Oct 14 2010

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Bullying is timeless, but making it a crime would be absurd

By Gordon Meriwether, StarExponent.com

With all the talk of bullying and potential legislation addressing bullying, I was given pause to consider my own close encounters with bullies of the worst kind.

Let me start by saying I make no pretense to having the answers, nor do I intend to make light of this problem. But it is a problem that has been with humankind since Cain and Abel. If we are really going to make bullying illegal, and given that the statute of limitations is not a factor, I have a few of my own personal bullies I would like to nominate for prosecution.

The Neighborhood: The first bully I can personally remember, Jay Creech, aka the Creature, who single-handedly forced Kid-dom in Montgomery, Ala., to walk in groups of three. I am convinced that Jean Shepherd modeled the yellow-eyed bully Scut Farkus in the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story” on the Creature.

Elementary School: Joe Goodson just didn’t like me, and made a point of letting me know on our every meeting. Just being in his presence was more than enough justification to beat the stew out of me.

Junior High School: The tragedy of bullying first surfaced with a kid named Stewart in my ninth-grade class. He was brilliant. His parents pushed him to work hard on his grades and practicing the violin. He was odd and bullied a bit by the kids as being a nerd. He made an effort to charm one young lady and was soundly and publicly rejected. The next day, alone and embarrassed, he hanged himself. I was shocked. It was the first time anyone I knew committed suicide. Looking back, he really didn’t have time for friends; there was no support group around Stewart. He was alone.

High School: Bullies joined cliques in high school. There were cliques everywhere, friends of similar minds that bonded together to take on the rest of the world and justify our own existence. There were the cool kids with money and prestige and those at the other extreme that were anti-social and just didn’t care, and somewhere in the middle were the rest of us. We had our own clique of the masses. We weren’t star athletes, cheerleaders, straight-A students or president of anything. We were just high school students, adolescents with hormones running wild in anxious discovery. We were bullied by various groups, but as long as we had each other we were able to ignore it and somehow survive.

The University: I made the mistake of dating the ex-girlfriend of a jock who played for Bear Bryant. I found out she was his ex the hard way. He ambushed me in front of her sorority house after I dropped her off one Friday night. I wish I could remember his name. I’d like to thank him. After dating her a year, I wish I had listened to him. Sometimes bullies can have a useful purpose.

Workplace: As an adult, the bullying in the workplace is always with us. Power given in the name of leadership is often used to bully subordinates, co-workers, suppliers or even clients. This Machiavellian leadership style is well documented and espoused by some as an effective management technique. I have a number of candidates for bully prosecution in this category, including myself.

Politics: I would be remiss unless I added the latest in a long history of political bullies, the tea party. Although I think we all share their frustration with the failing economy, the loss of jobs and the incompetence of our elected officials, their techniques of insults, half truths and shouting audiences can only be characterized as bullying of the first order.

Passing legislation to make bullying a crime is absurd. Surely we could sooner outlaw falling in love as effectively as outlawing bullying. It is a universal and constant human condition.

The solution to the bullying in our schools, workplaces and community is not as simple as a piece of legislation. The solution includes involved teachers, parents, managers and leaders who push to maximize the value of the educational process, the love of the family, the productivity of the workplace and the effectiveness of government.

I realize it’s tougher today than ever to live with a bully. Today the tools available to the bully include the sophistication and speed of the Internet and various social media. Rumors, insults and innuendo can be much more effectively, quickly and anonymously distributed with the intent to harm.

I agree that this is a different world, but one thing that hasn’t changed is bullying, nor the remedy — friendship, love and looking out for each other. Basic humanity 101.

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