This is my latest column in the Greenville News. Bullying is at its worse, but most acceptable, when adults use it to intimidate people who disagree with them.
Let’s Stop Bullying
I well remember being bullied on the school bus. Many cold, wet mornings (a large portion of the year in WV, by the way) I found my junior-high self sitting in front of high school juniors and seniors who turned their class rings upside down, then used them to hit lesser life forms on the top of the head in a whipping motion. Turning around in pain and anger, trying to find my assailant, was pointless. ‘What are you looking at?’ they asked. It was a very long ride to school.
To this day, kids are still assaulted and treated badly by other kids. Children and adolescents are called cruel names and belittled by those who have more things or more opportunities. They’re told that if only they’ll wear these clothes, or listen to that music, engage in some sexual act or take that drug, they’ll be accepted. Bullying comes in many forms, it seems. And now we have the added joy of the Internet. No small number of young people have been mortified, emotionally traumatized, considered suicide or actually committed it in response to online slurs and cruelty, or embarrassing photos or video posted online.
These days, adults are supposed to understand, and teach their kids, that no one should be mistreated, harassed, harangued, belittled or besmirched in our hallowed school hallways for any reason at all. But something happens after we leave school. Suddenly, adults believe that bullying is OK as long as it’s about something that’s really, really important, and as long as the people they bully are different from themselves. It seems that in actuality, adults are the worst bullies around.
These days, in order to find bullying one need look no further than any discussion about politics (or frankly, culture, religion, science or almost anything else). I’m simply stunned at the way purported grown-ups with differing opinions can treat one another. Online forums and media comment sections drip with disdain. Those who believe ‘the wrong way’ are instantly labeled ignorant, or irrelevant, and often called names. Sometimes, people even wish death upon others.
In fact, that’s one of the clearest forms of adult bullying I see. ‘Well, if you weren’t so ignorant, you’d understand the truth.’ Even those with no particular knowledge of a topic consider those who disagree to be stupid, plain and simple; it’s a strange kind of ‘pseudo-intellectualism,’ in which the enlightened get to wear the mantle of truth. A truth largely determined by the crowd; not surprising in an era when truth is considered a personal choice like food on a buffet.
This sort of argument is everywhere. And not just in the Wild West of the Internet. Even noted political figures accuse their detractors, saying that they’re uneducated and backward or they’d see the truth.
Adults love to bully, no matter how much they pretend to hate the idea. We see it in its soft form in the recent video of celebrities reminding everyone else not only to vote, but who to vote for. They’re the cool kids. They may not be the smartest but they’re the richest and best; they’re sexy and sarcastic. Don’t you want to be like them? Remember, beautiful, rich, famous people are much better (and insightful) than regular poor people!
Comedians once entertained us with the universal, self-deprecating, slap-stick humor of everyday life. Now they, too, are the cool kids yelling their invective at everyone who dares to have an opinion off the mainstream. Biting and cruel towards those they don’t understand, they represent little more than a shinier, richer form of the old-school bully.
Bullies use words to great effect. Disagree with a candidate? You must be a racist, or a sexist. Disagree with a law? You must be a bigot or a fascist. Believe your God is real? You must be a fundamentalist nut! You don’t want to be a bigot or fascist or a nut, do you? Then just do like everyone else does and you’ll be so cool! There, now doesn’t it feel better to be like the crowd? (Now remember kids, you should always be yourself and follow your own heart. Until it takes you outside the bleating herd, that is.)
Robust dialogue is good for a nation. As in evolution, ideas diverge and produce more good ideas. The future of our freedom demands that we disagree. But bullying is the stuff of brutish children.
So let’s stop it, shall we?