Monday, October 15, 2012

Time to look in the mirror

There are times where the topic of bullying becomes more rampant than others.  Amanda Todd's tragic story has brought it to the forefront, and rightfully so.  There is much work to be done, and done with care and that is a topic all on it's own. There are many points to consider such as what is bullying and what is bad play or social emotional difficulties?  Each one can be damaging, but each one also needs to be dealt with differently.

There is another important aspect to this that needs to be considered as well.  What I am finding frustrating is the number of individuals coming out and talking about how we need to stop bullying and yet are publicly demonstrating similar behaviours to that which they are denouncing. It is also usually around this time that we will read comments about how awful the kids are today, how they lack respect and are becoming a lost generation.  Truth be told it is at this time that we probably need to start looking in the mirror and thinking about what our actions, what we celebrate, what we watch and what we say around the children and youth around us and thinking about how our behaviours might be impacting them.  Far too often it does appear to be "do as I say" and not "do as I do".

As we are in election year in the US and the provincial Liberals in BC are trying to stay in power, the attack ads are running.  The same politicians who are denouncing bullying are supporting ads and social media driven agendas that essentially demonstrate what could be perceived as cyberbullying.  They are directed at one person. repeatedly, targeting them sometimes mercilessly with a goal of humiliation, embarrassment and essentially trying to destroy the public image.  In these ads, or ads in the past,  personalities are attacked, mistakes from 30 years ago are aired and other points are raised trying to seemingly convince voters of the ineptitude of the opposition.  At times it feels as though political parties have private investigators looking into finding as much dirt as possible on the opposition and ensuring that it is leaked, broadcasted and streamed via social media.  It doesn't seem to matter if lives are destroyed, it seems to be all about winning regardless of cost.

In sports the trash talker or the agitator is often celebrated for getting under people's skin and getting them off of their game.  We laud the fact that this person has said so much and been harassing the person to the point of getting them to lash out.  A case in point would be the Zidane headbutting of Materazzi after comments were made to him.  This was a defining moment in the World Cup Finals as Zidane was sent off and France lost the game.  Materazzi was hailed for having successfully gotten the French star off of his game and lashing out.  It is such a famous moment in sports that there is actually a statue erected commemorating the moment.  Some football players, hockey players, basketball players and other athletes are known for verbally abusing their opponents to the point of retaliation or playing poorly because of the distraction.  We cheer the fact that they successfully tormented their opponent.  Slashes to the back of the leg, knees to the heads when coming out of a scrum, fingers to the eyes when coming up after a tackle, digging cleats into an opponents foot when possible... What does this teach our young athletes?  How can we tell young athletes that it is OK to verbally taunt, torment or physically assault their opponents and not expect kids to think it is OK elsewhere in their lives. Truth be told, I don't think it has a place anywhere. It does appear that winning, no matter how it comes about is important.  Break a leg, give the person a concussion, verbally abuse them until they react or wilt and so on.  It doesn't matter if you don't have as much talent as they do if you can cheat, steal and physically beat your opponent.

TV shows are also navigating a slippery slope that is definitely going to have a greater impact if the trend continues.  If we look at the TV shows of the 70s and 80s there was an innocence to them.  Many TV shows now seem to be all about snappy comebacks, put downs, setting people up for embarrassment.  The language that is used on a daily basis is language on TV seems to be getting worse.  The sexual overtones, gender portrayals, stereotyping and portrayal of women in videos and movies is sending an embrassingly wrong message to young girls.  There are shows that celebrate people's embarrassments that are shown, all kinds of things put up on YouTube, too often without the person being embarrassed knowing, and especially too often without true consent versus pressured consent.  It doesn't seem to matter what the message is as long as it is provocative enough to get enough attention to keep the show running for another year or to see how many hits you can get on your site.

Kids are told to talk respectfully to adults and yet they will see adults publicly put down and embarrass their colleagues, strangers, friends or other kids.  We tell kids to be respectful to referees and opposition but when they come and watch us play we are berating the official, trash talking our opponents, deliberately hacking away at them to get them off of their game.  We tell them to be careful about what they post on facebook and how they respond on other social media outlets and yet they see important adults in their lives posting pictures of themselves drunk, publicly insulting someone, posting a tweet with violent overtones directed at someone in anger.  YouTube clips of others are posted without asking permission minutes after telling kids to not do the same thing.  Yes, it can be argued that as adults we are better at interpreting social situations than kids, but they see what we do and want to mimic it.

There is no doubt that here is a significant and important teaching quotient that does need to be done to address these issues, but much of it is reduced when kids see adults behave in ways that contradict what is being taught.  If we want the youth of today to make better choices, the adults of today need to show them how it is done.  Perhaps today's adults need to look in the mirror and think about what message we are sending our kids by the way we are behaving, what we celebrate, what we watch and encourage, how we respond to situations, what we cheer for and how we treat others.

If this is a "Lost Generation", then we must examine how we have not done a good job of being guides for them.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. I agree with you.

    Your comment about the bullying behaviours of many of those who are publicly denouncing bullying, seems very important. It underscores how badly we want to distance ourselves from things we disapprove of. This desire is so strong in most of us that we engage in the very behaviours we denounce without seeing the irony.

    When caught up in that need to judge and its sibling, the need to be identified with a group who disapproves, we ignore social niceties like watching our language and trying not to hurt feelings. Our own compulsion takes precedence over other people as we express our condemnation. This is not unusual or rare. It happens all the time and the internet makes it easier by protecting us from ever having to see or experience the harm we do.

    Until we all look at the bully that resides within each of us, and until we recognize that human beings perceive the harm we do differently from the harm done to us (we tend to minimize the former, while often emphasizing the latter by dwelling on it and ruminating) we won't be able to get a handle on bullying.

    The bully is not some bad guy out there somewhere we can distance ourselves from. The bully is me, and you, and all of the rest of us. Until we change ourselves, this problem will continue to grow.

    But are we ready to commit to looking at that bully in the mirror and helping her or him to be less judgmental and more empathic? Change is hard and lacks the satisfying feelings that come with judging others and condemning evil and ganging up on those we deem to be the bad guy. Change is lonely and often feels like losing instead of winning, at least at first. It can feel like giving in or letting them get away with something. It rarely provides what we think we need in the moment. It is not for the weak - and who among us isn't weak sometimes?