As someone who was bullied during my elementary years, I've reflected a great deal on this societal sickness and have reached some rather disturbing conclusions.
I strongly believe that bullying is a form of cowardly violence. Those who would attack the weak and the vulnerable are neither courageous nor powerful. Underneath the persona lies a great void. And like the Wizard of Oz, behind the curtain stands a coward.
It is a patterned and well-designed program of cruelty that finds the tender among us and invisibly thrusts a knife into the very core of his or her self-worth. And ironically, with each stab, aspiritual self-inflicted stab poisons the soul of the bully.
It is manipulative, mean spirited and contemptible behavior- wounding both victim and bully - and should be deemed unacceptable in all forms, particularly those which are subtle and discounted as trivial and a part of the socialization process.
The repeated physical or non-physical, verbal or non-verbal cowardly putting another down syndrome is a language that is taking over our nation. From where it originates, I cannot conclude, but how it is passed along is clear - not through the acts of children but more alarmingly, through the actions of adults.
From sexual harassment to economic disparities, from excluding co-workers to picking away at a wife's self-esteem, from gossip among neighbors to lobbyists threatening politicians, abuse of perceived power is to adults what bullying is to children - and whatever you name it, both are eating away at our national dignity.
Without making a blanket statement about all adults, let's face the facts.
Cowardly bullying is rampant; it's happening in the work place by authority figures as well as in the classroom by teachers, on rental properties by landlords as well as in the school cafeteria, on the political landscape as well as the "girls spend the night parties", the assisted living home as well as the football field, on the domestic front behind closed doors as well as on school buses, in religious organizations as well as on the soccer field, in faculty lounges as well as classrooms, in the liberal press as well as the conservative schools.
Bullying is much too soft a word for what the behaviors truly are. For any form of bullying, from impugning one's character to silencing one's voice, is violent, abusive and degrading to the human spirit.
Bullies are no less than predators that prey upon and seek to devour the weak.
And lest we be fooled, bullying is not merely a one-on-one or small group problem. It is happening on a corporate calculatedly threatening basis that basically says "play by my rules or you're out," and even more viciously, "play by my rules and you're out anyway."
Whether overtly directed, or even worse passively understated, the world of bullying strikes out with aggressive, blaming and morally judgmental attitudes - a highly strategic agenda that stigmatizes and victimizes seemingly weaker persons and groups for no other reason than to humiliate, offend and dehumanize.
These behaviors are not only unscreened "put downs" in order to "build up"; they are acts of wannabe emperors who underneath their delusions of grandeur are nothing more than cowards who feed on stepping on others. And in their acts of cowardice, they are stepping on their own dignity.
Some would call it survival of the fittest. I call it a grave and mortal wound to both victim and perpetrator.
Discriminating against age, wealth, educational level, religious affiliation, appearance - these are all attitudes that need to be challenged for what they are - cowardly bullying.
The very sad fact that parents are more interested in fixing their children's teeth than caring for their inherent dignity is more tragic than any of Shakespeare's works.
The even sadder fact that siblings, best friends, colleagues and relatives speak and act in repeated and enduring aggressive ways that are so ingrained in the relationship that the pain inflicted is regarded as "the way we relate", serves to prove how desensitized we are becoming.
Marital discord and unhappiness are all too often the bi-product of a well developed form of mutual bullying - each having perfected both an attack mode and a line of defense. And the escalated stepping on each other, through either withdrawal or verbal attack, whether poking at the tender areas of one's life hurts and traumatic memories, or looking for stress points to exploit, leads to what eventually becomes the expected and even comfortable outcome.
Comfortable because the power of bullying lies in repetition and association. And as creatures of habit, we shape our very identity around what we all know to be "the mother of all learning."
And herein lies the impenetrable power of bullying: just as bullying plunges a knife into another's self-esteem, without the bully, one can learn to feel even more powerless. The great human dilemma is that there is safety in what we've come to know and expect - even when it is an abusive expectation. We are hardwired for a center of the universe from which to read the world, and bullies all too often serve at an early age as both destroyers of our natural centers and creators of our "learned" centers.
So the starving learn to bow before dictators, children learn to expect being tripped, couples learn to interrupt each other with disdain, colleagues learn to sub-group and talk about others, mystics expect religions to exclude and isolate them, ordinary folk expect to be terrorized by fear-mongering politicians and viewers expect media stars to be factual with every utterance.
Great consumers that we are, we steadily buy into what we think is security, when all we get is a rope dragging us into deeper slavery by the Great Goliath.
It takes great courage to stand up to Goliath, to choose freedom over security, justice over the status quo, activism over mediocrity.
It takes the eyes of compassion to care for the coward under the facade of power.
And it takes strength of character to admit that Goliath usually wins when we turn away from becoming involved, finding feigned comfort that it's him/her/them. . and not us.
That is, until we realize that we have fed the Goliath within us and starved our internal David; until we awaken to the reality that we have succumbed to the power of the powerful and ignored the power of the weak; until we accidentally break the cane of insecurity and find ourselves still standing; until we realize that if we do nothing to stop that which we see, we will one day become the victim.
Next episode, we will explore the most powerful way to stand up to the Great Goliath and erase Bullying, not by fighting it, but by transforming it through what I will venture to call "Therapeutic Love".