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World of Meanies

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-02-16


There's probably no quicker litmus test to prove someone's age in 2012 than by asking them how they feel about bullying. If the person questioned believes that bullying is a pernicious, social evil, and that schools, parents, and the legal system need to get more involved in stopping it, well, that person was clearly born after 1977. If, on the other hand, the person thinks that bullying is no big deal, that's it's simply a part of childhood, that kids today are pampered sissies who cry at the first sign of confrontation, well, that guy is obviously an aging baby-boomer or a late 30's Generation X-er.

I'm generalizing, of course, and horribly so, for people rarely fall into such easily demarcated demographic lines. I have no empirical evidence to support my theory, either, only anecdotal observations, and I'm certain there are thousands of exceptions to the rule that I describe. Yet I remain convinced that I'm right about this, that the question of how to define and deal with bullying is something that separates people across a great generational divide.

It's hard for anyone, of any age, to not look upon whatever "younger generation" that's beneath them without a feeling of superiority and condescension. It is, unfortunately, a human inevitability. As a youth I was acutely aware of my elders' mild scorn and I swore that when I got old, I would never fall into the same trap. I would treat people like people, I vowed, fairly; I would never discriminate against anyone because of age or experience. There's nothing worse than a bar-stool philosopher, I thought, the bitter old man cracking on the younger generation merely because they're young.

And now, of course, here I am a growling old man who, despite his best intentions, simply cannot get the derisive smile off his face when he hears a kid talk about the terrible traumas of "bullying." I try to listen with a patient ear, I try to visualize the experience from his point of view, and I just can't do it. It's almost physically impossible for me to take the kid seriously, to take the whole notion of bullying seriously. There have been numerous cries from social, political, and international leaders to declare any form of bullying "a human rights violation," and yet I remain curiously unmoved by the bullied's plight.

I don't think that I'm an insensate creature and I'm certainly opposed to most forms of tyranny in daily life, so my reaction to the highly-publicized war on bullying has left me in a state of puzzlement. I can't bear thoughtlessness and cruelties and malicious behaviors, yet I've no interest in defending the bullied. I can't really explain it logically, or philosophically; maybe I've just grown callous, and can't recall what bullying was like. Like most adults, my memories of bullying from high school are somewhat hazy; I know I got picked on some, but I also remember being the instigator in some mild brutalizations myself. Neither of these are proud admissions, of course, but then again, it's hard for an adult to remember or understand the peculiar morality of adolescence, the way that universe worked. It's a different place, adolescence, impossible for an adult sensibility to really comprehend.

My daughter got bullied for a while in middle school, a kid kept shoving her into a locker, and after a week or so she finally confided to me about it. She was greatly upset by the situation and didn't know what to do. So I helped. But instead of calling the school or her teacher or the parents of the kid involved, I taught my daughter how to make a fist. I taught her how to punch a kid in the nose, as hard as she could. I taught her how to wait for the moment when she knew the kid was going to shove her again, and at that moment, I showed her how to launch in when he wasn't expecting it. If properly done, I told her, a shot to the nose will stop anyone. It takes the fight out of you, immediately. And who knows, if we're lucky, you'll break the kid's nose.

Obviously I'll never be father-of-the-year material, and I certainly won't win any civility awards, yet I can defend my actions with my daughter with absolute impunity. What I wanted to teach her was that that idiotic "Don't Bug Me" system that's used in elementary schools is woefully inadequate and can't be relied upon, while what can be relied upon, every time, are her own actions. I thought it was more important to show her how to deal with the situation herself, that she can influence any negative situation she finds herself in. Most importantly, though, I didn't want her to think that this was any big deal; it was just a tiny situation, one of a million tiny situations that life presents to you.

I accept the possibility that I'm dead wrong about all this, that I'm just not sensitive enough to recognize what is a true social evil. But frankly, I've been surrounded too often by insane, helicopter parents who seem to have done everything for their children except teach them how to do anything for themselves. Maybe there isn't an epidemic of "bullying" going on in this country, an unprecedented phenomenon that requires immediate action from schools and governments and courts. Maybe what's happening is that there's an epidemic of kids who are almost completely incapable of dealing with adversity of any sort.

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