Editorial: Bullies large and small
A hot topic in the news these days is the phenomenon of "cyberbullying" which has reportedly driven some teens to suicide. We are trying to make sense of the world that is rapidly evolving around us.
Bullying in school is nothing new. The rapid development of the online social networks has taken it to a new level and given anonymous voices new power. Still, schoolyard taunting, pushing, shoving and tormenting are strictly old-style. Lumped together in classrooms, children and teens seemingly spend more time seeking power and recognition among their peers than trying to excel academically. Those marked as different become targets. The internet simply provides another powerful way to gang up on, and to pick on, the less powerful.
We believe there is another factor to the sudden focus on bullying. While it has always been present in schools, it appears to be having more tragic impacts than previously noted. That’s because young bullies are getting away with their destructive interactions. And why not? They are simply imitating adults, as young people throughout time have done.
Imitating? Certainly. Spend a few hours watching the TV "talk" shows. What you see isn’t talk. It isn’t conversation or informed debate. It is shouting down the opposition and bullying those who don’t agree with one’s point of view as a means of shaping political conformity and beating down dissent. These talking heads are well-paid to attack each other and their guests, and they reap viewers and cash for their networks. They are verbal all-star wrestlers.
The quest for conformity, for other people to be like us, to agree with us, and to walk the same path with us, probably stems from some tribal survival instinct. Thus the social networks are bursting with such innocuous exhortations as "I am proud to stand and pledge allegiance to the flag. Press ‘like’ if you are too." If you prefer not to press "like" … does that make you a traitor? Do you worry about what people will think if you don’t agree? Or do you simply resist this kind of no-effort conformity?
Adults keep setting such examples for the young; and then they are surprised when the youth creatively use these methods to hurt their peers. Unanimity of purpose, to have the best team, best academics, best political system, is great. Bullying to force agreement and performance produces nothing but resentment. Individuality made this country great; let’s not walk the McCarthy road of "conform or else" again, in schools, in politics, or in religion. And let’s not be surprised when innovative young bullies find their own methods to impel conformity and to gain the upper hand.