Bullies Posing as Adults (coming to a neighborhood near you…)


as seen in the Huffington Post
If you ask a kid these days what’s the number one issue they hear about in school, they’ll usually say, “bullying.” Then they might follow it with the school acronym. Around here it’s: P.R.I.D.E. (personal responsibility is a daily expectation.) It’s spoken over the PA by the principal, the whole school shaking with his thunderous, authoritative, almost militaristic voice. He speaks, the kids listen. The parents are appreciative. They don’t remember this even being on the charts in their school systems growing up. In fact, if we were bullied, we were taught to hide it. We’d done something to deserve it. Shame on us. These days, it seems like schools have an awareness toward interpersonal relations that is far more evolved than what it was not so long ago. Think of all the playground scenes from movies of yore with kids picking on each other, huge brawls breaking out, a school marm sending the wrong kid home with his book-bag to his Grapes of Wrath homefront, a rabid dog, a father on the front porch with a bottle of moonshine. Heck, even Opey got bullied on the Andy Griffith Show. In those days you hid it, or you got even. Which meant you probably got sent home again.

Now the kids are taught to report bullying as if they’ve witnessed a drug deal. There are serious repercussions. They even have bullying classes, wherein they’re taught to take a stand for themselves by saying, “That’s not appropriate,” then tell a teacher. They’re taught to diminish it by using humor, “Wow– THAT felt really good. Thanks for the compliment,” and then tell a teacher. Or ignore it, and then tell a teacher.

I recently taught a fifth grade class and added this to the bullying issue: “Just remember,” I said, “even if someone says something really mean, no one can actually make you mad or cry or feel guilty. Our emotions are always our choice. There’s no such thing as an emotional victim. Not that pain isn’t real. And if someone hits you, well that’s another story. You can’t control a bloody nose. But emotionally, it’s different.”

I’ve been crossing the country sharing this message with people who often seem like this is new news. I like to say, “What if someone told you that emotions are your choice when you were ten years old? Wouldn’t you have lived your life differently?” The heads nod.

Webster’s defines a victim as such:
n. 1. A living being sacrificed to some deity, or in the performance of a religious rite; a creature immolated, or made an offering of.

2. A person or thing destroyed or sacrificed in the pursuit of an object, or in gratification of a passion; as, a victim to jealousy, lust, or ambition.

3. A person or living creature destroyed by, or suffering grievous injury from, another, from fortune or from accident; as, the victim of a defaulter; the victim of a railroad accident.

So nowhere does ol’ Noah talk about choice. He seems to imply that “grievous injury” is both emotional and physical, as in being slain on an altar, or being jealous, lustful, ambitious. But nowhere does this definition come with choice. I’d like to take a look at this for a moment. Here’s the context:

Recently, I was at a baseball game. The coaches were adults. The players were in middle school. In this sporting system, it is up to the coaches of the opposing team to name the MVP for their competing team. I think this is a grand idea. What a good way to show the players that we can be opposing forces and also supportive at the end of the competition. That people can be your champion even if they are “the enemy” because there’s no REAL enemy in sports. It’s a game. The human spirit is above such small-mindedness. The human spirit is ultimately about the positive, yes? Right? Right?

And when the coach from the other team announced the home team’s MVP, he said, knowing full well that all the players were boys, “Let’s give it to the girl on first base.” And all the kids from both teams laughed and some people in the stands too, and that kid, whose hair tis true, was a bit on the longish surfer side of things, went to receive his MVP medal with a look of dismay and embarrassment in his face.

This is a kid who lets things like this roll right off him. Who makes a point to see the glass half full. Who happens to like his hair a little long. But if it was a rule to have it short, he’d happily comply. He’s not trying to make a point, after all. It’s just a matter of preference. It’s a free country, isn’t it? But that look of dismay came from real pain.  Because when you’re a kid, and an ADULT slams you one, it’s confusing.  You didn’t know that adults could be bullies.  That’s not being spoken over the school PA system…

Think about it:  how is this different than saying, “Give it to the fat kid on first base.” Or the “faggot.” And what if the kid ran more on the sensitive side of things? What then?

The next day, the kid came to his game with short hair. I was sorry for him. I was sorry for the people who laughed. But mostly, I was sorry for that coach. Because he took a situation in which he was given an opportunity to practice grace, to lift up someone who’d done a good job, and recognize him even if he was for a time, considered the opposition. He had an opportunity to make the world a better place just then, and be a living example of kindness, positivity, integrity. But not only did he disregard his charge as role model and responsible adult, he gave a gift and took it away at the same time by trumping praise with judgment. Disapproval. And yes, sexism.

