Archives for posts with tag: bullying

Everybody’s talking about Karen Klein, the grandmotherly bus monitor from Greece, N.Y., who was recorded last week being bullied by a group of teenagers.

Which makes me wonder: What would you have done if you had been in Klein’s shoes?

Please write your responses in the comment area. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Type the name “Karen Klein” into any search engine, and you’ll instantly find literally millions of news stories, tweets and videos (372,000,000 on Google Search alone, to be exact, as of 1:50 p.m. on June 24, 2012) about the soft-spoken grandmother who less than a week ago was virtually unknown outside the small town of Greece, N.Y.

Millions and millions of stories about an event that took place on a typical afternoon on a typical school bus involving typical kids in a typical town.

A grey-haired, bespectacled woman being mercilessly intimidated, insulted, harassed and humiliated. On and on it went, for more than 10 agonizing minutes that feel like an eternity. Brutal, hateful words being hurled by a pack of sniggering teenagers with no clear motive save one: their sadistic pleasure.

A bullying incident caught live and uncensored on the cell phone camera of one of the bullies.

It was a defining moment that was witnessed by viewers all over the world.

A defining moment in Klein’s life, certainly. Possibly (but by no means certainly) a defining moment in the lives of her tormentors. And a defining moment in the ever-expanding world of the Internet.

The story demonstrates the power of the Internet generally, and social media specifically, to dramatize issues of public significance. The sheer number of shares, comments and posts on the subject has helped to put a human face, for millions of viewers, on a subject that has increasingly been in the spotlight.

And that’s obviously a good thing in many respects. The video sparked sufficient outrage to bring about several undeniably positive outcomes.

Some of the boys involved in the incident apologized (if somewhat spuriously).

A fundraising web site was founded to raise cash that would send Klein on a much-deserved vacation.

And once again, people got involved in a discussion of a topic that touches virtually everyone everywhere. They’ve written about it, commented on it, discussed it among themselves. All of which means that they’re thinking about it. That is always a good thing.

I applaud these defining moments. These are the stuff of which social change is made, and we need them.

Still, I wonder.

I wonder if Klein will at some point regret becoming the unwitting poster child of bullying — of being defined, now and for all time in the public eye at least, by one 10-minute slice of a life that encompasses so many other experiences as well.

Her joys. Her triumphs. Her dignity.

I wonder because it is a question I have long asked myself as I pondered the wisdom of starting this blog to tell my own story about bullying. It’s a question that takes on a particular urgency in light of the power of the Internet to create instant celebrity.

Do I really want to be the poster child of sibling bullying?

The question involves a whole lot more than just my personal feelings about it. Other people are involved — lots of other people. Some are completely innocent. Some are guilty as sin.

And quite a few of them — most of them, in fact — are mere onlookers. They are friends, colleagues, acquaintances who are in a position to interact with me, to befriend me, to hire me, to work with me, to learn from me. And some of them, I haven’t even met yet. They are the people I will meet someday, in the future, under circumstances that have nothing whatever to do with bullying.

Is this how I want them to define me?

On the one hand, I know that because I grew up with my bullies, and because I have unusually vivid recall of events going back very early in life, I have an abundance of first-hand knowledge that could probably be very useful to an awful lot of people.

On the other hand, I don’t want the overriding image people have of me to be that of perpetual victim. I am so much more than that: wife, mother, friend, professional.

The bullying and violence I experienced while growing up most certainly left its mark — so much so that I spent many years as a young adult sorting through the painful aftermath. At one time in my life, it undoubtedly was one of the most pressing issues I had on my plate. It preoccupied my waking thoughts and invaded my dreams at night. It shaped my responses to the world and gave me a distinctive vocabulary that was rooted in pain.

But I did not want my role as victim to be the one thing that would define me for life. And so I undertook the slow, agonizing process of sorting through painful memory after painful memory with the goal of emerging, on the other side, as a person who was fully healed and whole.

