Studying Bullies at the Texas Behavior Support Conference, and Beyond
Many of my breakout sessions this week focused on bullying. And while we have used this term for many years, I find it an insufficient description of what we are trying to control. Because, as we all know, bullying is multi-generational, and it is passed from parents to children. People, who have successfully "ganged up" on targets, are able to commandeer certain desired outcomes. You rarely find a bully acting alone, and they are usually proud of their ability to manipulate and mentally, or physically, harm someone.
In order to control this negative aspect of any social construct, then you must first investigate the source and determine the event. What I mean is that not all negative behaviors are true bullying. One excellent example was a case where the students in a certain clique used a hand signal to stop their cohort from slapping them on the chest. A teacher observing this behavior misconstrued the event, not understanding it was simply a childish game.
But sometimes problems persist, especially among cliques of people. And while I have spent this week focusing on this destructive adolescent behavior, I have been able to contemplate its effects on myself as an adult. All of us are ashamed of certain events from our years of growing up, and I have more than my share of immature regrets. Somehow, I have found forgiveness within myself, and have made every effort in my adult life to treat people with kindness, patience, and respect, always going the extra mile in order to balance out the pain I might have caused in the long ago past. But this doesn't mean I have forgotten the consequences; this doesn't mean I am going to cast away my rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and, last, but not least, this doesn't mean I won't get some really smart help when I need it the most.
Living alone in a small backwoods kind of place has given me a chance to analyze the bully issue from the generational standpoint. You find these adult perpetrators in places of authority: on the board, or in the city hall. Sometimes you discover these people at the local paper, or maybe in a radio station. They will call you names (liar, cheat, demon) and they will use every effort to "get rid of you." You will be made the villain, while all along you simply want to stick up for yourself and be allowed your privacy, and a chance to improve your life. And this is the same dilemma facing the target at school; the student feels alone, and awkward, like the whole place is against her/him. Usually help is unattainable because no one seems to witness the activity, but only perceive the negative results. Children who are bullied undergo severe personality changes. They become depressed, fearful, and angry; sometimes they act out in retaliation because no one has defended them from the ongoing abuse. People, as we all know, will commit suicide. I will never forget the tearful father I met via video who demonstrated how his only son had committed suicide by hanging himself in a closet.
Once this happens, then the bullies have really won. They have obtained their goal: getting "rid of" the target person.
It is my belief, that until the adults stop demonstrating and condoning this behavior publicly, then it will never stop. Most adults don't even realize what they are doing, but I can point out people my age, and even older, who engage in this activity as a group every single day. Bullies focus on the benign, and pick mercilessly away at a person's character, belongings, hairstyle, or way of life. They perform as a unit, and the goal is to "get rid of" the offensive target. Anyone, adult or child, that is different, or perceived in some odd way, is a potential object of scorn for the bully.
Honestly though, the bully has cheated him/herself. They have denied themselves an opportunity to learn from a unique, and sometimes fragile, human being. They forego a chance to experience peaceful contentment, the reward of tolerance, and acceptance. Instead of communicating from a positive perspective, they have chosen to vilify an innocent soul. And if they are adults, then they are passing this vexatious legacy onto their children. It is my hope that we are all moving on to a more mature society. I will let you know what I learn at the next behavior support conference. This one was fascinating.