He should have been sent to the principal’s office. Instead I’m sending him to the Huffington Post and to my blog. Because in these here hills, and maybe in yours too, adults can act worse than kids. And I think that in that case, kids have every right to apply what they learn in bullying class, and tell a teacher. And that repercussions follow. And with teenage suicide being what it is, that’s what I mean by repercussions. Coach.

Lighten up, you say? It was just a joke? The world can’t always be fair.

No.  I will not lighten up. 

I’ll say this instead: Grow up. Or maybe in a language you might understand better: Man up. Or in the principal’s resounding voice: FOUR LETTERS…P.R.I.D.E.

But most of all, coach, thank you for giving that kid a teaching opportunity– to practice the pure fact that no one can make him feel bad. If he gets his hair cut, well…as unfortunate as it is that he changed his personal preference based on public humilitiation brought on by adult bullying…his emotions around it are still his choice.

Hopefully you’ll remember that the next time someone calls you an a**hole.

16 Comments

Filed under Motherhood, My Posts

16 Responses to Bullies Posing as Adults (coming to a neighborhood near you…)

  1. Sort of a weird thing, isn’t it? I teach my clients, “Short of physical contact, no one can “cause you” to “feel” anything.” And the, I encourage my clients to have compassion, and to work diligently at not being jerks and a**holes. Occasionally, one will see the “weirdness,” and pipe up, “But if I can’t hurt anyone with my words, why bother biting my tongue?”
    I think, actually, it’s short-hand for, “I don’t want to have to exercise discipline.”
    I’m sad too, for the kid with the long hair, and esp. for the “male role model” who might benefit from an attitude adjustment–precious few adults floating about the planet…
    So, how’s the “ass on cushion” project?
    Would love to send you copies of my last 2 books, if you’re interested!
    Sending encouraging thoughts your way, W

    • lauramunson

      I think it’s short for “I don’t want to have to take responsibility.” It’s this chain of pain and as adults, we can break that chain, yes? Aren’t we getting sick of the victim card? And my GOD, really that coach in his own way was playing victim to an eleven year old’s hair, if you really look at it carefully. He was so wrapped up in his masculinity looking a certain way and the sports he affiliates with mirroring that for him…that he had to try to take down a little boy. That is one hurtin’ adult.

      “Ass on cushion” project looking a lot like gardening lately. Must learn to take out the “constructive” work horse in myself for a few minutes everyday…

      Thanks, W!
      yrs.
      Laura

      • Hey Laura,
        I find the “victim”/blame (whether it’s others or circumstances,) to be pretty much an epidemic. Some are victims to their diagnosis.
        My latest favourite ploy is, when a client gives me a “diagnosis” (bipolar, whatever) I come back with, “Oh. You just seem to have a range of emotions.”
        Oddly, ( ;-) ) at least this year, I’ve had 100% look at me and smile and say, “OK.” And they stop acting like they’ve been told they “should” act, and start the “simple” process of self-acceptance.
        The difficulty, as I see it, is that the only people that want to drop the victim / blame card are those who “get” that it isn’t working – and that seems to be a small % of the population. The best I’ve been able to come up with is to do it myself, and model it as best I can, teach it to those who are interested, and trust that this is enough.
        Kinda like your book – the whole enchilada is there, and all one has to do is a) read it, and b) model it / live it.
        You get my point…
        Warm regards, W

  2. Nan

    Laura,

    Thanks for reminding us that as adults interacting with children, we have the opportunity to model the positive way to get along with others. So if we choose to squander the opportunity and behave as bad or worse than the child-size bullies, we only have ourselves to blame for the state of our society and culture in our neck of the woods.

    • lauramunson

      Amen, sister. Thanks for sharing. yrs. Laura p.s. I KNOW I’ve been a bad role model at times… It’s a reminder for us all!

  3. Kelly Brown

    Perhaps to be a coach they need to go do some training to include a day of PRIDE lessons or understnading our differencences and anti bullying as well as how to get the best out of players and encourage them ….
    sometimes people says stupid stuff…unfortunately those people seems to congregate at your child’s sporting event!

