Thursday, August 9, 2007

Bully Pulpit

It used to be that a Bully Pulpit was a good thing.

Over the past century, Bully! has morphed into Groovy! Sweet! Awesome! Rad! and a host of other most excellent terms (Dude!). But today, a bully is anything but most excellent. A bully is someone who goes after you for any reason or no reason at all. Because you're one size instead of another. Or one gender instead of another. Or have blue eyes, or black hair. Because you're from a different country. Because you're adopted. Because you're smart. Because you're slow. Because you talk differently. Because you go to church here instead of there, or like this person instead of that person. A bully is a bully because they can and through ridicule, threats, or out and out violence, the act of bullying gives them a sense of power, which they crave.

Looking through the hazy memory of my idyllic childhood, I don't remember any particularly problem with bullies. TeenTuna, however, was an entirely different story. She and several of her friends had a rough couple of years in elementary school. Elementary school. Time and time again I encouraged her to walk away. I encouraged her to ignore the teasing, telling her that all these kids wanted was to see her get upset. I encouraged her to talk to teachers or her principal. I encouraged her to solve her own problems. It took several months and escalating incidents before the Principal felt inclined to get involved. It took every ounce of strength to remain calm and impartial as I told him quite diplomatically, "It is my impression that TeenTuna and her friends are getting picked on." What I really wanted to do was to yell and tell him to get out of his office and open his eyes. Thankfully using tact was a good call, and the teacher backed me up. Once that happened and all players admitted there really was a problem, I was amazed to see how much easier it was to work towards a solution, and disappointed that I didn't jump into the fray earlier.

Over the past several months, the state of Michigan has been dealing with the idea of Anti-Bullying Legislation. Known as "Matt's Safe School Law," it is named for Matt Epling, a young man who killed himself after a hazing incident in 2002. The state House passed its version of the bill in March, 2007. As for the Senate?

Sadly, the bill sits, stalled in the State Education Committee. Why? Lots of reasons. Or no real reasons at all. In other words, because they can. Some complain that bill would have to conform to the State Board of Education models, which includes sexual orientation as a trigger for bullying. Others complain that this is just one more example of more government and more laws and are we really a society that has become so dysfunctional that we are legislating minutiae like bullying?

Well, let's talk about minutiae for just a minute. Can't believe sexual orientation is a legitimate topic for bullying? Please. It gets far more ridiculous than that. Try what clothes you wear. Try what car your parents drive. Try whether you can make a basket or catch a baseball. Minutiae is where it's at, and the more trivial the better. Just pray your sandwich has the right kind of peanut butter.

And yes, I totally agree. Why are we legislating bullying? Why do we need a law that says you can't be mean to other people? Aren't we wasting our time writing DUH laws that tell us DUH things we already DUH know?

Absolutely. But here's the deal:

This particular piece of DUH legislation is important because bullying is running rampant in the schools and nobody is standing up and saying NO. Looking at this both logically and optimistically, it shouldn't be legislated because shouldn't exist. Realistically, though, for many kids, love and trust and respect and tolerance is a foreign concept that has to be both taught and then enforced from 9:00 AM - 3:30 PM Monday-Friday from September through June. Kids should know this drill before they ever get to school, but sadly, should is no guarantee, and then we're back to someone getting beat up because they have a Hello Kitty thermos instead of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles thermos. And then same song, 97th verse: the problem isn't acknowledged, things spiral out of hand and the next thing you know, the bullies are in trouble, the victims are hurt and the parents (who are supposed to know better and teach these kids what is right and wrong) are shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads and pointing their fingers at everybody else because if only someone had done something this wouldn't have happened.

Well, lots of someones can and should do lots of somethings.

School officials can and should be diligent in recognizing, acknowledging and working towards solving the problem.

Parents can and should be diligent in teaching their kids that bullying isn't funny and it doesn't give you power. It's being mean for the sake of being mean, and is not acceptable, ever.

Senators should be diligent and pass the Anti-Bullying Bill. And if it's legislating the obvious, so what? We have laws that tell us not to kill people and laws to tell us not to drive down the wrong side of the road. Those seem to be pretty DUH laws too, but it's pretty clear that we need them because DUH or not, people still do it. Having a law doesn't hurt anything, it simply makes the rules clearer for everybody playing the game.

One hundred years ago, Theodore Roosevelt used the word bully as an adjective meaning something wonderful. We should all work together as a society to change the way we think and behave, so one hundred years from now future generations will be wondering why we ever needed this law in the first place.

And that, my friends, would be bully indeed.

Pass the waffles.


Julie said...

as always... well said, sistah

Unknown said...

Bravo my Green friend. Bravo.