The Un-Bullies of Social Media

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a teen or preteen these days. School drama must take on a whole new dimension when it follows you home on your smart phone. Nowadays the haters have a cyber loudspeaker.

At least when people bullied me and treated me horribly back in the 70’s, I could leave school and get a break from it. I could bury myself in a book or a TV show. While the pain was still there, and the damage to my self-esteem was still being done, at least I could come up for air. Not so in the present day. These kids are in it every single waking moment.

Fortunately, through it all, I see a constant, if faint, drumbeat of what I call Un-Bullies. For example, there was a young man being bullied in his school for his love of books. His mother helped him create a Little Free Library, and put it out on a LFL Stewards forum that she wanted us to send postcards of encouragement to her son, and dozens of us did. I don’t know what other people said, but I told that amazing young man that I thought he was the coolest kid ever! I wish someone had told me that when I was his age.

I’ve also noticed that for every troll that says something cruel on a public forum, there seem to be ten people who step up and say, “No, you’re wrong.” They are the ones who reassure people that they’re beautiful, strong, outstanding, amazing, talented.

It takes courage to stand up to bullies. I admire anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to do so. And every person who takes that step empowers others to follow suit.

It may not seem like much, but words of encouragement can make all the difference in the world.

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A Wicked Sense

When I was young, I used to delight in friends who had wicked senses of humor. I liked to hear them poke fun at others, or be capable of the kind of snappy, sarcastic retorts that have always eluded me. It was fun to sit with them on a mountain of mockery and quietly witness these friends cutting down all comers. It felt powerfully entertaining.

I wasn’t mature enough to realize that their behavior was just mean. I didn’t realize that what I thought of as a rapier wit and a superior intelligence was actually a lot of misplaced anger and the hallmark of being a bully. I also didn’t understand that by being a silent and amused witness, I was being a bully, too, or at the very least, propping one up.

If it’s any comfort, though, I did draw the line at physical bullying. Even I had the sense to know that was intolerable. Physical intimidation is so blatantly wrong that even my clueless young mind couldn’t overlook it.

And I learned my lesson about the sarcasm the hard way. Because there’s one thing you are bound to find out sooner or later: If you have a “friend” who is cruel to everyone but you, even if it is tinged with humor, eventually their wrath will turn in your direction as well. Count on it. I guarantee it.

Now I get that words can hurt as much as physical assault. And I know that if I stand by and do nothing while it’s happening, then I’m complicit. Now, I can’t abide bullies in any form. Now, I surround myself with respectful, loving people. But it took me a minute to get there, to my everlasting shame.

Bullying

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Raising Bullies and Bigots

By now, everyone knows about the actions of the ignorant little punks from Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky. That these privileged little private school boys had the nerve to wear their Make America Great Again hats and get into the face of a Native American elder who was simply trying to diffuse a situation, and who had proudly served this country before their repugnant butts were even born is beyond outrageous.

One of the boys in question is saying that he didn’t do anything but stand his ground and the gentleman approached him first. No, you stood your ground with a MAGA hat on, which is a symbol for hate, and you had a smug smile on your face, and an unblinking stare, a sign of aggression, while your friends continued to taunt and ridicule. There’s a distinction. It wasn’t as though you were putting your arm around the guy and asking for a selfie.

In fairness, the high school does not condone the actions of these kids, and has an apology prominently placed on its website. That’s further proof that the actions were inappropriate. But one wonders what kind of tolerance they teach at a school with this as the mascot:

covington catholic's mascot

Here are some lessons neither they nor these kids’ parents seem to be teaching:

  • Respect your elders. All of them. Even if you don’t agree with them.

  • Walk through the world with dignity, and don’t deprive others of theirs.

  • Be polite. Especially when you are a visitor.

  • Aggression is intolerable.

  • Hate is the most blatant form of ignorance.

  • You have no right to invade someone else’s space.

  • Kindness and decency is the only true currency you have.

  • NO ONE has the right to be a bully.

If I could speak to those boys I would say, “This video will follow you for the rest of your life. Hopefully you’re capable of shame and remorse and this will build your character. If not, you are psychopaths, and you are in serious need of intervention. Seriously. You should be worried. Get help.”

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Civil Trade War

So now Trump thinks Canada is a security risk? Oh, come on. Those people won’t even jaywalk at an intersection. Seriously. There could be no cars for miles, and they’d still patiently wait for the crossing signal.

