Monday, June 21, 2010

A Bullying Society

Another teen has committed suicide as a reaction to bullying. At the end of the Sydney Morning Herald's article about it, they provide suicide hotline information. I'm do hotline people convince teens not to commit suicide? How do they convince them to keep living in a world where bullies are so prevalent, and often celebrated?

Tim and I talked about this recently. He said people keep talking about bullying in schools. But how can we stop bullying in schools when it's such a part of our society in general?

In the season finale of The Simpsons, Moe suddenly becomes famous and appreciated because he discovers he has talent with distributing insults. When he decides to go in the direction of nice, he loses the popularity he had gained. I think unfortunately it was a fairly accurate representation of our society.

I'm not saying we should live in a world of constant sugary sweetness. That wouldn't be fun. It would be creepy.

When I was a preschool teacher, the head teacher of a classroom I worked in, made a rule saying the kids weren't allowed to call each other names. I thought that was a bit ridiculous. Sometimes calling people names isn't about being mean. It's a game. It's a competition. It's entertaining.

There's nothing wrong with good-natured teasing between people who like and respect each other.

To me, teasing/insults becomes wrong when

A) It's done with the purpose of hurting someone
B) It's done to gain power and popularity. Ha ha. Look at me. I'm so funny. And there's no regard given to the target's hurt feelings.

I had a bad experience on the Internet awhile back. I disagreed with some harsh things someone said on their blog, so I wrote a civil but pointed comment. They responded to my polite disagreement with name-calling and profanity. Then their friend (who hated me for a previous POLITE disagreement) dedicated a whole blog post to how awful I am. There were several comments on the post. People I don't know (and who don't know me) were very eager to rally behind all the hatred. A fellow blogger tried to step in, defend me, and diffuse the situation. They then attacked this woman. I tried to defend her. Then I was re-attacked.

The stuff written was extremely cruel. I actually didn't read all of it, because it was too hurtful. I did catch some of it though, and I was a bit traumatized for a few days. Maybe I was too sensitive. But you know what....I'd rather be the too sensitive victim of the bully, than the cold and callous bully herself.

I was LUCKY though.

First of the mad woman's credit, she did not harass me. I didn't get emails. She didn't try to comment on my blog. The bitchiness stayed on her own blog. To stop seeing the cruel words, all I had to do was make a conscious decision to stop visiting the blog. This was a little hard sometimes, because one or two well-meaning people thought I should be updated on the dramatic situation, but I think I finally got them to understand that this was NOT in anyone's best interest.

Second, I had a lot of support from Tim. He was there for me. He was there to remind me that despite what people were saying about me, I'm still an okay person. I felt loved.

I imagine that these people who commit suicide over bullying are not as lucky. They might be in situations where they can NOT escape. It's fairly easy to stop visiting a website. It's not so easy to quit a job when you need the money. It's not so easy to stop going to school.

And how much support do these victims get from those who love them? And I'm betting they ARE loved. But sometimes it's hard for people to give the support and empathy needed. There were many witnesses to my internet drama. Several of those witnesses joined in the fun. Let's see how many clever ways we can ridicule Dina! And many just kept quiet. Like Rose and Bernard....they didn't want to get involved.

I told some of my friends. One or two were sympathetic, but I don't think they realized the extent of how it was emotionally affecting me. Others were fairly dismissive. I sensed an attitude of Goodness, how did you get yourself in that mess? Oh well....just ignore it, and move on.

I imagine that when some people are bullied, they get the quick drive-by sympathy:

Yeah. That's life, Kiddo. Sorry.

You have to learn to roll with the punches.

Well, no wonder people are picking on you. Stop looking so gloom. Smile more, and people will like you.

Oh that's too bad. Now let's change the subject. What dress looks better on me?

I'm sure it's not always like that. I'm sure the loved ones of some victims try to give extensive comfort and support. What scares me (as a mother) is that...with teenagers would that be enough? Teens have such fragile self-esteem sometimes, and there's such a desire for peer acceptance. If the whole school seems to be against you, would it matter that your mom thinks you're the most wonderful daughter in the world?

I don't know.

How do you restore hope in a person who feels so hated and belittled?

What can we do to prevent other people from finding themselves in such a situation?

I really don't know if there's a way to stop the actual bullies. I'm not sure what their deal is. Maybe they're psychopathic? Maybe they've been abused themselves, and this is there way of lashing out? Maybe they're a bit demonic?

Who knows....

I think we need to put more effort in training/advising the bystanders, friends, and family members.

From my OWN experience, this is what I'd wish more from people.

A) Do NOT follow the Rose and Bernard rules. Life is not about avoiding drama. Now you don't necessarily have to step in...putting yourself in danger. But let the target of the bullying know that you stand behind him or her. Let them know you think they're being unfairly treated. Let them know that they're NOT alone. A private email sent to the person can do the trick.

B) If someone you love mentions being bullied, give them a LOT of love. If they don't talk much about it, don't assume everything is okay. They might be keeping it relatively quiet because they assume, like everyone else, you won't be there for them.

C) Although it may be fun to join in a bandwagon of insults and hatred....take a step backward and consider the situation. Is this cause really worth it? Do you truly know both sides of the story? Is there a chance that the horrible person being ridiculed might not be as bad as they're being portrayed?

D) If someone you love is very sad, don't assume they'll simply get over it. Time does heal most wounds. But if a person commits suicide.....they won't have that time to deal with it.

Some say that suicide is a selfish act. I disagree. I think it's a DESPERATE act, done by people who feel their life, and the world in general, is hopeless.

We can do the suicide prevention thing. Know the signs. Know which professionals to call. All that has it's place.

But it might be better if we simply tried to make this world a kinder place. Maybe then less people would have the temptation to off themselves.

P.S-After writing all this, I later finished reading Stephen King's new novel (Under the Dome). I think he does a beautiful job of dealing with the whole subject of bullies. So....I recommend the book to anyone who cares about that subject.