One of the benefits of the information age, where we can transmit current events, sometimes instantaneously, is the suggestion of enhanced inner connectedness with one another. The increase in reported bullying among school age youth throughout America from the more affluent suburban school districts, to the more distressed, struggling classrooms, seems to have exploded in the last ten years. Yet, we all know that bullying is not new.
Have you ever seen the 1955 movie, Blackboard Jungle, starring Glen Ford, Ann Francis and a very young, Sidney Portier? Blackboard Jungle depicts unrestrained, classic, bullying so insidious that it permeated not just the inner-city classroom, but encroached, dangerously into the personal lives of the staff, as well. Over fifty-five years ago when the movie hit the theaters, the focus was not so much on bullying. No, instead, Blackboard Jungle was made to make an alarming social statement about the risks America faced if the public school desegregation mandate of 1954 failed.
We all know that bullying preceded the movie and continues, even today, among every demographic . Yet, not until the Internet and twenty-four hour news programming transmitted, in real time, violent massacres such as the Columbine High incident and suicides, resulting from incessant bullying, did the subject become of interest to healthcare professionals, law enforcement and all three branches of government. Google “Bullying” and government Web sites are among the results. And while bullying in and of itself is certainly a standalone subject, it Just Occurred to me that bullying like all of the most dangerous things in which children engage, is emulated adult behavior.
As I reflect on both my personal and professional experiences, it seems that every aspect of ‘growing up’, and I use that term loosely, has been fueled by power struggles cloaked in everything, but power struggles. For example, one of my earliest memories was the fear of death my parents held over my siblings and me and the many, many ways we studied and manipulated them to get our own way, in spite of the fear.
Do not think for one moment that our parents were any different from all parents that we knew growing up; especially among the two parent families. With six of us (for the most part all pretty intelligent and quite creative), we connived and finagled our way around every rule that that hard-working, socially conscious, financially strapped couple set in place to control us. Were our parents our first bullies? I think so, or, at the very least, they were the first people who exerted their authority with coercion – authorized coercion. I understand that instituting barriers and rules is a far cry from the classic definition of bullying, but psychologically and egotistically, bullying may be, merely, the exaggerated, unauthorized, expression of parenting.
Consider that children are forced, beyond their personal will, under the authorized coercion of their parents and teachers (and government though most children have no concept of that) to attend school and perform precisely as they are told – no objections permitted. Depending on the school , some children will encounter their first peer-to-peer bully as early as kindergarten – you know, the child who for any number of reasons, decides they will begin the school year by establishing a pecking order with him or her as flock leader. And, unless the adult in charge is very perceptive, these pint-sized bully starter-kits have learned enough in their home environments to understand the true pecking order and avoid detection.
High school is too often the breeding ground for more organized bullying. This is a time when hormones (which I personally believe need FAR more research as they relate to our motivations, actions and reactions) are raging and unique personality traits become more ingrained and pronounced. In addition, the number of television programs, movies and violent video games that are accepted parts of America’s entertainment culture, have imprinted thousands and thousands of examples of how and why power is integral to success. By puberty, the kindergarten bully, left unchecked, may very well escalate power struggles among peers, teachers and parents. Or the timid child decides that they have had enough subjugation and begins to exert personal power of his or her own.
College is not much better. As my siblings and I learned in early childhood, cerebral oftentimes proves more powerful than physical. If the bully or bullied makes it past high school, then college is the place to hone the art of war and begin to demonstrate a truly competitive edge over the less ambitious. Fraternity/Sorority hazing, academic and graduate school placement competitions are all fertile ground for establishing order.
Once we enter the workforce, the adage, dog-eat-dog, begins to make practical sense. Power, greed and employing teams to support bullying and establish control is the elephant in every boardroom, corner office and corporate cafeteria. If the work setting is a government office, then the art of politics supersedes the art of war. The result, though, is the same; to establish power, leadership and control regardless of how small the target or how insignificant the perceived gain.
Part 2 Coming Soon.