Why Bullying Can’t Be Stopped

Despite the “names can never hurt me” refrain from the “Sticks and Stones” couplet we heard as kids, we absolutely know that names do hurt, they cut deep, they follow us, they imbed themselves into our self esteem, memory and psyche. Show me a person who never experienced a taunt and I’ll show you a single child home schooled through college by a loving parent. Unfortunately, it is a universal experience with a wide spectrum.

We all want the school-bullying, the cyber bullying and, I’m going to add, the political-bullying to stop. We don’t want our children and grandchildren to fall into the abyss of it in any arena. We encourage, support and participate in school programs and those in our communities, towns, and workspaces that identify the words and actions of bullies and attempt to build bridges and heal those affected by it.

And yet – it will never stop. Our wishing and hoping and tax dollars, our therapists and social workers and anti-bullying slogans will fail. All for the simple fact: Our culture does not support it.

We are two-faced on the issue. We strongly declare “Zero Tolerance” for bullies and their destructive tactics among our children, but we flock to watch comedians wallow in the muck of it, then we chose to repeat or retweet it. We fail to call out politicians for the mean-spirited and insensitive nicknames and labels meant to undermine an opponent’s character and accomplishments. We laugh and repeat it either verbally or by email.

And then there is Twitter – where a person’s flaws – physical, mental or otherwise are relentlessly highlighted, underscored, enlarged, and played back with a Boomerang technique for the sake of a laugh, a taunt or a career ending push over the edge. There are people who are pros at this. They sit in front of screens trolling for the next slip-up in a speech, a stumble on the red carpet, wardrobe malfunction or sophomoric pranks from middle school. Sad way to get a laugh or attention.

The examples of high level bullying are endless – Last week Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein nicknamed Sen. Mitch McConnell, “Moscow Mitch” and tens of thousands (maybe more) retweeted the name and hastag. Mr. Berstein, you won a Pulitzer, your name will go down in history for your Watergate expose, your books and body of work, why do you have to resort to name calling? Please explain. Not the nickname, just the reason for it. Oh, and would you address a group of middle school students as you do this? Please tell them why in an era of Herculean efforts to bring people together and restore some shred of civility to American culture and politics, you chose to do this.

I cringed every time then Candidate Trump took out another Republican candidate by the incessant and juvenile name calling. Low Energy Jeb Bush, Little Marco Rubio, Lyng Ted Cruz, Crooked Hillary, Pocohantas Elizabeth Warren, Sleezy Joe Biden. Name-calling, Mr. President is never justified. Never. We won’t tolerate in our school kids, why should we tolerate it and accept it in adults. As adults we should be examples of how to deal with others without resorting to name calling.

One last example of cyber/media bullying that always dumbfounded me was the explosion of news stories and tweets following Melania Trump’s ascent into Air Force One while wearing a pair of stilettos. It was September 2017, she and the President were going to Texas to see the extensive damage from Hurricane Harvey and she was photographed walking to the plane in a pair of Manolo Blahnik stiletto heels. During the time it took Air Force One to fly from Washington to Texas, pictures and stories about those shoes were everywhere. When she left the plane in Texas she was wearing sneakers but according to one “news” site – “The damage was done” to her character and her reputation. She was branded insensitive for wearing heels on the plane – a jumbo jet specifically outfitted for the President and that could easily carry a spare pair of shoes for the First Lady.

Isn’t it quite possible that she planned to change her shoes on the plane all along? Isn’t it possible that she wore them out of the White House for a reason not disclosed to the media and planned to change them as soon as she could? Isn’t it possible that she had a change of clothing put on the customized 747 ahead of time out of sight from journalists and photographers? How is it that a pair of high heels haunted the First Lady and sadly overshadowed anything else she did that day? Sneakers vs stilletos. Really? Anyone ever change their shoes in the car between events or because of the weather? Or carry their good shoes into the office during a snowy commute?

With a nod to the chant from the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, “The whole world is watching”, I want to say to those politicians, journalist (tv, online, print,) twitter-users, late night tv hosts, any one with a social media footprint or spotlight – “Our children are watching and listening.” Are you deeply invested with those who work to ending bullying and who desperately want to make a difference? Many of these people experienced first hand the devastating affects of bullying on their loved ones. One in five students get bullied, with sixth grade the peak year (29%). Bullied kids experience anxiety, depression, feelings of insecurity and are at risk for self harm including suicide. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for the 10-34 year old demographic.  The second leading cause of death.

We must chose sides on this issue. There is no fence straddling here. You either will tolerate name-calling, personal insults, ridicule and taunts in your home, your schools, your workplace and your community, by your entertainers and entertainment, your politicians and politics and on all forms of media or you won’t. Yes or no.

This is not about censorship of free speech, this is about knowing that a high bar of civility for our words and actions exists and deciding to reach for it. It is about digging deep to build relationships rather than destroy reputations and lives, to understand rather than criticize and by doing such personify what the anti-bully looks like and stands for.

In the spirit of Special Intentions – praying for others – say a prayer today for a sixth grader who is having the worst year of his or her life because of bullying. Pray that someone steps in to help before he or she becomes another suicide statistic.

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One Response to Why Bullying Can’t Be Stopped

  1. Francis C. Alexander says:

    Ms. Coleman, you write a very poignant article, highlighting an urgent spiritual, healing, and practical need, a need which speaks to an even higher, yet sad, truth about the frequent disconnect between cultural desire and cultural action. Thank you for your insight, compassion, and bluntness.

    Hugh Prather, in his introspective “Notes To Myself,” wrote, “The desire to write, unaccompanied by writing, is the desire not to write.” And now Ms. Coleman has written, in essence, “The desire to end bullying, unaccompanied by the end of bullying, is the desire not to end bullying.” How sad and how true. If the conscious desire of our culture is to end all bullying, what is lacking in our cultural awareness that inhibits the action that would lead to achieving that goal? What bargain are we unwittingly making that prevents or distorts our cultural focus from putting a stop to bullying?

    Perhaps our culture puts too great an emphasis on winning or on monetary success at the expense of civility. “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” “Be all you can be.” “He who dies with the most toys wins.” When the stakes are so high in terms of power, prestige, ratings, history, money, promotions, elected office, and the thing that so many think will come to us as a result, love, it’s easy to forget civility as an immediate priority. The slogans that embed in our culture, however, only describe man-made goals. Perhaps, as created beings, we either forget or are not well reminded that there is a Creator, who made all things, and that there is a higher purpose for our life, and a handbook of how best and most satisfyingly to pursue that life. The two greatest commandments, upon which all other law, guidance, and commandments are built, are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    If you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, whether by faith or by an examination of the historical evidence, then the Word of God, as described through Jesus’ life in the Bible, must carry preeminent weight in our lives. The more we learn about Jesus, by reading about Him, the more we instinctively wish to become and behave more like Him. If we would only elevate the command–the command from our Creator, no less–to “love our neighbor as ourself” from something self-effacing, meek, and without tangible reward to a lifestyle we have the privilege of living in thanks and gratitude toward Him who created us, perhaps then we can stamp out bullying and truly make a better world.

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