  4. Kathy

    So very well said Laura, but I am saddened that you needed to address such an issue. When I finished reading this blog I was angry, disappointed and had tears burning my cheeks as they streamed down my face.
    You hit the nail right on the head in so many aspects of this issue. I come from a community that has lost three young and promising souls to suicide this year. In my life time I have lost a cousin this way for many of the same reasons. He felt inferior. No one had the insight to tell him that emotions were his choice.
    Obviously, that young first baseman possess talent, skill and determination. He was voted MVP for a reason. He should hold his head up high and proud no matter the length of his hair. I only hope that he has someone like to you remind him of his talent and value and can explain that some adults never grew up, they just don’t get it! On a personal level I do get this more than you know. My son is extremely tall for his age. He gets comments all of the time. One even came from a teacher!
    I know the saying goes “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me”, but the truth is the words do hurt, sting and scar. Words have power.
    Thank you for your voice, your words and your grace. Maybe someone reading this will think twice before they say something that they think is “funny or cute”, when it is really hurtful and harmful!

  5. Bruce

    Wow Laura. That was a powerful statement. I have to admit, the episode you described brings out the a**hole in me. I appreciate the way you gracefully “call out” the poor self esteem this so-called coach displayed by his actions. Personally, I would have lost it and done something not as nearly as effective to satisfy my own rage at the assault on that young man. If it was my own son, I would have had the “coach’s” head on a platter. Thank Heavens for your even handed and constructive approach.

  6. Laura, I feel your deeply passionate spirit for our children. I will wrap up this spirit and carry it with me in my new world of being a mom with a gay son. Our newly turned 16 year old came out to us a few years ago and is now coming out to others i.e. peers, adult youth workers, and grandparents. As I told my mom about her grandson, she cried and offered prayers he would change. I told her he is the same person he has always been. Then she offered that my grandmother would roll over in her grave. I am glad my son suggested I talk with his grandparents. I know my mom comes from another generation/culture. I offer patience and time for her to get onboard. But let anyone, and I mean, anyone, bully my son because of his sexual orientation, may the she-bear not leave too much destruction in her path…May Grace find its way in those moments.

    • lauramunson

      And may your brave and honest son know his truth and know that meaness comes from fear. Thank you for sharing this, SM! yrs. Laura

  7. Dee

    Dear Laura,
    Your postings are always relevant to what’s happening in our immediate world. Bullying takes me back to the 1940s.
    I attending a small Catholic school and the nuns were pretty savvy about the effects bullying could have on their students. They spoke out against it. Still, I missed school three months out of every nine because of asthma. (Only for my first four years of schooling.) I was always behind and on the playground the kids would chant, “Dummy. Dummy. Pain in tummy” at me. The teacher would admonish them not to do this.
    Then I’d miss school for another week and when I came back the kids would chant again, the teacher would admonish again, and I’d hide behind the trashcans again. But that ended in the fourth grade.
    As I remember those school days, I’m thinking that childhood bullying was not nearly so pervasive in our society as it is now. There was sadly, however, all the bullying that comes from a society that is racist and homophobic. In the 1940s that was rampant. Thank you for your caring, Laura.
    Dee

  8. Dee

    Dear Laura,
    Your postings are always relevant to what’s happening in our immediate world. Bullying takes me back to the 1940s.
    I attended a small Catholic grade school and the nuns were pretty savvy about the effects bullying could have on their students. They spoke out against it. Still, I missed school three months out of every nine because of asthma. (Only for my first four years of schooling.) I was always behind and on the playground the kids would chant, “Dummy. Dummy. Pain in tummy” at me. The teacher would admonish them not to do this.
    Then I’d miss school for another week and when I came back the kids would chant again, the teacher would admonish again, and I’d hide behind the trashcans again. But that ended in the fourth grade.
    As I remember those school days, I’m thinking that childhood bullying was not nearly so pervasive in our society as it is now. There was sadly, however, all the bullying that comes from a society that is racist and homophobic. In the 1940s that was rampant. Thank you for your caring, Laura.
    Dee

  9. Laura–Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Always opportunities to model good behavior. How we act matters…and the kids are like sponges soaking it all up–we’re the models! It seems most times when we treat people without respect or care, it’s because we’re missing something in our lives or a sign of how we were treated….With gratitude for your sharing a disturbing and powerful story.
    Hope it’s a great day!
    Beth
    http://livingfromyourheart.blogspot.com/

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