A coworker and I discussed bullying the other day. On the one hand, I thought the current obsession with bullying is overblown. It has become the catchall, the one true evil of our day. People my age remember bullying from school, it's not like this generation invented it. What I remember tells me that the current model- there are bullies and there are the bullied- is inadequate. I remember very few people who were purely one or the other. What I remember mostly was a lot of people treating a lot of other people like crap. This group picked on that group, who picked on that group, who picked on that one, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Back then, among the boys, there was a fair amount of physical bullying. Boys used to fight. It wasn't punished overmuch, because that was what boys did. Emotions would get worked up to a fever pitch, the boys would have it out, and ten minutes later they were friends again. Fighting was actually one way of dealing with bullies, because bullies pick on the weak who will not fight back. A cousin of mine recounts to this day how my father told him to deal with a bully by punching him in the nose. He did, and got a black eye for it, but the bully never bothered him again. A friend of mine is fond of remembering the time at his school when four bullies who terrorized the school cornered some guy in the bathroom. He was a nerd. A meek, weak little dweeb of a male. In short, he was the absolute last person anyone would have expected to be a black belt. All four were carried out on stretchers, and, when they returned, never bothered anyone again. The dweeb was not punished.
Teachers were in on it. You could get the strap. If you told your parents that you got the strap, you would be in trouble with your parents, because you obviously did something to deserve getting the strap. So parents were involved. All parents. Any adult in my neighbourhood who caught me doing something wrong could haul off and slug me. I could go crying home to my parents. "What's the matter?" they would say.
Me:"Mr. So and So hit me!"
Them: "Why? What did you do?"
And then I would be in real trouble.
But that was then. Is it different now?
For a long time, I thought no. It was the same. But I keep reading about these suicides which are believed to be the result of endless bullying, and I realize there is a difference. When I was young, we would get bullied at school, but then we went home. They didn't follow us there. They couldn't. But today's kids are wired in all the time. They have face book, and portable computers and cells phones. There is nowhere they can go to escape these bullies. Not after school, not on weekends, not on vacation. Cyber technology has allowed kids to more fully become the nightmare they always were. We have invented and bought and brought the tools of our own torture into our own homes.
Furthermore, the physical outlet is denied. Now it is punished heavily, in the name of stopping bullying. Elder once told a teacher that she wanted to learn how to step aside when attacked so a bully would punch the wall instead. The teacher was scandalized that she would want to cause such harm to anyone.
Teachers don't get involved much, because there is little they can do. When Elder was being bullied, every teacher we went to told us they had a zero tolerance policy for bullying, and zero was exactly what each and every one of them did to stop it. They intervene, and they will get sued. Other parents don't do anything, for the same reason. We have disempowered ourselves, and slipped chains of our own making upon ourselves. And our children are paying the price.