And I did it. I went on to find my voice, choose a vocation, earn a graduate degree, choose a life mate. I have raised two strong, confident daughters who are completely free of the shadows that haunted my childhood. I have made friends and worked with colleagues who have no idea I was ever anything but what I am today: a successful, competent human being with as rich and varied a story to tell as everyone else I know.

This is who I am now. This is how I want people to think of me. And it’s a sacred enough personal achievement that even now … even as I write these words, knowing that somewhere out there, someone is just beginning a very painful journey of which I have intimate knowledge that could possibly help them … I wonder if I am truly ready to face the consequences.

And I wonder if Karen Klein would say the same thing.

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Your turn

OK, readers. It’s your turn. Have there been times in your life when you knew you had something important to say, but withheld it because you feared the potential fallout of being in the spotlight, perhaps in a negative way? Conversely, have there times when you have come forward? If you had it to do over, would you do it again? Please share your experiences in the comment area below.

Why do bullies bully?

Forget all that psychobabble you’ve heard about how bullies bully because they are hurting on the inside, because they have some deep unmet need, because they are insecure, because someone has bullied them, blah blah blah.

No. Garbage.

Bullies bully for one reason, and one reason only: Because they can.

A quick snapshot from my childhood will help me make my point clear.

Peaceful resistance

The day we moved into the tidy ranch house on Columbia Street, the little girl who lived across the street came running over to greet us.

With her mischievous smile and zany sense of humor, Julie* reminded me of a pixie. She was fun, she was funny, and my siblings and I — my brother Dave, the oldest; Carol, the middle child; and me — all liked her immediately. At five, she was almost exactly my age, which made her the ideal playmate for me.

It didn’t take long, though, for that ominous cue from Carol to enter the picture — the one that always came during play to indicate that it was time to start turning on me in a pleasant game of torture.

With the passage of time, and due to their sheer number, I have forgotten what the specific cue was in each case. Nor do I remember Julie’s specific response. But I do know that the cue was always there, the invitation to join the sadistic fun, because with Noelle that was one thing that never varied. The cue was always there.

What I do remember distinctly is that no matter how many times Carol gave the cue, Julie’s response was always the same.

Bafflement.

As in, Why would I want to do such a thing?

To say that Julie’s response floored me would be an understatement. It was a far cry from what usually happened when our family got together with friends who had kids our age. A far more typical experience was for our playmates to quickly realize that this was a fun game that had absolutely no unpleasant consequences, posed no risk to them, and offered absolutely no chance that they would get in trouble for it.

I had simply never encountered this sort of peaceful resistance before in any of our peers. But there it was, and it was very consistent. Every day, when Julie came over to play, I knew I could look forward to several hours of peace.

It became all the more significant to me when I learned, many years later, that Julie was coping with plenty of her own secret pain at the time.

Obviously, then, not everyone who has the opportunity to bully does so — even people who are hurting on the inside, have some deep unmet need, are insecure, and have themselves been bullied.

What kind of person becomes a bully?

So what, exactly, goes into the making of a bully?

According to numerous expert sources, there are three key ingredients.

The first ingredient is an innate and distinct character profile that is highly specific to bullies.

In his 1993 book, Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do, Dan Olweus, PhD, identifies several characteristics of students who are most likely to be bullies:

  • They have a strong need to dominate and subdue other kids and to get their own way
  • They are impulsive and easily angered
  • They are often defiant, aggressive or contemptuous toward adults, including parents and teachers
  • They show little empathy toward other children who are victimized

Recent psychological research has debunked several deeply entrenched myths associated with bullying. For example, it has long been held that bullies are essentially anxious, insecure individuals who use bullying as a means of compensating for poor self-esteem. Using a number of different methodologies, including projective tests and stress hormones, Olweus concludes that there is no support for such a view. To the contrary, most bullies that have been studied had average or higher than average self-esteem.

