It seems that almost every day we read a terrible story of a child suffering chronic abuse at the hands of bullies. These aptly named people seem to be relentless in their ability to attack, demean, and belittle their intended victim. In trying to understand why people bully I see hand wringing, finger pointing, and general confusion as to how and why people become bullies. I’m not feeling that confusion.
This week Ann Coulter called the POTUS the “R” word. A few months ago Bill Maher called former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin the “C” word. Rush Limbaugh called law student Sandra Fluke a slut, and the list goes on. Coulter, Maher, and Limbaugh all defended themselves by criticizing political correctness and rolling out the free speech argument. They are right, they are entitled to say cruel, abusive, judgmental things and they are protected by free speech. Yet, can they really defend themselves as people who care about the feelings of others? I think not and isn’t that ultimately the definition of a bully?
Politics seems to be a hot bed of bullies (myself periodically included in that list) yet we can find examples of it everywhere we go. The sports arena where we see people yelling aggressive and belittling comments to the other team players, coaches, and referees is a fine example of bullies gone wild. I have videotape of a popular coach in my community yelling aggressive comments at my then little league playing, grade school son as he took his first shot at pitching. That coach has been a fine example of a bullying role model if ever there was one. How about reality television? I think we can find an example or 1,000 of bad bullying behavior.
When Michelle Obama and Ann Romney took to the convention stage to speak about their spouses they were each treated to outrageous social media attacks on their appearance, their race, religion, ethnicity, social class and their NAIL POLISH! When Michelle Obama spoke, the increase in the presence of the “N” word in cyber world went off the charts. What horrid crimes did these two women commit that so entitled the world to rip them to pieces? They shared with us their commitment to their husbands. How dare they!
This blog would have been far more entertaining to write if I were not complicit in all of this. Recently I had my soon to be driving, 15-year-old in the car with me. After a bit of confusion (probably on my part) at a busy intersection, an older man on a motorcycle flipped me off while mouthing some unpleasant words at me. Not to be outdone by his kindness I rolled down my window and screamed, “Relax old man!” Not my finest parenting moment. I gave Limbaugh, Coulter, and Maher a run for their money when after hearing some particularly disturbing comments from a local political candidate I let out a rant of insults that wouldn’t be fit for even the most ardent of Bear’s fans.
Look at the comments at the end of almost any news article and you will find lovely examples of bullying. Twitter and Facebook are the perfect venues to attack, judge, tease, and hurt. Why do so many of us behave this way? The answer of course is hugely multi-faceted but the most prevalent reasons for our bad behavior? We feel bad about ourselves and/or we are afraid of something. It is far easier to lash out at someone else than to actually look at our own insecurities and weaknesses. Civil debate is difficult to do because we feel passionate about what we are discussing and it scares us to think we might not be understood or get what we want. It takes hard work to learn how to disagree while still respecting the person we are disagreeing with. The results however are worth the effort in that kindness trumps cruelty, not in the game of free speech, but certainly in the game of a life well lived.
So when people ask me as a mother, psychologist, and a life coach why kids turn into bullies, I won’t have to look too far to give them the answers. How to change that behavior? That is a tough question. Though that old golden rule might be a really nice place to start.
Dr. Lisa Kaplin is a life coach at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com
You can reach her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com