The concept that certain individuals will be cast out for being different is a well-entrenched part of our culture.
Many people feel that bullying is a “normal” part of growing up. Our parents experienced bullying; it has been the topic of many coming of age movies and books; and it is an acknowledged issue in our society. However, as a culture we must all recognize that bullying behavior is dangerous, and not normal.
A school bully uses propaganda to diminish a student’s value with no basis in fact or reality. The only reason that a bully can create this type of derision is through their use of fear. Wielding fear in this way provides the bully with a false sense of superiority. It provides the victim, and witnesses, a false sense of inferiority.
Bullying behaviors allow individuals to pick something about another human being and declare it a stigma worthy of condemnation. Bullies choose a victim because they have the power to treat them as someone different. The victim can be “chosen” for virtually any difference. A targeted person may have glasses; have an accent; be from a different country; wear clothes the bully doesn’t like; or choose activities bullies don’t value. Once the bully finds a victim, he will use their differences to torment them in ways that may be physical, verbal or emotional. Bullies intimidate, harass and humiliate their victims on a regular basis.
Even though most students realize that bullying is wrong, those watching are afraid to come to the aid of a victim. They are afraid that intervening will bring them the same shame as the victim. Witnesses to bullying often distance themselves from the victim, because they don’t want to catch the social disease of not “fitting in”.
Not only do witnesses to bullying fear intervening in the incident, they often buy in to the bully’s interpretation of the individual and they too socially distance themselves from the victim.
Perhaps the saddest result is that the victim buys into the bully’s negative perception of them. The opinions of the bully, silence of the bystanders, and acceptance of the bully’s message as truth by other students, results in the victim losing their self respect and dignity. It changes the victim’s perception of who they are, and who they have a right to be.
Because bullies can pick apart any student for anything at any given moment, school has become a fear-laden atmosphere where students can no longer freely express their interests or personalities. Students have learned that being accepted means succumbing to the opinions of the bullies.
Bullies have stripped away the power that rests in each individual child. It allows one person, or a few people, the power to take a mere opinion and use it to de-value another human being.
It is a dangerous thing to allow the baseless opinions of a select few to be treated as fact by those too afraid not to follow. This is the same behavior which when allowed to grow unfettered has resulted in horrific displays of prejudice, racism and genocide. Bullying behavior can no longer be accepted in a civilized society.
As long as the school climate remains one in which children are too afraid to express themselves, the consequences of fear will continue to wreak havoc on our youth. Constant fear leads to anxiety, stress, depression, and suicide. Fear promotes peer pressure and gang affiliation. Fear also can create frustration and violence. We have seen many instances of school shootings where victims release their frustration by hurting their oppressors along with many innocent students.
We cannot wait any longer to implement action. The time has come to stop giving lip service to the concept that every person is worthy of respect and dignity. It is time to change our social norm from one that accepts bullying behavior, to one that protects students from persecution in any form. It is time to create a culture where students are not afraid to be themselves.
How many more students will die through the actions of bullies and the tragic apathy of those that could have prevented it?
You don’t hear from them because they are afraid; they are afraid of social, political, and economic reprisals. And I go on to say that they must rise up without fear. And sometimes I will even go so far to say that it may be that the great tragedy in this great period of social transition is not the glaring noisiness of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
Martin Luther King, Jr., 5 December 1957
“Some Things We Must Do,” Address Delivered at the 2nd Annual Institute on Nonviolence