Carl Bosch wants to know what happened to the “kinder, gentler” America that some of us hoped for and politicians hyped?
I spent all day last Friday in a workshop focused on bullying. We talk a lot about bullying in school these days. Federal and state laws have gotten involved. Educators are defining what it looks like, how it sounds, where and when it occurs, how often it happens. Every couple of years we re-define it, tweak it some more, make it more comprehensive, making sure to include every little nuance if we can. Laws have been passed that mandate we report harassment, bullying, even mean behavior. We have forms to fill out, action plans to put in place. Interventions for both victim and bully.
Like the old “I know it when I see it,” bullying is a problem and it always has been. There have been bullies as long as there have been kids. And adults, for that matter, too. But something seems very essentially different nowadays.
We use terms now that weren’t invented 10 or 20 years ago. “Hostile environment”, “written, oral, or electronic communication or physical act or gesture”, “infringes on the rights”, “reasonable fear of harm”. These all sound legalistic and somewhat pompous, but they’re real. Nationwide studies use different statistics, but if you pay attention to any of them it appears that not hundreds or thousands of young people are bullied, but millions. Over half of all kids have witnessed bullying at their school. Over three-quarters say that bullying is a problem at their school, grades K-12. Texting and sexting and e-mails and Facebook and Twitter don’t help at all. They’re like an easy access formula for sharing anger laced with bad language and subtle threats.
Whatever happened to the “kinder, gentler” America that some of us hoped for and politicians hyped? Are we really that afraid and insecure as individuals and a country? Is the only way that we can make ourselves feel strong and resilient is to put down others? Does the pro football player have to taunt his rival? Are pundits and talk show hosts compelled to sling outrageous negative comments at their political opponents so they can score ratings? Do parents at athletic activities have to question and yell at every call by a referee, every decision by a coach? Here’s another one to chew on and if I get some trouble from readers, so be it. December 2011, the month just passed, set a new record. For what? Gun purchases. Over 1.5 million. That topped the previous record set in…November. Kinder, gentler nation? Where?
Bullying is only going to get worse until we think larger. But maybe that’s not the way to solve this. Like national deficits and Congress in stalemate, perhaps we shouldn’t follow their lead, but think small. Maybe each school, alone on its own, has to be that safe haven. We can win there if we work hard enough. Or maybe it starts just in your house. No sarcasm, no put-downs. No talking badly about your neighbor, your uncle, the mayor. That’s a place to start.
We should have no need to create words like “bullycide.”
10,069 days down, 106 left
photo by trixer / flickr