15 October, 2012

Bullying doesn’t just happen.  It’s learned behavior. And though politicians, parents, educators and pundits fall over themselves to decry bullying, it seems to be one more example of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Mitt Romney is hailed as the winner of his first debate with President Obama, not because he artfully articulated policy or world views, but because he was on the attack. New Jersey’s Governor Christie regularly, publicly calls anyone who questions him or his policies “stupid” or worse as he belligerently tries to silence critics, be they constituents or journalists. Mayor Mike Bloomberg uses the same tactic; publicly belittling, berating and ridiculing anyone who questions him or his vision for New York City and the world in general.  This isn’t political discourse. It’s bullying. But it isn’t condemned, it’s rewarded. And our children see that.

When television and radio pundits and personalities ask opposition guests or callers tough questions, that’s journalism. But when these hosts cross the line to browbeat and humiliate, then whether they’re Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or Chris Matthews, it’s bullying. And our children watch and laugh and take note that these bullies are rewarded with fame and power, adulation and fortune.

When parents attempt to intimidate their children’s teacher into changing a grade, that’s a form of bullying. When professional athletes or coaches attempt to intimidate a referee or umpire into changing a call, that’s a form of bullying. And when we as a nation try to impose our will on other nations through intimidation and humiliation, that, too, is a form of bullying. And our children take note of them all.

As Stephen Sondheim so brilliantly warned in Into the Woods, “Children will listen.” And they do. They listen and they watch, and then they mimic the behavior they see in adults in their own elementary, middle or high school worlds. And so bullying is fostered and grows. And lip service to the contrary, it is encouraged and condoned.

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