Bullying is as old as civilization itself. Please notice - I did not say - as old as human existence. It is my firm belief, that bullying is a direct result of competition, which, in itself, is a consequence of the development of agricultural/pastoral societies over 12,000 years ago. When our ancestors settled down, because they no longer had to travel around to hunt or gather their food, societal stratification occurred – those that accumulated an abundance of stuff and those that did not. One way to get those possessions was to beat out your neighbor – have more children (who themselves were a commodity to be bought and sold through marriage), grow more of a single crop, be better at trading, develop skills that are marketable, own (steal) the land, get others to do your physical labor, and cheat if necessary. Building status through wealth was the name of the game, which brings us to today – free-market, capitalism, etc. Their very definitions revolve around competition – one up-man ship.
Hence, our children learn early on that status (wealth, community position, etc.) is desirable. Vying for recognition and prestige among their peer group is often their first experience in the world of rivalry. They understand the need to fit in and that being different in any way automatically sets them back. Yet, despite (in spite of) this clear understanding, some choose to embrace their differences, instead of following the group, which automatically makes them the target.
To be clear, physical intimidation is still what many of us think of when we hear the word, bully. And, what many of us experienced growing up. Today, in the world of internet connections - smart phones and devices - strong arming has taken on a new meaning. Cyber bullying is an insidious practice that takes persecution and psychological brow-beating to a level that makes the perpetrator a constant presence in the victim’s life. They simply feel like they cannot get away from the abuse. Many cases are not reported to parents or school authorities – I can only guess - for fear of having their phones or tablets taken away and, of course, for retribution.
Many, with the best of intentions, have developed and implemented anti-bullying campaigns, including books for young children, specific programming, as well as community meetings. These have helped in a small way to bring recognition to the problem. However, instances of bullying – cyber, mental, physical, and verbal - are on the rise here in Northern New York, as well as the rest of the country. Is there a solution to something so intrinsic to the very foundation of our societal structure? If so, what are we missing?
I, personally, go back to the beginning – competition. If we could somehow remove the need for kids to feel they have to physically, mentally, or verbally conquer someone else to achieve status, and, let them know it is absolutely OK to be themselves, we may be able to make some headway.
In several studies, it was shown that if another student stepped in to help the victim, the bullying stopped. I have discovered over the last few years that respect given freely, without any judgment attached, is absolutely reciprocated. What if our kids were offered that simple commodity from adults and peers – every single day?
Imagine the possibilities, if kindness and a dedication to helping others became status symbols.
DRC News: Summer Programming Theater week with Karen Wells, begins 8/14, a week from Monday. We currently have two spaces available. Register your child today. Music Week with Chris Raymo, begins 8/21. Don’t let your budding musician miss out on this amazing opportunity to explore the world of music. Register here. Art and Craft Week with Maria, begins 8/28. Fun with an eclectic variety of media, including recycled bits and pieces. Imagination and creativity are the name of the game. There is room for 4-5 more this week. Sign up now.