In the case of my own two siblings, the description does not seem to fit my brother — who more often than not was a willing participant in the bullying, rather than being the  instigator. But as for Carol, who was nearly always the one who initiated the abuse, the description is remarkably accurate.

From my earliest memories, my older sister has always been supremely convinced of her own superiority over others. That sense of superiority encompassed everyone she encountered, whether within or outside the family. It included teachers, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, celebrities, public figures, and every person who has been president since we have been alive.

As a child, she could be remarkably oblivious to any evidence that might suggest her to be something other than her internal self-image of perfection. With maturity, that overweening arrogance has been tempered some by the usual bumps and bruises most people encounter in life. But at core, she maintains the deep conviction that no one else is as smart, as enlightened or as competent as she.

Lest you think I am merely using the safety of this platform to strike back at someone who caused me great suffering as a child, let me tell you that is not the case. She herself would tell you my portrayal is very accurate. She would have no shame in doing so because she does not care what you think. Remember, she is better than you.

How did she come by such hubris? It’s a source of continual bafflement to me, particularly since I seem to have come out on the opposite extreme. All I can tell you is that she seems to have been born with it, and it seems to be a permanent fixture of her DNA.

This character profile is what enables bullies to be oblivious to and unconcerned about the pain they are inflicting on their victims. It allows them, with a completely clear conscience, to lie about and deny the vicious games they play. And it allows them, more often than not, to wipe their memories completely clean of ruthless incidents they have instigated and participated in, leaving their victims to struggle alone with the painful memories.

Authority figures asleep at the switch

The second ingredient in the making of a bully is opportunity. In practical terms, that translates to an absence of effective monitoring and intervention by authority figures: parents, teachers, etc. In his 1991 book Perilous Rivalry: When Siblings Become Abusive, psychologist Vernon R. Wiehe describes a pattern of “parental ignorance, disbelief and inaction” when adults fail to intervene appropriately on behalf of their bullied offspring.

Wiehe was writing specifically about abuse happening within the sibling context, which obviously is a subject that is of particular relevance to me in my writing. However, judging by stories that others have shared with me, it’s safe to say that such responses from parents, teachers and others are equally damaging when the bully is not a sibling.

Wiehe presents a list of unhelpful adult responses, all of which were typical patterns exhibited by my own parents. They include:

*  Ignoring or minimizing the abuse

*  Denial

*  Blaming the victim

*  Doubt and disbelief

*  Indifference

*  Other inappropriate responses, some of which actually trigger more abuse. (In my case, for example, my parents frequently rewarded my siblings by giving them special treats while punishing me for having asked for help).

*  Joining in, which Wiehe says is “the worst response.” This, too was a frequent response from my parents.

Fringe benefits for the bully

The third ingredient in creating a bully is reward. There’s some payoff for the bullies to bully, or they wouldn’t keep doing it. Those rewards can range from gaining approval of teachers and parents to increased social status and power among their peers.

According to Rachel Simmons, an author writing in the Oct. 14, 2010, issue of Newsweek, bullying and aggression “can yield rich social rewards like attention, more friends, and power.”

So powerful are those rewards that Dr. Olweus has developed a bullying prevention program that acts specifically to “change the ‘opportunity and reward structures’ for bullying behavior, resulting in fewer opportunities and rewards for bullying.” The program has been implemented in a number of U.S. schools over the course of a 20-year period, with impressive results. Schools have reported significant reductions in the number of bullying incidents, in associated anti-social behaviors such as drinking and theft, and substantial improvements in the overall social atmosphere to reward more positive interactions.

Some obvious conclusions

If you’ve read this far, then I hope you’ve reached the same conclusions I have:

1.  Bullies are inherently predisposed by their very natures to bully.

2.  Give them the opportunity to bully, and they’ll do it.

3.  Reward them for their bullying, and they’ll keep it up.

The opposite corollary, I hope, is equally obvious: Remove any one of those ingredients, and you stop a potential bully from inflicting harm on another person.

