less known yet no less brave, are these other individuals’ stories: Sid Hatfield and the Battle of Matewan in 1920 West Virginia in which Sid Hatfield stood up against the mining company and their hired police; Rosa Park’s peaceful defiance against The American South’s bully bigotry; Norma Rae’s heroic protest against her company’s poor working conditions, and Harvey Milk’s courageous peaceful defiance against San Francisco’s sexual discriminators.
Seattle’s downtown streets bore witness in November ’99 to the anti-globalization movement where people from all walks of life gathered to peacefully protest the World Trade Organization (WTO) bullying policies known as globalization, a laudable stance that would ultimately provide the moral backbone for the developing nations delegates to stand up against their intimidating American and Western European counterparts.
And of course, we can’t forget the heroic Nerds in Revenge of the Nerds and Bluto (John Belushi’s character) in the movie Animal House who stood up against their respective bullies, the Jocks and Faber College’s Dean Werner.
Challenging tyrant’s bullying power is no easy task. In recent weeks, from the Middle East to Middle America, Egypt to Wisconsin, citizens have taken to the streets; Wisconsin where teachers have been protesting their Republican Governor’s proposal to eliminate their right to collective bargaining.
In Egypt and Tunisia, motivated by poverty, lack of jobs, the people have had enough. Their dictator’s bullying tactics, coupled with deplorable living conditions, would be tolerated no longer. The protests were widespread among the citizens and largely non-violent; gaining support from such needed allies as the dictators’ military personnel, in order to achieve a successful revolution, with little bloodshed.
During the Egyptian protest, when President Obama stated this proclamation that “peaceful protest leads to dialogue, leads to reform, and ultimately leads to democracy” was Wisconsin Governor Walker listening?
As the poster boys for avaricious audacity, the billionaires Koch Brothers (Koch Industries) seem to have a grudge against working class Americans and any “will of the people” effort to limit their corporate hubris to pollute the planet for maximum profit. They are the predominant financial muscle behind numerous Republican Party and Tea Party member’s efforts, including Wisconsin Gov. Walker, to roll back social services for the working class under the guise to reduce state budgets. The coordinated, insidious plan however is to not reduce deficits so much as to transfer savings from reduced public servant’s pay and benefits and transfer the funds to wealthy interests like the Koch Bros. in the form of industrial tax breaks and reduced tax rates. The Koch Brothers are also the puppet master influence behind the recent effort in California, Prop 23, to reverse the state’s Clean Air Act passed by the majority of Californians.
Fortunately, defiant citizenry groups such as the California student sustainability coalition, through conducting peaceful demonstrations, educating the public and getting out the vote, helped defeat Prop 23 in California last year; a non-violent, symbolic punch-to-the bully’s nose victory!
Regretfully, the Obama Administration’s gesture toward stopping bullying may be more symbolic than substantial. At the state level, states such as Florida and Georgia have in recent years passed successful anti-bullying laws to protect children in school. One can hope that with a legal recourse established a gradual deterrence and intolerance to the bullying atmosphere, from the schoolyards to cyberspace, will prevail in schools and in the minds among our future generations.
Still, what justice awaits them in adult society? What real change can occur if our societal bullying problem is not also addressed? In a country overwrought with unnecessary rules and regulations, why does workplace or corporate bullying go largely unpunished? Why does our American vernacular have ample words to describe the bully (miscreant, tyrant, tormenter, oppressor, intimidator, villian, corruptor, spoiled brat, etc.) yet no words to describe the action “getting one’s way”? Are these subtle cultural signs our current institutions protect the bully, especially at the highest levels?
Societal institutions’ authorities can also bully, creating an underlining cultural atmosphere that intimidates, subtlely and not so subtlely, the individual to conform, to obey societal demands or suffer the consequences. Who stands up for the individual who chooses his own peaceful path?
I leave you the reader with much to ponder and end this article with a song by the rock group Supertramp, a song that stands up for that individual.
- THE LOGICAL SONG by Supetramp
When I was young seemed that life was so wonderful, a miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical. And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so joyfully, playfully, watching me. But then they send me away to teach me how to be sensible, logical, responsible, practical.
There are times when all the world’s asleep, the questions run so deep for such a simple man. Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned. I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am.
Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical, a liberal, fanatical, crimianl. Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!
At night when all the world’s asleep, the questions run too deep for such a simple man. Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned. I know it sounds absurd but please tell me who I am!”
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