Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Problem with Adult Bullying

Note: Even if you decide to skim this long post, check out the button at the bottom! Would love to have you join the conversation on bullying.

When I was in 6th grade, a girl used to tell me nearly every day that I was unpopular and my nose was too big for my face.

I remember when we went to Science Camp that year, the teachers (in an effort to help us all branch out, I'm sure) placed me in a cabin without any of my close friends (I only had two, so it wasn't hard). There was a rule, at Science Camp, that you weren't supposed to go anywhere alone. Always the buddy system. I was a little different at that age, I know that. I dressed a little different, did my hair a little different and had some serious quirks going on (and this is wayyyy before the age when Zooey Deschanel made it cool to be quirky). But different or not, no 12-year-old deserves to feel stressed about the buddy system because she's afraid nobody will want to be her buddy.

One afternoon, all my cabin-mates ran off to lunch without me. On purpose? I have no idea. But even if it wasn't, it didn't feel any better that they forgot about me. By the time I got to the mess hall for lunch all by myself, I was crying because I was afraid I'd get in trouble for breaking the buddy-system rules. And my jeans were dirty because I had tripped in the dirt while trying to run to catch up with everyone (I never grew out of the tripping habit, let's be honest about that part). Admittedly, my experiences and lack-of-oh-so-desirable-popularity were on the mild end of the bully spectrum. But that's not the case for everyone.

I remember a girl named Annie.

In 5th grade, there was a girl named Annie (real name changed here) who was mercilessly picked on every day because she was different. You'd think that, as somewhat of a misfit myself, I would have been understanding and befriended Annie. But like most kids, I desperately wanted to be cool. So I mostly avoided the issue. But I remember once, though, when all the kids plotted against Annie. Do you remember the crack-the-whip game? Where you all held hands in a line and the leader ran around in zig-zaggy lines, until the people at the end could barely hang on and you all inevitably collapsed in the grass?

I don't know who started it, but the plan was to invite Annie to play crack-the-whip. Annie never got invited to anything, so they knew she'd play. But the plan was to make Annie stand at the end of the line, and when it got going really fast, to let her go and watch her go flying. Like I said, I wasn't always the most upstanding kid...but every budding little piece of compassion in my young heart knew we couldn't do that to Annie.

I made sure I was there, when the game started. Annie did accept the invitation, like we all knew she would. And then I did the only thing I could think of to do -- I made sure I was second-to-last in line. I held hands with Annie, and there was no way in hell I was going to let her go. It was all very anti-climactic, in the end. The line went faster and faster, I held on to Annie for dear life, and eventually we all collapsed in the grass like normal. For some reason, nobody gave me a hard time about it. Nobody asked why I ruined the plan. We all just wandered off to other recess activities.

Was I Annie's best friend after that, in true Hallmark-movie fashion? No. I think I just went back to my normal approach of ignoring the issue and trying (usually in vain) to be one of the cool kids. It'd be a few more years down the road before I was gutsy or kind enough to worry much less about what the other kids would think about me if I consistently stood up for the underdog.

Adults also have a problem with bullying.

It happens in the workplace, it happens in phone conversations with friends, it happens in blogs and emails and Facebook posts and text messages and whispers at parties. It's about fashion, lifestyle, sense of humor, hair, body type, life choices, social awkwardness, political preferences, etc. Sometimes it's about people we know in person, and sometimes it's about celebrities and did-you-see-so-and-so's-body-at-the-Oscars-oh-my-gosh-she-looked-so-terrible.

We might not be making face-to-face comments about each other's noses or plotting to let go of Annie's hand during a playground game of crack-the-whip, but our comments and actions still, in essence, leave some awkward, scrawny little kid tripping in the dirt at Science Camp and crying because she doesn't have enough friends to help her obey the buddy system rule. Remember, you can love yourself without hating other people.

The public conversation about children being bullied has grown in recent years, as it should. No child should feel unsafe or unloved by their peers.

Shouldn't we say the same for adults? Then let's watch what we say. Let's watch how we treat each other.

First, because it's the decent thing to do. Second, because how can we expect our children to be any better if we're just as bad?
Do you have your own experience with bullying, as a child or an adult, online or offline? Leave a comment, OR...write your own post and add this button using the code below. And make a little promise to be nice to everyone, always!



April @ Hansen Love said...

ooooh my gosh! Loved this post!!! its really ridiculous that some adults are such bullies. I work with one.. and have had the worst few weeks because of it. There are some people that just don't get it. Thank you for this post! I feel so strongly about bullying. I was bullied so much when I was younger, and I am 100% against it! oh i love this. haha

chrissyblake said...

Oh the floodgates have opened. My post is written but I am saving it for Thursday so I can post about the meet up tomorrow :) and because I was deep and crazy pants already today lol.

Unknown said...