The likelihood of being able to change a person’s innate personality is a topic that goes far beyond my expertise to comment on. But it should be fairly clear that the other two ingredients — opportunity and reward — are well within the range of factors that can readily be controlled by effective monitoring and intervention.

And that’s very good news.

Well, maybe not for bullies.

*a pseudonym

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.

Your turn

OK, readers. It’s your turn. Is it a new idea for you to consider that bullies are not sad and insecure — that, in fact, their self-esteem is unusually high? What does that suggest to you about the approaches people typically adopt in dealing with bullies? Is it time to re-think our strategies and possibly take a stronger stance? Please let me know your thoughts and ideas, and share them in the comment area below.

Welcome to The Bully Pulpit, my blog on bullying.

Yes, the pun is very much intended. The dictionary defines bully pulpit as “a public office or position of authority that provides its occupant with an outstanding opportunity to speak out on any issue.” I offer this blog as a venue for you to share your story with others who are going through similar experiences with bullying.

Maybe you’ve been bullied in the past, and the pain still lingers.

Maybe you’re being bullied right now, and you wish it would stop.

Maybe someone you know is being bullied, and you don’t know what you can do to help.

Maybe you just want to talk.

First, an important disclaimer. I am not a professional in the mental-health field; I have no special training in this area; and I am not qualified to offer professional counsel.

What I am is a writer by profession who, like you, has experienced the shame, humiliation, terror, anguish and futile rage of being relentlessly, viciously, violently bullied over the course of many years.

In my case, my bullies were my two older siblings. But as anyone who has ever been bullied knows, bullying hurts — no matter who’s doing it. The more we share our stories together, the likelier it becomes that we will discover that we have many more commonalities in our stories than we have differences.

The bullying I experienced at the hands of my siblings ended many years ago, but the effects go very deep into my soul, and their impact on the rest of my life has been far-reaching.

Sound familiar?

Still, I didn’t start this blog so that we could engage in a mutual weep-fest over things that, having been done, cannot be undone. Victimization begets more victimization, and that is something we all want to avoid. Rather, I want to offer a place for all of us to stake our rightful claim to victory. We can rise above the trauma. We can be victors.

As a writer and avid reader, I have long known that words have tremendous power. Hurtful words — those hurled by someone who intends to cause harm — can inflict great suffering. But healing words, offered by fellow travelers on this very difficult path toward wholeness, can bind up even the deepest wounds. I know. I’ve seen it happen in my own life.

If you were to meet me now, you would never guess that I carry such a dark secret. I am a successful, productive member of my community with an active family and social life. But it was not always thus. There were many years when I felt that there was no hope that things would ever get better. The healing process itself took many years and — I won’t lie — considerable effort on my part.

But it would not have happened at all without the love and support of a caring community of people … people with similar experiences who had come together to share our strength and courage with one another.

And I want to share that strength and courage with you.

This, then, is your bully pulpit, too. This is your opportunity to speak out about bullying. More importantly, it’s your opportunity to be heard. When did the bullying start, and what form has it taken? How many people are involved? How have your teachers, parents, friends and others responded? What has been most hurtful about your experience? What has been most helpful? What do you wish other people knew? What do you wish they understood?

Along the way, I will be weighing in regularly with ideas, insights, prompts, etc., to keep the conversation going.

I have no real ground rules, because I want you to speak freely. I ask only that everyone remember that we are all friends here. Let us treat one another gently, with respect and compassion.

To get started, just go to the section titled “Scroll here for more posts” and scroll through the existing posts until you find a topic that interests you. You can comment directly within that post. I will respond to every comment from readers. Be patient if it takes me a while. I am busy living the life that my healing has empowered me to live, so I may not see your comment right away.

But I will respond. I promise.

Well, there we are then.

God bless. You are not alone. There is hope. Someone does care.

So welcome. And pass the word.

© 2012 by Ann Graham Price. All rights reserved.