Trump imposing tariffs on Mexico, Canada, and the European Union is like walking up to your three best friends in the school yard and punching them each in the throat. Just ‘cuz.

As if we weren’t already convinced that this man is an idiot, he now decides to do something that has absolutely no upside, even for him. But oh, yeah, it certainly has taken our focus off of Russia, hasn’t it? He does like to stir shit up.

Smoke and mirrors. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The next election can’t come fast enough.

For some reason, though, a lot of people don’t quite get (yet) what a global pissing match Trump has just set off. So let’s scale it down a bit for easier comprehension.

Let’s say the Governor of Maine doesn’t like the Governor of Georgia. So Maine decides to impose a tariff on all peaches. This means that it gets a lot more expensive for Georgia to get their peaches to consumers in Maine. This causes the Governor of Georgia’s head to explode, and he says, “Fine! We are now putting a tariff on Lobsters! Take that!”

Well, messing with Lobsters in Maine is like touching the third rail. This cannot be borne! So Maine says, okay, now we’re going to put a tariff on airplanes. (You may not know this, but Georgia’s top export is airplanes.)

But hold on. Airplanes are also the top export in California, Arizona, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida, and Connecticut. So they all sit up tensely and blink, too. What’s going to happen next? They all start looking around to see how they can hurt other states who might hurt them. Everyone is poised for battle.

That’s really how the civil war started. Only back then, the commodity was slaves. Not only won’t we buy your slaves, but you can’t have them either. And before we knew it, hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead.

This trade war? Worst idea ever. Thanks, Trump. Way to go.

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Strong Personalities

Just the other day I got told I have a strong personality. I get that a lot. The observation usually comes from a man, and it’s not intended as a compliment. I’m also often told that I “speak my mind” or am “opinionated”. (Uh, isn’t that an opinion?)

I can’t deny any of those descriptions. I’ll often speak up when others are afraid to. And if you ask me my opinion, I assume you want to know what it is, so I oblige you. I’m baffled as to why these qualities are supposed to be negative.

Yes. I have opinions. Everyone does. Never once have I insisted that anyone agree with mine. I’m not a bully. I never have been.

I also refuse to be bullied anymore. I was bullied half my life, and I’ve had it up to here. I stand up for others just as often as I stand up for myself. Again, tell me why that’s a bad thing?

Recently I’ve started considering the source of these criticisms. These people never make the same observations about men. Or if they do, they’re transformed into compliments. That’s interesting. And they are usually people who are, or would like to be, in positions of power over me. I’m quite sure that they’d prefer that I simply shut up and do as I’m told. They don’t want me to think, or have an opinion, or be strong, or even have a mind to speak. I’d be so much easier to deal with if I were soft and compliant.

Sorry to disappoint. Not gonna happen.

xena

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Actually, No.

Here’s the thing. (Yes, there’s always a thing.) I was raised to be a good girl. My default position is to respect authority. Be cooperative. Don’t make waves. Accommodate others. And above all, always, always be polite.

Well, you know what? Fuck that. All those values are great if everyone is playing by the golden rule. But it’s been my experience that most people do not. As a result, I’ve been bullied and taken advantage of my entire life.

I’ve had it up to here. (No, not there. Much higher than that. Here.)

I’m over it. I’m done. I will not be pushed around anymore. Not by strangers, not by loved ones, and definitely not by politicians. I am establishing the sharp boundaries that I’ve always allowed to remain fuzzy at best. This far, and no further.

I’m not planning to become a bully. I’m not going to be gratuitously rude or selfish. But I won’t be passively stepped on. I am learning to stick up for myself. I’m learning that I have a right to say no. It’s frustrating that it’s taken me so long to figure this stuff out.

We need to teach our children to be respectful, yes, but also not to take any crap. Because as the world becomes more crowded, there will be plenty of crap to go around. And then some.

It is possible to be kind and strong at the same time. It’s okay, and very necessary, to stand in your power. It may take practice to reach that acceptable balance. But it can be done.

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Sanctuary Cities

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day about sanctuary cities. He happens to fall on the opposite end of the political bell curve, so debates with him can be interesting. And yet we never get hostile with each other, and still manage to be respectful. Why is that such a dying art?

Anyway, he thinks Seattle, and all other cities that declare themselves to be sanctuaries, are stupid, because they’re potentially depriving themselves of a lot of federal funding, and that will put a lot more pressure on the local taxpayers and reduce services to residents.

