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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Bullying..."back when I was a kid" vs. now

I read a comment on-line the other day from someone referencing the recent rash of teen suicides in Luzerne County.  I'm not going to publicize the commentator (who, shockingly, didn't write under his/her own name) nor will I copy and paste the actual comment.  Instead, here is the gist what was said:  "Back when I was a young, kids were much tougher.  Sure, we got teased, but we didn't kill ourselves."

I'd like to take a moment to address the above sentiment, mostly because I know that it is held by more than a few.

"Back when I was young"...for me, this was the 70's and very early 80's.  This was pre-cellphones, pre-Internet and for me, mostly pre-cable television.  Communication consisted of yelling down the street.  We did have land-line phones, but this was strictly regulated by parents for the most part.  The world was, in a very real sense, a much smaller place.  We had to wait for our news to be delivered by the newspaper or during the evening news.  Back when I was young, the term "viral" meant having to do with a disease.  

"Back when I was young" I certainly did endure my own share of teasing.  However, when you were teased it was either in person or, worst case, someone wrote something bad about you on a bathroom wall.  Only the people who actually were in ear-shot or went to that that specific stall...and chose to read the "poetry" written there...were exposed to whatever teenage "crime" you were supposedly accused of.  The weapons of bullying were fairly primitive.  

In this day and age?  You have young adults with a thousand friends on Facebook.  The bathroom wall has been replaced by a Facebook timeline, where instantly a thousand people with thousands of friends will almost immediately have access to bullying "content".  Tweets with 140 characters of vile spread like wildfire.  "Viral" now mostly means widely spread content in a light-speed electronic universe.  Let's not forget photo editing software that can turn any innocent photo into an abomination, readily spread by modern communications technology.  The weapons of bullying have evolved at a frightening pace.

Simply put, bully are now better equipped.  It's an arms race of sorts, and the bullies, I am afraid, have the edge.

In this day and age I'm not convinced that young adults are "softer" as victims or necessarily that bullies are meaner.  No, what's happened is that the whole process of bullying has become simply more some cases deadly efficient.  We have also conditioned an entire generation that how you look and what toys you own are the only real things that matter in life.  Think about it:  it's no wonder so many feel hopeless and helpless when they fail to meet impossible standards of beauty and possession.  Having one's nose rubbed into such "failings" breeds despair. 

What's the antidote to all of this?  Well the weapons of bullying will simply continue to evolve in terms of efficiency.  It's not a pleasant thought.   Bullies flourish, in part, because no one challenges them, so why not turn some of these weapons of bullying to greater, more positive uses?  We can make the conscious choice to shine a light on acts of bullying when we see them.  We can stand for what is right.  We can stand up for others who don't feel as if they can for themselves any longer.  What I am suggesting isn't so much the act of an army as it is the acts of a million soldiers.   

The change here isn't in the in the heads or hearts of bullies...or of their's in the heads and hearts of the rest of us.  Encounter bullying?  Call the bully out.  Take a stand.  Refute the insanity.  

"Be the change you want to see in the world." - Gandhi

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