How fantastic it would be were this blog post to find its way into the hands of President Trump. It is a message he needs to absorb. And Now. Written originally for Charlatan Magazine, I am posting it here for your enjoyment and contemplation. Are you the bullied? Or the bully?
Imagine for a moment that you lived somewhere else. Not in a different house or town, but somewhere other than the United States of America. Choose somewhere you aren’t free to make your own choices in life. North Korea springs to mind.
Bullying is age-old, it is everywhere, and is present in many forms. It is an epidemic, and it’s also one of the latest buzz words on Capitol Hill. They have even created a website dedicated to the education and eradication of bullying. www.stopbullying.gov. So very apropos.
Bullying is personified by the big kid pushing around those devoid of self-confidence, kicking sand in your face, grabbing lunch money and pushing you into mud puddles. You’ve seen it in movies and on TV, read about it in countless books and magazine articles, and more than likely experienced it first-hand at some point in real life. You may have been that kid trying to escape a monster in your middle school who tortured you for fun. Or maybe you’re the college student who, instead of enjoying the newfound freedom and reveling in new experiences, is hiding your Middle Eastern customs and heritage for fear of blind retribution. Or are you living in fear that the next time your spouse beats the hell out of you, it will be your last day on Earth?
Maybe you’re still the victim. Maybe you’re still the bully.
Perhaps you find it as comical as do I when bombastic celebrities have threatened to acquire a new address when their politician of choice (typically the President) doesn’t win election. All of them are still here, and more than likely will very much always claim to be permanent residents of this country. Their man didn’t win, and just as instantly as it began, their bellowing has subsided. Deft social media campaigns and shiny fundraisers and well-placed television appearances didn’t sway enough of the population into voting for their man. So they slink back behind their cameras, and in between screenplay lines, waiting for their turn again to sprout suddenly – and unapologetically – onto TV and into print in order to exert an unduly and unqualified influence on your opinion once more. Celebrity endorsement of politicians hasn’t exactly been a resounding success – especially if you have a mind of your own and are capable of deciding for yourself that which you find important and necessary. Innocent and harmless as it may appear, that is just one kind of bullying present in our culture.
Those are the kinds of things that were swirling around in my mind as I prepared to write my column. In the middle of the process, I was diverted to Washington, DC to serve as chaperone for my son’s 7th grade class trip. We made the rounds of all the usual monuments to leaders past, paid tribute to our fallen soldiers and watched the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery. As we toured the grounds of the Capitol, I was more concerned with wrangling my subset of 12 year olds, than I was at being awestruck by the physically imposing omnipresence of the building, itself. Days later, as I recovered mentally and physically, I looked back on the group of us, children and chaperones together, sitting in the gallery of the House of Representatives. We were taking a brief respite from the endless walking. It is now, in hindsight, that I am able to make an ironic connection. There I sat, stage left, in front of the biggest bully pulpit in the nation.
For millennia, men have dictated to other men everything that encompasses life as we know it. Cavemen, then and now, rely on a strict behavioral code that has dominated concepts as simple as where you’ll live, what you’ll eat, and the people with whom you’re allowed to socialize. The definition of Social Stratification, as provided by sociologyguide.com tells us that, “Stratification is a hierarchy of positions with regard to economic production which influences the social rewards to those in the positions.” That is clearly evident when you consider the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.
But what isn’t always clearly evident is the extent to which we live, every day, at the mercy of what others intend for us. We wander each day into and out of a space between compliance and fear, the far side of that spectrum is where you’ll find bullying and worse. No matter your gender or your age or your perceived social position, it is within you to put others in a position where they have no choice but to comply with your wishes. The American Psychological Association says that, “Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. The bullied individual typically has trouble defending him[self] or herself and does nothing to ‘cause’ the bullying.” That definition notwithstanding, I challenge you to answer this question: Can not the definition of a bully be extended beyond the context of the individual?
Seated in the gallery, the sense of history was enormous. The mind of a 7th grader is possibly too innocent to fully appreciate that there was a time when a black classmate wouldn’t have been allowed in the building unless they were working. They wouldn’t comprehend it was from that very bully pulpit that free men governing other free men decided I should have the right to vote. From that bully pulpit, the Women’s Suffrage movement strode confidently into history and where still today, women continue to fight to have their demands for equality heard over the baritone din of XY chromosomes. With each passing day, more and more senators and congress people are sweeping their voting history and fire-brand rhetoric under the rug and coming out in support for same-sex marriage (no doubt themselves having been bullied into that position by their constituency and the fear of losing their next re-election campaign). And all but one of those children will never know that my grandfather, Joseph Vernon Sears, fought Santa Fe Railway (645 F. 2d 1365 – Sears v. L Bennett) from 1966 until 1981 because they refused him the basic civil rights afforded to him and every other person under the symbolic drapery of the Stars and Stripes slightly more than a year after the second Civil Rights Act was passed.
We teach our children to keep their hands to themselves, and to treat friends and strangers the way they, themselves, would want to be treated. We rarely teach them how to move within that space between compliance and fear – and when we do, it’s often too late.
With DC’s bully pulpit in my rear view mirror, and the aggression of North Korea looming in the distance, I understand fully that bullying may never go away. Whether we continue to close our eyes and wish we were somewhere else, or stand up to fight for ourselves and others, the way in which we choose to deal with bullying is what will change our lives.