I, on the other hand, suggested that perhaps it is Trump who is the stupid one. (Yeah, I know. Hard to believe.) If he withdraws funding, he is further ostracizing the people who live in these sanctuary cities, who won’t simply fall into line because of his bullying tactics. He’ll also be harming certain economies, and that will have a negative impact on the overall economy. Bad business. His travel ban has already cost our tourism industry more than 7 billion dollars. That’s billion, with a b. So I shudder to think what a sanctuary city ban would do. How is this making America great again?

And although many of us seem to conveniently forget this, the United States of America was founded on the basic principle that it is a nation that will provide sanctuary. The precedent was set long, long ago. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. Give us your tired, your poor…

Yeah, I know that those concepts seem to be under attack these days, but it’s holding out this fantasy that makes me most proud. Even as our rights are eroded, I like to cling to the belief that somewhere within our beleaguered national soul, we still have the potential for being a bastion of freedom. Why on earth would someone attack cities for doing the very thing that makes us a country?

It boggles the mind.

Sanctuary-Cities

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Bitterness

The other night we had a wind storm. At 3 a.m. it ripped open my screen door. Bang! This, naturally, caused my dog to go ballistic, and his hysterical tirade prevented me from going back to sleep right away.

It also woke me up right in the middle of REM sleep, which caused me to remember what I was dreaming about. It was a name that I hadn’t thought of in years. To be frank, it was a name I thought I’d forgotten, but apparently it had been living in my subconscious all this time like an undetected festering sore.

T.M. was my supervisor when I worked at a county health department. He was a despicable human being. He had no management skills whatsoever. The morale in that department was at toxic levels.

His distrust of his subordinates was so absolute that when someone did make the effort to do something outstanding (which happened less and less over time) he never acknowledged that effort. Praise was not something that one could expect from T.M. Credit was long overdue.

One time, after I spent 6 months creating, coordinating and implementing a conference that was to be attended by hundreds of people (and was a big success, if I do say so myself), T.M. told me that if I wished to attend, I’d need to take leave time and pay the requisite fees. When I protested, he shouted, “You should be fired!”

In that interrupted dream of mine, I had been listing all of the bullies I’ve crossed paths with in my life, and he was right at the top of the list. I wonder how many times I’ve recited that list in my sleep? I spent the day in a foul mood. I’m sick of being bullied.

Then I thought, “I ought to confront this man. I’m not the shrinking violet I once was.” (Especially now that he doesn’t have the ability to fire me.) “Someone needs to put this jerk in his place. Yeah!”

So I Googled him. Yay, me! Standing up for myself! Takin’ back my power!

And I found out that he’s been dead for a decade. Well, now. Perspective.

So, to recap: I spent the day in a blue funk because of a bully that I hadn’t seen since 1998. I allowed this man, whom I thought I’d forgotten, to waste my precious time. And now that I have the courage to confront him, he deprives me of this opportunity by preemptively kicking the bucket. Selfish to the bitter end. What a waste of a perfectly good day.

Clearly, I have unresolved issues. I need to purge these toxins from my body and move on. I’m working on it. But I tell you what: Heaven help the next bully who crosses my path.

No more internalizing bitterness for me. Stand up. Speak out. Nip that stuff in the freakin’ bud and let it go.

bitterness

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Pick on Someone Your Own Size

Of all the collateral damage caused by our Grand Poobah, I have to say I feel the most sorry for Barron Trump. If he’s not being criticized about being sleepy at 3 in the morning, he’s being called “Poor Little Rich Boy” or being accused of mental health issues.

Childhood is hard enough without being bullied by the internet trolls and the comedians of this world. We all have scars from the cruelties we experienced growing up, but there’s absolutely no excuse for this. Give the kid a break. There are some lines that no one should ever cross.

Barron Trump did not ask for any of this. He didn’t choose his parents or the paths they decided to take in life. He had absolutely no say in the matter. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be him. He will never experience the luxury of a normal life. His father is fair game, but he isn’t.

Satire is fine. Criticism is often necessary. Opinions have a right to be expressed. You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t have to agree with you. But direct your slings and arrows at the adults of this world. Pick on someone your own size.

Say what you will, but at the end of the day, this is just a 10 year old boy. And he’s a 10 year old boy who gets to look forward to experiencing puberty under public scrutiny. Can you imagine?

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