Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Whatever shall we do with the Bully?

We have all heard the story of Phoebe Prince in Hadley Massachusetts. I have discussed this case in the two previous posts. After reviewing several comments that followed the news articles it is apparent that people are outraged by what happened to this poor girl. As well they should be. However, many of these posts are almost literally calling for the blood of the six teenagers that are charged with bullying Phoebe. What pains me in this situation is that there are no winners. Certainly Phoebe’s life is gone forever and the six teens charged with bullying her are looking forward to a very difficult life.

So, I wasn’t surprised today to find out that Austin Renaud, one of the boys charged with the statutory rape of Phoebe, was arrested on Sunday morning (April 19) for drunk driving. Obviously, this boy is troubled. Perhaps by his treatment of Phoebe or perhaps there is some other demon that is haunting him. Who knows? One thing is clear; this young man’s life is very close to being ruined, as are the lives of the other teens involved. And this is not unusual. According to a survey funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), “bullies were more likely to be involved in other problem behaviors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, and to do more poorly academically”.

But let’s put all these bullies away. Let’s make a law so that other bullies don’t do this to someone else. They are only getting what is coming to them. But, I tell you this, no one that is this young has this much trouble coming to them. All of these teens should be enjoying their final days of High School, not defending themselves in a court of law.

The fault lies in all of us. The adults. We are so willing to make a law after the fact, but unwilling to step in when it is really necessary and stop these children from making such dreadful mistakes before someone gets hurt. The fault lies in a school system that didn’t protect these kids and teach them other ways to solve problems. The fault lies in parents that did not school their children in morality and proper conduct. The fault lies in not-so-innocent bystanders that allowed this bullying to go on without stepping up to the bullies and tell them that this sort of behavior is inappropriate and will not be tolerated. The fault lies in an age where access is given to the most intimate of electronic devices (computers & cell phones) without teaching the users the proper method and etiquette that should be maintained. The fault lies in churches that are so insistent on becoming imbedded in our political system that they ignore the moral obligations before them to teach these children that the greatest love all is to recognize the divinity that resides in each one of us.

We are the ones that have failed because all these children did is to show that left untended we humans will sink down to our lowest common denominator. Without a nurturing guidance from the adults present none of us would have developed a conscience and understood that no one person is better than another. No one deserves to be treated like an animal. No one deserves to be hounded incessantly day and night until the only way to silence the cacophony is to take your own life.

We must start now to change things for the all the children. The bullies, the targets and the bystanders. We must teach them that to attain real power is to be in service to our fellow humans, to love diversity and to accept those that are different from us. Whatever shall we do with the bully? Why can’t we love and nurture them before they become bullies and victims?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When the Target Becomes the Bully

When I first moved to California in 1990 I continued the study of Aikido that I had started in Arizona. I followed my sensei for almost ten years. One of the phrases that he was fond of using was, “You don’t want to become your attacker.”

I was quite a bit older when I realized what that meant. If, when you are attacked, you respond in a manner so "over the top" you end up doing more damage to your attacker than they had intended to do to you, then you become no better than they are. There is a fine line between defending yourself and beating the snot out of somebody because they had the temerity to threaten you.

I have been watching the posts about Phoebe Prince and a great many of them think that what was needed was to give the bullies a good whipping. If that is done then the bullies will leave you alone. Here is an example of the kind of rhetoric that is so often easily spuged out on a web page;

“The best way to stop a bully is catch that person alone and beat that person till they almost dead then let the bully know any thing else happen to the person that they are working on, the next time you catch him alone it will worst. A bully is usually a coward unless they have a group with them. Now the next thing you need to do is find out where the teacher live and visit their home late at night with a few rock thur the window with note asking them move. You really dont need this type of teacher for your school.”

Great advice, the bully goes to the hospital and the target goes to jail for assault and terrorizing the teacher. No one wins. Three lives are ruined or at least in tatters. A sort of tensioned peace will fall on those in the area but no one ever feels really good after something like this.

In Skidmore, Missouri the townsfolk had enough of the bullying of Ken McElroy. He had been charged with serious crimes over 22 times and had never been convicted. He raped, stole and assaulted with impunity. Finally on July 10, 1981 the town had enough. They surrounded McElroy’s car and two shots rang out from two different weapons. The bully was dead. No one could ever get the townspeople to tell who the murderers were. The town was now free of their bully, but according to several books written about the situation the town was never the same again and it hadn’t changed for the better.

Sometimes the target is just not capable of defending himself or simply does not want to hurt another human being. In the first case, the target will receive a stronger beating than if they had done nothing. In the second, the target now finds that she will have a very hard time living with herself.

I have studied martial arts for over twenty years now and I have seen some people that can take care of themselves very handily. I have also seen people, some of them ranking black belts that would be lost if they were confronted with a real situation.

Confronting the bully sounds good on paper, but the reality is that it is risky at best and could be devastating to all parties at its worst. If the bully resorts to violence then the target should do whatever is necessary to neutralize the attack and then get out of the area. No more, no less. But, the best situation is to not fight at all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Bully Pulpit

It has been a long time since I made a comprehensive post on this blog, over a year as a matter of fact. I think that the analysis we had been doing was a little too clinical and dry. The time has come to rededicate this site to a subject that still has the resolution of conflict at its heart but is much more emotionally charged, for me at least. That subject is bullying. There are two recent events that have caused me to take up this gauntlet.

The first is the story of Phoebe Prince in Hadley, Massachusetts. According to the reports, this 15 year old girl was subjected to such bullying and harassment that she felt the only way to end the torture was to end her life. She was found by her younger sister hanging in the stairwell of their apartment.
I have seen many of the comments that have been posted to her story and some of them sicken me. Here is an example;

"That's so stupied.If that girl could not handle some bullying at school,then she can not handle life.She didn't kill herself cause of bullying.Something was proabalby going on at home as well.And how could she of been raped?What is a young girl like that doing dating anyway?Where were her parents?Her parents are that one to blame for this not bullying students."

And so eloquent too. Thankfully, these do not represent the vast majority of the posts. But the fact that they exist at all is troubling. The ones that vilify the bullies are nearly as bad because they don’t take into account what led them to make such bad choices in the first place and why they thought they were justified to take the actions they did with little regard or forethought to the consequences to themselves or their target.

The second event concerned a student in a martial arts class that I help instruct. He was being bullied at his school and he didn’t want to use his training because he didn’t want to hurt the bully, he was afraid he’d get in trouble and he was just dumbfounded that anyone could act that way. Similar situations have happened to my own son.

From now on, this blog will be dedicated to erasing bullies from our landscape. We will explore the options available to us and examine the motivations and causes for this behavior on the part of the bully, the target and the bystander. We will begin stand up, organize and mobilize ourselves into a group that will peacefully confront this growing problem for everyone.

Let me say this now, I have been bullied, I have stood up to bullies, I have stood by quietly and done nothing and I have been called a bully. I haven’t taken any of these roles to a great extent and bullying has not been a major trauma in my life. But, the story of Phoebe Prince, my student and so many others I have read about since I started researching this have affected me so deeply that I must do something. This blog is only the beginning.