After I had sketched out how to approach this column on bullying, I picked up my June 2017 copy of Travel +Leisure because I was interested in how travel to Asia had changed since I was in China six years ago.
As I explored the travel cautions, I noted that making a critical comment about the royal family in Thailand is “punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”
Next thing I knew, the Dayton Daily News was reporting that a program envisioned by John Glenn had been launched with one of its purposes to promote civility and bipartisanship. The article included a disclaimer that this is “not a reaction to the tone of Donald Trump’s presidency.”
And then I saw Senator Ted Cruz in a town hall meeting while the Senate was on recess, struggling to control his temper as the cameras rolled.
These incidents took me right back to my column for this week and the questions I have about our First Amendment rights to free speech and bullying. What is bullying? When does a comment cross the line from free speech to bullying? And when does bullying cross yet another line and enter the area of hate speech or even criminal activity?
Do you observe bullying in your home, your workplace, your social environment? You noticed I didn’t mention educational institutions, because that is almost a given in many. Are you a bully? Do you bully your partner, your children, your relatives, your co-workers, your neighbors?
I’d like to report a recent incident in case you missed it. Sadie Riggs, 15, hanged herself on June 19, 2017. In her obituary those who bullied her are called out: “Please know you were effective in making her feel worthless.” The obituary indicates that in lieu of flowers, concerned persons should be “kind to one another.” At the funeral home site, the comments are gracious, but on a social media site, I will not repeat the ugly remarks that were posted. Know that some were evil beyond my capacity to understand.
Several years ago for five years , I volunteered with a group of sixth graders (ages 11 and 12). As part of an exploration of the arts, they wrote plays. All four groups wrote about bullying.
What is it about human conflict and struggles of individuals or groups to have power over others that so fascinates us? What leads us to contemplate, long after we completed biology classes, Charles Darwin’s work on the theory of evolution by natural selection and Herbert Spencer’s translation of Origin of the Species into “survival of the fittest.” How does this apply to families? Why would most American families need to compete for limited basic necessities? Even as I write this, I concede that in many places throughout our world resources are so limited that some family members are sacrificed so that others may survive.
In classrooms we have fierce battles for grades, and the grades translate into class ranking, scholarships, and graduate fellowships. In the workplace, it is about promotion and the financial advantages and fringe benefits that go with promotion. Even in our neighborhoods, there is competition for awards for the most attractive yard, for power to make decisions in neighborhood associations, and, in some neighborhoods, for determination of which gang will control what turf.
Often those with the highest titles in a family, an organization, or in a country are not called out when they bully. We excuse them because we fear retaliation or we say that they would do better if they understood the impact of their behaviors. They know what they’re doing and have a misguided sense of pride in their control of others.
If we conclude that human conflict in the form of bullying exists and that resolution of such conflict is no easy task, maybe it’s time to teach mediation skills as a required part of the curriculum from pre-school through college. Maybe these skills should also be a part of parenting classes, neighborhood associations, religious groups, sports teams, and other places where we gather and define norms.
Dr. Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at 937-778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.