Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Bullying Pandemic - Stop It Now!

Twice in the past two days I’ve noticed cases of bullying in the workplace.  In one instance, a couple of people were being called out for wearing too much perfume and/or cologne.  In another, a person was being called out in the form of a joke for having an untidy work environment.  The first case was shared only between a few people, but the second was shared across the entire organization through an email.  Both were intended to be amusing.  The targets of their comments were not amused.

According to Wikipedia, "bullying may be defined as the activity of repeated, aggressive behavior intended to hurt another person, physically or mentally.  Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person."

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness month.  Most people think that bullying is something that only happens with children.  And really, children are the ones who are most vulnerable and really should be the primary focus of bullying prevention initiatives.  But I think most people who are bullies are that way their entire lives.  And the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) website agrees, citing, “children who are bullies may continue to be bullies as adults, and are prone to becoming child and spouse abusers.”  Bullies will leave high school, move on into college or the job market, and yet they’ll never “grow up” or stop with that attitude.  Their only desire is to take criticism or focus off of their own perceived inequalities and attempt to point out the flaws of others, hoping that their social circle will agree and give them that tiny amount of satisfaction.  And that microscopic amount of power they then hold over their targets is undeniably exquisite to them, like a juicy steak or a cold beer after a hard day's work.  They thrive on it.  Some even need it like an addiction.

I, like umpteen million kids in the world, was a victim of bullying in junior high school.  I was short, kinda pudgy, and I had a very small group of close friends who could be labeled (shout-out to my post from yesterday) as “nerds.”  In one very traumatizing incident, I was sitting at a table outside a restaurant at an amusement park with a neighbor and some of his friends, all of whom were older than me, and my neighbor accidentally spilled his Pepsi all over the table.  He then (intentionally) pushed that spilled Pepsi in my direction, dumping a huge portion of it onto my shorts.  I was furious, but I had no idea that the torture was only just beginning.  A few minutes later, as we met up with more of HIS friends, he declared that I had urinated on myself.  They began calling me "Pee Pee" because of this--all except two of them (thank you Apollo and Rich), but for YEARS afterwards I was called “Pee Pee” by my neighbor and all of his other friends.  In the hallways at school.  In public.  A few prank calls even.  It was absolutely awful.

One particular kid, Brian, was the worst of the group.  This individual must have had horrible self-confidence, because he bullied anyone and everyone he could.  He called me this derogatory name for years—all the way through high school despite the fact that I had grown 5 inches taller and packed on 50 lbs of muscle between 7th and 11th grade.  I guess he thought I was a coward or something and wouldn't stand up for myself.  He was a complete and total jerk.

Now let’s jump ahead a few years.  Shortly after I turned 21, I began to frequent a bar called Irwin’s that a friend’s dad owned.  I had a new group of friends who I’d met while in college, and their network of friends went well into the hundreds.  On one particular raucous evening, I was there with a bunch of my closer friends have a jolly old time, and I saw this Brian sitting at a table with a couple of dopey-looking girls.  He was hitting on them extensively, they looked pathetically amused by his attempts, and I decided that I’d try to be a stand-up guy and bury the hatchet with him.  I approached him, he turned to me, and I said, “Hey, Brian, how’s it going?”  His response was, “Hey, PEE PEE!” as he laughed and looked over at the girls, hoping they'd laugh with him.  They didn't.

I’ll never forget that night.  It was like a Western saloon where the piano player stops playing and everyone freezes, knowing excrement is about to hit the fan.  Irwin’s was MY hangout, and here he was disrespecting me in the childish ways he was known for.  And it was quite comical now that I reminisce.  I immediately had four HUGE friends behind me waiting to drag him out into the parking lot to beat the pulp out of him, but I just looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Brian, don’t you EVER call me that again.”  And then I just stood there, staring at him with the Devil in my eyes.  Waiting for his response.  Waiting...

