Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Cornering the Market on Bullies

A few days ago on this blog I expressed my heartache and outrage regarding the events surrounding the death of Tyler Clementi – the young Rutgers student tortured by the uncertainty of his own sexuality and the despicable antics of his roommate that resulted in Tyler’s decision to take his own life. A sadder and more horrific story I have not heard in many years.
In the aftermath of that incident the media and other individuals have seen fit to focus on the act of ‘bullying’ specifically as it relates to the gay community – as if this were the only group of citizens ever impacted by the harsh acts of bullies. This may be understandable on the heels of this nightmare but it is also very narrow reporting. An adolescent child perceived to be gay (for whatever twisted reasons) by the self-appointed truth squad in any school or neighborhood is a prime target for bullying – no doubt. But it is shortsighted and misguided to suggest that a young person in such a circumstance – isolated and fearful as he or she may be – should serve as the poster child for an effort to thwart bullying.
Bullying did not begin with a young man’s sad and desperate leap from The George Washington Bridge. Bullying is old as Time. Cain and Abel come to mind. (Did you note that little rhyme?) In my lifetime – especially as I recall my own childhood and, years later, the lives of my own children – I have witnessed bullies wreaking merciless havoc on a wide array of innocent targets and few, if any of those targets, were gay. During my formative and adolescent years – from roughly 1957-1967 – I saw some of my classmates and playground chums bullied because they were fat, stupid, didn’t or couldn’t play sports, had braces, wore hand-me-down clothes, donned thick glasses, played violin, peed in their pants once-a-week in class, picked their nose, dad was a loud drunk, family couldn’t afford lunch money, held back in school, Jewish, first generation immigrants, lived in the projects, carried a Bible to school, couldn’t ride a bike, had bad acne, just moved to town, really smart, had polio, etc. A few times during those years I jumped in the middle of these dark episodes of isolation and tried to make the bullies stop. But more often than not my friends and I would stare in amazement at the brutality and pain perpetrated upon the innocents. We would watch as the victims ran home, tears streaming down terrified faces, blood trickling from a cut lip, books scattered on a sidewalk, cries of ‘Mommy help’ rising in the air and sinister laughs emanating like Satan’s cackle from a group of little pricks who had just filled the roles of judge, jury and executioner.
As an adult I have witnessed that bullying is more refined and private. Much of it happens behind closed doors in office settings and boardrooms. The power hungry abuse their authority by belittling underling employees, berating the weaker co-worker and manipulating situations to cover their own sorry ass while placing blame on the innocent. The cut lips and scattered books may not be present but the tears, silent cries for help and humiliation remain.
We are the hollow men – and women. There is something very crooked in our collective soul that manifests itself in the act of bullying. No, we cannot stand by and allow it to continue; no, we can no longer be fearful of the threat. We must disarm the bullies whether their target is a chubby little girl, a limping immigrant or a young man desperately trying to figure himself out in college dorm room. ‘Mommy help!’


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