Monday, April 1, 2013

Bullying and the Easter Bunny

I found this essay on the website  It discusses bullying in detail and argues persuasively that anti-bullying legislation is not effective because a government can’t force moral behavior on its citizens; and that our children learn from our behavior about both sides of the relationship, by our response to bullying and by the tacit endorsement of victimhood within our society.  We need to teach, by example, both how to be less offending toward each other and how to be less vulnerable to offensive behavior.  The essay concludes:  “If we are to have any chance of achieving a meaningful reduction in bullying, there is one fact we all need to recognize: There is only one person in the world who can get people to treat you well. And that person is you.”

This is a clear call for increased responsibility.  A bullying interaction requires two parties.  While we try to discourage the bully by education, policies and punishment – so far not very successfully, what role models do we provide for the target of the bully?  There is a lot of evidence that victimhood has become more acceptable, even popular in recent years.

 It’s usually easier to react with outrage or offense rather than with a reasoned response.  I have been keeping a folder labeled “Outrage” where I collect examples of such behavior.   This ranges all the way from sexual harassment laws that judge purely on the basis of the offended party’s feelings, disregarding the intent of the offender, to Super Bowl halftime shows that shock viewers into protest.  People in public positions “walk on eggshells” to avoid giving offense.  One opinion columnist was taken to task for using the expression “man up” in an article, accused of insulting a whole gender.  Last year a McDonalds ad was accused of being insensitive to pit bulls by using the simile of petting a stray pit bull to indicate danger.  An anti-Obama political statement on a billboard in Elkhart, IN earned the wrath of 25 people who claimed to be offended.  Iowa passed a law protecting white deer, not for biological reasons, but because of an uproar in the 1980s when a hunter shot one during hunting season.  A man protested the display of a Chinese flag next to an American flag outside a Chinese company’s operation in the Midwest (providing jobs for Americans).  Finally, the Easter bunny, in fact any reference to Easter, has been banned from at least one elementary school to “respect and honor everyone’s differences” and in response to some parents' concerns.

Reasons to be upset or offended seem endless, but create a serious problem by inhibiting the free exchange of ideas and opinions.  This is the main problem with political correctness.  There are instances of college professors expressing personal opinions on Muslims and homosexuals leading to student protests and calls for their resignation.  In 2005 at Harvard, Lawrence Summers, who later served as an advisor in the Obama administration, expressed an opinion that men were better than women in math and science due in part to “innate differences” between the sexes.  This was met, not with contrary evidence or reasoned discussion, but with protests and demands for his resignation.  Even if these people are dead wrong, attempts to invalidate their arguments are overwhelmed by the need to silence them through personal attacks.  Outrage trumps reasoned disagreement every time.

Indeed bullying is a problem we hear about nearly every day.  Some call it epidemic.  Is it really worse than ever because of the internet and smart phones, or can at least part of the increase in reported incidents be attributed to the fact that Americans are less inclined to take care of themselves, turning to authorities and policies to protect them from hurt feelings?  Our behaviors as a society popularize and glorify the ability to claim victimhood, to claim offense and demand an apology.  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that this widespread modeling of victimhood and encouraging people to define themselves as victims undermine their ability to cope with adversity and make them more sensitive to slights and insults, actually exacerbating the problem?

Now some people may think it is insensitive even to raise the notion that bullying is a two-way street and that some responsibility must lie in the reaction of the target to the bully.  I hope such people would take the time to develop and defend a well-reasoned counter-argument rather than use their outrage and offense to suppress an uncomfortable idea by attacking the messenger.

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