How to Put an End to Bullying
When Bullies Attack
Nobody is safe. Nobody immune. Bullies attack from all angles – anybody – anywhere. They attack you – me – each other. They attack the body, the mind, the spirit, and the soul. They attack people because they perceive them to be different. Yet, we are all the same. We are not the bodies which encompass our souls. We are one soul. We are one people. All of us – everyone. How do we get bullies to recognize that when they hurt others they are also hurting themselves? Surely, if they think about or envision all the ways their words or actions could affect the recipients of them, they will feel compassion. Is it possible to open their eyes – make them see – what the victims of their words or actions feel? Is it possible to open their hearts – make them care enough to acknowledge and stop the damage they cause to our spirit – our soul? Through ignorance or apathy, they taunt and tease, put people down or beat them up. How do we make them care enough to empathize with people before they speak or act? One place to begin is with the four E’s - Educate, Empathize, Embrace, and Encourage.
A fourteen year old girl with cerebral palsy anticipates her first day at her new high school. She wobbles when she walks. Her bulging eyes sparkle with excitement. She joyfully runs up to other kids in the halls, “Hi, m-m-my n-name is Jenna; what’s yours?” Her voice cracks and slurs. Her mouth slants. Some children are kind. They introduce themselves and in their minds they think, she seems nice. I would like to get to know her. Many other kids are kind to her face but as soon as they walk away they giggle with others and put her down. She hears them but says nothing. Her heart breaks as she secretly wipes a tear from her eye and boldly reaches out to others. However, these kids blatantly laugh in her face and turn away. When she gets home from school, her parents notice the pain in her face and pain rips through them. Her mother has to walk into the other room to cry. Her normally gentle father punches the wall. But Jenna forces a smile. She goes on Facebook and reads jokes about “people who ride the short bus.” What’s wrong with people who ride the short bus? She wonders. She just got off of one. What’s wrong with me? Later that night, a comedian on the television jokes about a person with cerebral palsy. He slants his mouth, slurs when he speaks, and walks lopsided. The audience roars with laughter. They know no better. They can’t see Jenna’s tears. They can’t feel her pain. They can’t see the pain in her mother’s eyes or her father’s fist. If they could, they would stop in their tracks. There would be regret. There would be silence. The spirit in the room would die. Their soul – the one soul shared by all – hovering above them in the darkness - would – ache horribly – much like our soul ached when we witnessed the events of 9-11.
Jenna’s story could be replaced with the story of a homosexual boy who is teased and taunted by classmates or who hears other boys or girls calling people “gay” as if they are better than him simply because they are heterosexual. It could be replaced with somebody who is the subject of a witch hunt because others are jealous or intimidated by that person’s looks or accomplishments. It could be replaced with any man, woman, boy, or girl who has characteristics that are the brunt of jokes, the subject of ridicule, and/or the object of ignorance. In fact, most people have been bullied at some point in their lives. Therefore, it could be replaced by the stories of injustices done to almost everybody – everywhere. The place could change from the stage to a person's home or to a schoolyard or an office break room. The faces could belong to any child or adult. Anyone of them could belong to my family or your family - the bully or the bullied. Everyone of them belongs to our family. The cause remains the same – the bullies either don’t know or they don’t care. Perhaps because nobody appeared to care when they were misrepresented or mistreated. The effect remains the same – our universal soul aches.
How do we get bullies to put themselves in the shoes of those they bully? We, the writers, show them – through articles, stories, poems, plays, and movies. We show them in homes, schools, and community centers. When we write these things, we include specific occurrences of actions that constitute bullying and the effects they have on the people bullied and the people who care about them, similar to Jenna’s story. We make them fall in love with the person’s soul so much so that their physical characteristics become part of what they love about them or their accomplishments become something that they graciously admire in a celebratory way. Then, we show them that person being hurt by a bully and we show them somebody else stepping up and treating the bullied with respect and care. The power of the written word used to pull on people's heartstrings and make them see the injustices happening around them has and will continue to change the way society interprets what is good for the people of the world and what is the right thing to do. Harriet Beecher Stowe in her novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin, changed the way many people felt about slavery and set in motion more and more people treating others better. Most people want to do the right thing. Sometimes they need to see what doing the right thing looks like. Writers have the opportunity to not only show bullies how their actions affect others but also to put care into the writing of future comedy skits, plays, and movies changing the way people interpret the characteristics of other people and changing the way they are treated.
Comedians can make people laugh without attacking integral characteristics of which people are. For instance, a comedian could make up funny stories about things they did or things that happened to them. When their skits are comprised, they should be comprised to make all people laugh. Not some. Common things happen to us all that we can laugh about. Many of us have done things that make us laugh at ourselves. Putting people down is an unnecessary aspect of comedy that needs to be addressed and abandoned.
.Likewise, screenwriters and movie producers need not attack specific characteristics of people to show conflict or comedy. Other avenues can give the effect they want without degrading or demoralizing a genre of people. Business owners need not train management to intimidate and belittle employees to get them to be more productive. They can train them to talk to their employees with respect and dignity and with human decency. Politicians need not attack their opponents to make themselves look better. They only need to build a portfolio that shows people who they are and what they can contribute to this nation. Television personalities such as talk show hosts and news broadcasters need not pit one person against another or glorify disturbing behavior by instigating applause for negative behavior. Audience members need not applaud when somebody is publicly humiliated on national television regardless of whether or not the person did something unacceptable or inhumane. The applause, alone, acts as a bullying behavior. Ridiculing, putting people down, and intimidating others are bullying behaviors regardless of who delivers it or for what intended purpose they have. Children emulate their parents, comedians, teachers, television personalities, actors, and others. Many are in the dark as to why it is not appropriate to laugh at or cheer for the demise of somebody or something that projected unacceptable behaviors. Teach them.
While some people are born with mental incapacities that cause them to behave in a bullying manner, most bullies aren’t born. They’re made. One way or the other, bullies, as well as, those bullied need to be embraced. In order to teach the bully to empathize with others, we need to empathize with the bully. Listen to the stories of their lives. Imagine what life is like for them. Perhaps, the bullies who blatantly laughed in Jenna’s face had only moments before walked away from people who laughed in their faces. Perhaps, children in school threw things at them when they weren’t looking or called them undesirable names. Perhaps, their parents were addicts never speaking to them or helping them in any way. Maybe they suffered other abuses at home or at school. Or, maybe they don't feel loved so they act out. While none of these circumstances excuse the behavior, it could explain to some degree how they became desensitized to the feelings of others. We need to introduce them to the people they bully. Let them get to know who they are and how they are the same. We need to embrace them and learn what it is that causes them to behave in such a manner. Let them know that they are loved. And, show them how to treat others.
When bullies sit in an audience of a play at school or they join together in a conference room in a work environment and they all observe what it looks like from an outside viewpoint to harm somebody else or be harmed by another, many of the bullies themselves will be appalled at their behavior. Often, the reason they behave the way they do is because they never give any thought to how their behavior affects the person they harm. They think that when they can’t see that person any longer that their pain has gone away. They never consider that the person may suffer from their actions throughout the day, evening, or for weeks, months, years, or decades. They never consider that their actions could cause someone to take drastic measures such as suicide in order to escape the pain they caused. However, when we use the outlets we have been using that encouraged people to become bullies to encourage the same people to become more aware and sensitive to the feelings of others, a bully will become a rarity.