Katie, baby! Can you believe this? I took an entire class in organizational incivility last semester. A good majority of the class was spent on the topic of workplace bullying out there. There is some very, very fascinating research out there on the topic. One that comes to mind is was done by Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Albert (2006) where they analyze themes within workplace bullying stories. They find that most people describe there experience to as either a nightmare, being controlled by a demon, or enslaved.

Want to listen to a terrifyingly interesting This American Life on bullying? Here you go http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/419/petty-tyrant

Julie Cottrell said...

it's crazy how we are so on-to kids about this yet it is so prevalent in adult life as well. we're so ridiculous. thanks for the awareness girl!


Steoffrey said...

Loved this so so much. You're rad.

Jamie said...

I always told my son, who was bigger than the other kids and who was a good-looking kid to look out for those getting picked on. When he was 7 I asked him if there was anyone in his class that got picked on. He said yes, "Josh". He said Josh always got picked last in any recess game. I told him next time he was the captain of kick ball to pick Josh. I said you don't have to pick him first but pick him in the middle. My son said "but if I pick him my team will lose!" And I asked him how he would feel if he went to school everyday and no one spoke to him or chose him to be on a team and how hard that would be. The next day he came home from school and came up to me and said "Mom, I picked Josh." A proud moment for me I must say. :) As he got older I explained that it only takes one person to stand up and not allow others to get picked on. I said he didn't have to be the person's best friend but even smiling, saying hello and acknowledging the person's existence could change a person's day because these kids hate going to school every day knowing what is coming and I again I asked him how he would feel if it were him. He came home when he was in 5th grade and told me some kids in his class were picking on another kid. I told my son it was time to stand up and do something about it. Then I crossed my fingers and prayed hard that it would work so he would be willing to do it again and again. He came home that day and told me that the kids started in on this kid in class again that day and he said he was really nervous but he turned around, looked at all the kids doing the bullying and said "knock it off and leave him alone." Then he looked at me and smiled and said "it worked Mom!" I reminded him repeatedly throughout high school to be kind and smile and watch out for those that needed help. Sorry for the long post, but it's the responsibility of parents to help their children understand so that the bullying can stop.

Jamie said...

When my son was 7 I asked him if there was anyone in his class that got picked on. He said yes, Josh and that Josh always was chosen last for kickball. I said to my son next time you are the captain why don't you pick Josh. He said "but we'll lose!" I told him he didn't have to pick Josh first, but he could pick him in the middle. I asked him how he would feel if he went to school everyday knowing he was going to be picked on and knowing no one wanted him to play and always being chosen last. The next day he came home from school, walked in and said "Mom, I picked Josh." A proud moment for me. :) When he was in 5th grade he told me about a boy in his class who was always getting picked on. I told him it only takes one person to take a stand. I said he didn't have to be the boy's best friend but he could make a difference my smiling and saying hello to all the people who are ignored and/or get picked on. I told him he had the ability to tell people to stop and sometimes all it takes is one person to stop it. Then I prayed and crossed my fingers that it would work. He came home from school a couple days later and said that people started picking on this kid and he said he was really nervous but he looked at them all and said "knock it off and leave him alone." Then he said "Mom, it worked! They all stopped." I didn't tell him that it might not always work but all through his high school years I often talked to him about speaking and smiling at those who were picked on or ignored and explained to him that it may be the one thing that got them through their day, knowing someone was kind to them. Sorry for the long post, but it's parents responsibility to teach their kids. It starts at home.

FWIL Sentimental Blog Content said...

I already told you my "bully the bullies" Robin Hood style in high school. I have always been able to use my words for good or bad, and luckily I was a nice kid who only bullied the bullies when they were mean to other kids.

I'll never forget one class where a bunch of kids picked on a girl names Michelle. She was always picked on. For the first time in my life when a bunch of boys made fun of her I stepped in front of her and said, "Hey guys I think that's quite enough of that!" I could have been bullied instead, but they all did this crazy thing and stopped. I'm probably most proud of this moment in my junior high career.

Isn't the peer pressure amazing? Not just with children but with teens and adults? It seems like it only takes one person to say something to stop it in so many situations. I hope to be that person more often in my adult life! Thanks for the inspiring post!

katilda said...

Thank you! Also, every time I look at your blog I just want to pin so many things. I blame pinterest Wednesday. haha

katilda said...

So excited to listen to this podcast! Thanks for sharing. And thanks for being famous at the CES broadcast last night :)

katilda said...

Thank you thank you!

katilda said...

So true huh?? Thanks for reading!

katilda said...

Your thoughts are so lovely! It made me a little teary eyed. I want to raise my sons to do things like this.

ashley @ little miss momma said...

There is nothing I have less tolerance for than bullying! Thank you for this awesome post! xoxo! ashley @ little miss momma

katilda said...

Your theme song can be "oo de lally" from the animated Robin Hood!

katilda said...

Amen and amen! I'm glad there's more awareness of it these days. Gotta stop!

Anonymous said...

I love this comment, what a simple, elgant way to teach your children to help others and to look out for each other. LOVE LOVE LOVE IT.

xoxo, Misty