By now you’ve probably heard of — and talked about — Karen Klein, the New York bus monitor who was bullied by a couple of students last week. With so many recent incidents around the country and in our own community involving bullying, it occupied a lot of my thoughts this week.
Until this latest incident, it was mostly my opinion that bullies were cowards — nothing more, nothing less. While that may sometimes be true, after much thought, I have come to believe that bullies may also be acting out a behavior they learned elsewhere. It could be at home or in a place where an imbalance of power, or state of bullying, is forced upon them by an authority figure, like a parent, guardian or other group.
There’s an old saying: people who hurt people, are hurt people. Think about it. When is the last time you heard of a happy person causing someone else pain?
Bullies are hurting inside and one way to get relief or find normalcy in that state of mind is by projecting that hurt onto others.
So what do we do to remedy this problem, which seems to be growing steadily in schools and even more in cyberspace, where it can become a 24-hour-a-day assault on a victim?
According to a Los Angeles Times column, a judge in Utah decided the appropriate punishment was to levy his own brand of “eye for an eye” justice by offering to reduce a 13-year-old girl's sentence — if her mother agreed to chop off the girl's ponytail. This was after the girl cut off a toddler’s locks at a restaurant.
The column revealed that the girl had been in court once before for bullying-type behavior — using the telephone to harass another victim over the course of eight months.
Ultimately, the convicted girl’s mother did chop off the ponytail in court, but now says the judge intimidated her into agreeing to the unusual punishment.
While people may like the instant gratification that goes with this kind of “shame” punishment, it’s a mistake that serves no one in the long term.
To address bullying as an epidemic, perhaps we ought to start digging a little deeper into the bully’s life rather than merely handing out a consequence for an action. I believe we’d see more effective results if we carefully examined why the bully feels the need to hurt someone else.
Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting the only solution is to rationalize the behavior of a bully. There needs to be some consequence. But unless we look beyond mere short-term retribution and see how we can fix the person and their perspective, we may not see any change.
As my own daughter prepares for junior high, I am concerned that she will be surrounded by children whose lives are immersed in behavior where bullying is increasingly commonplace.
I have already heard things from her indicating she’s been the target of some intimidation and bullying. Her revelations made me curious about what the home life of a 10-year-old must be like if they are already coming to school with a desire to inflict pain on others.
If my child were bullied, I’d demand the school set up a mandatory meeting with the parents of the accused perpetrators, during which I’d ask tough questions in the hopes of letting the parents know there are others in their community who expect them to step up and be accountable for the people they are shaping.
I’d then ask the parents what types of input their children could receive that might make them more compassionate and respectful of others. I’d ask if their beliefs about people are inclusive or exclusive. In other words, do they as role models have the ability to help their children succeed?
If their answer is yes, we probably have a chance of solving the bullying problem and developing a more compassionate person. If the parents merely want to deflect accountability — as is so often the case these days — we have a real issue, because the child is being raised in a way that will continue to make them a problem for the rest of us.
GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is currently working on his second novel and the second half of his life. Gary may be reached at email@example.com.