Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Bullying...We Still Tolerate It, WTF?!??
--by Mike Adams
As we begin this exploration, I must warn you that this is a topic about which I am somewhat bitter! This topic makes me feel, sad, disgusted, worried and just plain angry PISSED OFF! Bullying is like that for me.
A short while ago, while scanning my email inbox, I noticed an unusual subject line for a Gracie Insider email. Usually Gracie messages offer examination of various jiu jitsu tactics used in a UFC competition or information about upcoming classes.
On this particular morning, however, the lead story read, “Another life lost to bullying.” This caught my attention, particularly because in Middle School, I was a victim of bullying. In fact, I had recently published a blog post about confrontation, which explored my experience with being bullied in Middle School and more importantly how, years later, Tae Kwon Do changed my life.
I followed the link and began reading a news article about fourteen year old Eden Wormer, of Ashland Oregon, who had recently killed herself. My emotional stress spiked, as I read how Eden had tried in vain to gain acceptance from her Middle School peers until finally, she decided the torment was too great. One night, she hugged her father and said “I love you, good night,” then she went in her room and hanged herself while her family slept.
Anger, bitter sadness, resentment, disbelief...I was overcome with a deluge of powerful emotions, which I had to keep in check, owing to the fact that I was at work. I wanted some light at the end of this tunnel to offer guidance and hope. I wanted a shimmer of meaning to erupt blessing humanity with beauty. But ultimately, there is no positive spin for Eden’s tragedy. She was too young, her life was too precious and this should never have happened. Her father will never see Eden graduate from High School or college, her older sister will never spend hours talking with her about a crush or a teen romance. Eden's brother will never dance with her at a wedding or visit her as an adult and fondly revisit childhood memories. Those possibilities are forever gone and I find that to be reprehensible.
Bullying in various guises has perpetrated numerous tragedies in recent years. In November of 2009, a seventeen year old boy was shot in the head at close range by a boy he reportedly bullied. In September of 2011 estimates are that 10 kids committed suicide as the result of bullying. In fact, according to bullyingstatistics.org, there is a strong correlation between teen suicide and being bullied. What may surprise you is that there is also a correlation between teen suicide and being a bully.
Enough with the statistics though, each statistic is based on a human being, for every number in any of those figures, there are parents crushed with grief and children lost to our world. In 2012, 14 year old Eden Wormer hanged herself, while her family slept. In 2011, 14 year old Jamey Rodemeyer hanged himself outside while his parents were at work. In 2010, 15 year old Justin Aaberg hanged himself while his family slept. In 2007, 13 year old Sian Yates hanged herself with a belt from her bunk bed. In 2006, 16 year old Desire Nicole Dryer killed herself, despite a loving family and bright future. In 2003, 13 year old Ryan Halligan hanged himself while his family slept. I ask again, what are we doing wrong?
Why haven't we taken any real ground with this issue? Why do we continue to see kids bullied and tormented? What have we missed? I believe the root lies in our collective preference to see bullying as something of an anomaly, a sort of “one off case,” in which only a few “bad apples” participate. However, according to a 2006 article in the Washington Post, 60-90 percent of children report having been bullied and 20 percent admit to having bullied someone else. I recently read a blog article by Hogan Sherrow on the Scientific American web site, which examines the prevalence of bullying around the globe and finds that bullying is a human phenomenon, common to all cultures, though it is more prevalent in cultures that honor aggressive behavior and discourage nonconformity. In fact, Hogan shows that bullying behavior is found not only in all human cultures, primate groups, but also in all groups of mammals. This indicates that bullying is part of our genetic makeup. A hardwired part of being human.
What this says to me is that we need to stop pointing fingers at others and standing back as if were innocent bystanders. As far as I can tell, we all participate in bullying to some degree, sometimes we’re the bully, we say or do things meant to hurt and intimidate others. Perhaps our motives are to facilitate some kind of behavior and on other occasions we simply feel upset, frustrated or angry and we lash out at someone who is unlikely or unable to retaliate. Sometimes we’re the silent bystander, perhaps we're afraid to speak up, perhaps we think the victim is receiving their just deserts, whatever the case, we offer approval with our silence. We communicate to the victim in that situation that what is happening to them is ok and unimportant to us. And on other occasions, we’re the victim, maybe we're too afraid to say STOP, we don't feel we can stand up for ourselves. We duck our heads and wait for the torment to pass, thus communicating to our tormentor that they can do this without concern and reinforcing our own belief that we aren't worthy of respect and dignity.
In the end, we are all collectively responsible for the fact that bullying continues. We are the perpetrators and we are the solution. What irks me is this collective pretense that we want to stop bullying and we just don’t know how. I think we do know. I think we know when we should speak up in someone’s defense, when we should say, "hey cut it out...leave her alone." I think we know when we ought to extend a hand in kindness to someone who has been trodden upon and I think we know when we have failed to do this, because perhaps they seem like a dork or they are homeless, perhaps we've seen them bully others in the recent past. But ultimately, we know that doing the right thing means extending our hand in kindness. It means communicating to a victim that they are a fellow human being, deserving of respect and dignity. I believe we know these things and we know when we have made good choices or when we have been ruled by fear. We all know these things and we choose to feign ignorance, we choose to pretend we are powerless, we choose apathy!
So what is the solution, we are! Every single one of us. We do know what we should do and when we should speak up. We know when someone needs are kindness, so lets do what we know to be the right thing. It may take courage, it may place us in the cross hairs of a bully, but in the end, we’ll sleep better. We’ll know we were right and our values will be not only intact, but fortified for the next time we need to stand up and say “NO MORE!” or the next time we need to sit down and say, “you didn’t deserve that, why don’t I buy you a cup of coffee?”
Never forget, we are the solution!