He was laughing at first, of course, but the girls with him immediately got up and fled (they were apparently smarter than I’d credited initially), and yet it took Brian several moment to realize the predicament he was in.  I literally had to hold back one of my friends from punching him in the face—this particular friend was better-known throughout town as a person who liked punching other people in the face--and Brian knew him well enough to know that fact.  Brian panicked, and he started almost crying, repeatedly saying, “I’m sorry man.  Are we cool?  Are we cool?”  I just stared at him for a good ten or fifteen seconds, feeling the adrenaline pump through my veins as I debated back and forth with myself as to how I should handle this situation.  Finally I just shook my head and walked away.

I really am not sure what happened to him later on that night.  I know he left, but I seem to recall a couple of my friends jawing at him out in the parking lot, and I wouldn't have been surprised if one of them got right up in his face and gave him a piece of mind.

And then I ran into Brian in State College, PA several months later, and at this point I was going through my “body mod” faze and had several facial piercings and my tattoos on full display.  He was with a couple of friends and was getting on the parking garage elevator to ride up to his car, and I got on and stood only a few feet from him, towering over him, saying nothing.  The couple he was with got off on the second floor, and they must have known something was wrong with him because the girl asked if he was OK.  He just nodded and said nothing, the doors closed, and we both rode to the third floor in complete silence.  At one point I looked over at him briefly, chuckled to myself, but said nothing.  As soon as the elevator doors opened, he was gone.  If he had a tail, it would have been tucked between his legs.

I still see him from time to time.  He pops up on some of my social media friend's networks.  I saw him a couple of times at a local gym, although I don't think he noticed me there.  I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive him for the years of torment he put me through, and I doubt he realizes how lucky he is in that I'm not a violent person.  It's kinda funny, because a recent, newer acquaintance of mine knows him well and said that he ALWAYS would try to pick fights with people at bars, and he'd always rely on his friends to bail him out if he ever got into trouble.  I guess he still hasn't grown up.  Very pathetic, Brian J.  Very pathetic.

Most kids these days don’t have the advantages I had.  I was smart—smarter than every single one of the kids who bullied me.  I was tall.  I lifted weights regularly.  I learned three forms of martial arts.  I developed a strong social network to support me.  Most kids these days don’t have that.  In fact, most kids have to put up with it for years on their own with no way of standing up or fighting back.  Some are lucky and can overcome the challenges of bullying, like Whitney Kropp of West Branch, Michigan, who was elected to the homecoming court as a prank (and not a very good one—reminds me of that scene from The Other Guys where Mark Wahlberg’s character learned to “dance sarcastically” to make fun of the artsy kids).  Anyway, if you don’t know about Whitney's story, you can read all about it here:  Fortunately for her, the bullying situation went public, and the community got involved, but not until she was bullied for years prior.  All because she was different.  But she's apparently doing better, and that's great.  Great for you, Whitney.  My heart bleeds for you.

Bullying is a pandemic.  It’s universal.  I see and hear about it occurring in Vietnam through my in-laws.  Kids all over the world put up with it on a daily basis.  It’s a huge problem that often ends with very real and disastrous results.  Documented evidence suggests that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were bullied.  The same goes for James Holmes.  I’d be willing to bet that a majority of mass murderers were bullied at some point in their lives.  And we cry foul, asking where were these homicidal kids parents.  Not that I am in any way justifying what they did, but nobody asks where the parents were of the kids who bullied them.  There's a cause to every effect.  Maybe if people had treated them with dignity and respect, the horror they created could have been averted.

We, as parents, as adults, need to intervene now.  We need to talk to our kids about bullying.  We need to recognize when we, the grown-ups, are bullying.  Like that office employee who poked fun at his/her coworkers for wearing too much cologne and perfume, we need to recognize that something so trivial as that can create tension, aggravation, stress, etc.  Our kids and grandkids learn from us, and there’s no excuse for someone of any age bullying someone else.  Absolutely none.

Stand up the next time you experience a bully, whether you’re the victim or a bystander or a member of a social circle where one of your friends is bullying someone else.  Don’t let this pandemic continue to destroy lives.

Here’s some great info regarding bullying:

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