Sunday, October 29, 2017

The legacy of bullying and rudeness

I am often reminded of childhood’s mixed bag of blessings and curses when I stumble upon a faded photo from that time or someone posts a photo of when we were twelve years old on Facebook. It brings back some sad and strange memories. Some of my memories of grammar school are of students who bullied other students, or of several teachers who bullied students. The students who bullied other students were often the popular girls who picked on the weakest girl (or boy) in the class. I cannot remember that the boys behaved similarly, except for one boy who could never say anything nice. I never understood their bullying behavior then, and less so now, because on Facebook, all appears to be forgiven. The bullies and the bullied are friends, and talk about grammar school in their posts as though it was one of life’s all-time greatest experiences (it wasn’t, and neither was high school). I am friends with them all too on Facebook, but sometimes I question the wisdom of it. Perhaps some things should be left in the past, because as far as I’m concerned, seeing photos from that time merely rips open the wounds from that time. I escaped being the target of the bullies because I was the smartest in the class and they did not know how to deal with me, so they left me alone. Others were not so lucky, and were bullied for being dumb (the word at that time for kids who were not book-smart), often because the teachers also bullied the same children and set a poor example (e.g. making them go sit in a corner on a stool because they were not good students). Sometimes children were bullied for not being good-looking, because their families didn't have money, or because they had strict parents and were not allowed to attend the parties that the bullies could attend. It was a time in life when you could not count on support from teachers to stand up to the bullies, because some of the teachers were too busying bullying a few students of their own—for being 'dumb' as already mentioned, or too thin, for being sickly, for having to use the bathroom a lot, for being high-strung or overly-sensitive. The list goes on. I know of parents who tried to talk to the principal of the school about the bullying and who were rebuffed for the most part. I did not take part in the bullying of others; in fact in several instances I fought against it but there was little an eleven year old girl could do against mean teachers or a gang of mean girls. Ignore them, don’t get involved with them, and don’t hang out with them. All those things worked and got me through grammar school. I guess I told my parents about one unfortunate girl who got bullied, and I know they found it appalling, even more so if it went on while the teachers looked the other way. But it was a different era and there was less focus on such things; the weak and the bullied were kicked aside and had to fend for themselves. Most of them did and have had adult lives that are successful and probably happy, likewise for the bullies--many of them have grown up to be decent people. But if I become sad just remembering the bullying of others that went on, what must the bullied persons feel when they remember back to that time? And how do the bullies remember their childhood?

Bullies are like sharks; they smell blood and come running. They smell weakness and exploit that for their own gains, which looking back, were short-lived. They were popular for a while at the expense of others, and then they weren’t anymore. I know one woman who has apologized for her bullying behavior when she was a child. She has expressed remorse knowing she hurt others with her behavior. She comes from a wealthy background with everything she could desire growing up. So it’s hard to understand why bullies bully. Is it because they can, and get away with it? Adults tend to excuse the behavior of children with statements like ‘They’re only children’ or ‘He didn’t mean it’ or ‘She’s overly-sensitive to everything’ or ‘He’ll grow out of it’ or ‘Let them solve it themselves’. It doesn’t matter sometimes if children have nearly killed another child; they have to find excuses for their children and for why their children aren’t bad children. Maybe bullies had bullies for parents. It could be one logical explanation. I don’t subscribe to the view that people (including children) are inherently good; children are only as good as their parents, meaning that the role of parents is so important that perhaps not all people should have children if they know they cannot take on that role. You must be a good role model for your children; if you want them to be good people, you must be a good person yourself. Our Catholic faith teaches about the concept of original sin, i.e., that we are born with original sin (a propensity to sin given our free will?) but that our baptism introduces us to the saving grace of Christ who came to save sinners and frees us from original sin. In other words, we are given spiritual help from Christ via our church, our parents and our godparents who renounce the devil for us because we cannot as babies. We don’t know what is good or bad when we are babies and toddlers—that is the job of our parents and teachers to teach us. I feel sure that children who exhibit bullying behavior who are rarely reprimanded by their parents grow up to be bullies. Or that those who were bullied, if not given the help they needed from the adults in their lives, can also grow up to be bullies. Regardless, the fault lies with the adults who close their eyes to the bullying and bad behavior they see in their children and other children—the adults who never want to get involved.

When I got to high school, it could be the opposite, that a few students bullied one or two teachers. If I hadn’t seen the fallout from those occurrences I would never have believed it could happen. As it was, two teachers, a man and a woman--both in their early thirties, were helpless against a gang of five or six teenage women who targeted them for destruction. Both lost their jobs because they had no control over their classrooms; their students lost respect for them even though many sympathized with their plight. Perhaps it is no wonder that the teachers who survived were the ones who took no shit from anyone and stated that right up front. Being a teacher is not a popularity test; it is not an exercise in finding out how popular you are among your students. You’re there for a purpose, and that is to teach them, not be their friend. If friendships with students develop, that’s great, but you can never forget your position and your role, and the reason you are there.

Which brings me to rudeness; rudeness often accompanies bullying. They go hand in hand. Bullies are rude to those they bully but also to society generally. The word ‘rude’ has so many definitions; some are as follows--offensively impolite or bad-mannered, discourteous, impertinent, insolent, impudent, cheeky, audacious, presumptuous, uncivil, disrespectful, unmannerly, ill-bred, churlish, crass, curt, brusque, blunt, ungracious, graceless, brash, unpleasant, disagreeable, offhand, short, sharp. Notice the three words I have highlighted; they merely emphasize my point—that parents must step up to the plate and do their job as parents—they must raise respectful, mannerly and well-bred children for the good of society. That is their job. If they do not want that job, then they should not have children.

I bring this up in today’s post because of the memories that were triggered by a photo from childhood, but also because the USA has a president who is both rude and a bully. His father didn’t sound like an empathetic parental figure. But his mother sounded like a decent person. So how did Trump get to be the way he is? Because along the way people permitted his behavior or even admired it, because people dismissed his behavior in a joking way (‘He doesn’t mean it’ (sound familiar?), because he was wealthy and many people exempt the wealthy from the rules, or because he made others wealthy. If you do not stand up against this kind of behavior, you are complicit in creating a society that worships these types of people at the expense of respectful, mannerly and well-bred individuals. You cannot bemoan that situation ten years down the line when you yourself were complicit in creating it by not standing up for what is decent and ethically right at present.

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