Beliefnet
Practical Spirituality

There is a lot of discussion today about bullies
and the sometimes deadly cost of bullying in the news. Some wonder if the there
is an increase in bullying, or if we are just becoming more aware of the
problem. Naturally any time it becomes more culturally acceptable to come
forward as a victim of any type of abuse, there will always appear to be an
increase in incidence. But is bullying actually different or more frequent
today than in the past?

In talking with people of an older generation –
born and raised pre-television or in the early days of TV – it seems that
bullying in the past was certainly common, but straight-forward and fleeting.
Youth spent more time together in play and unregulated sport.  There is no
question that pecking orders were established and the strong would “push
around” the weak from time to time, and then there was the occasional
menace that people simply learned to respect and avoid. Though we can never
justify or excuse bullying, it seems there was a simpler time when bullying was
a less socially complex. Of course, this was also in a time and context when
brute force was more acceptable in parenting, relationships and conflict – and
we cannot forget the pure racism, bias and bigotry of the past that likely
excused a lot of violence from even being considered bullying. But when we
speak of the cruelty of children and what happens within communities, we must
wonder if things have gotten better or worse?

Today’s bullying takes on so many more shades and
tones. We now have the physical bullying by the local oversized menace, plus
the small gangs of bullies (which can be made of girls or boys of any race or
economic background), and we have two additional factors that I think make
matters much worse. We now have virtual bullies – for example, teens that
harass, victimize and torment others by text, email, Facebook, Twitter and
other social media means. In this there is no accountability, there is a much
higher psychological intensity and potential for humiliation, and there is a
diminished sense of remorse in bullying from a distance, rather than
face-to-face. At the same time the scale of humiliation can be enormous. Which
brings us to the next and final area of concern, and it’s something we can all
do something about.

The new complexity of bullying lies in the
dehumanization of strangers and people who are different than us in our culture
today. Social networking sites, biased websites, video games, and movies that
celebrate massive amounts of violence all diminish the perceived value of a
human life, and the capacity for empathy and remorse. This is no small issue.
Throughout history, it has always been the dehumanization of an enemy that has
led to or allowed horrific acts of genocide, torture and persecution to exist.

Humanizing our society and teaching empathy and
reflection about our impact on others is something we can do in our school
systems, our homes, and in our social circles. Violence starts in the mind, as
an attitude towards problem solving, judgment, and how we deal with difference.
It starts in subtle ways and that is where you can make a difference.
Take a stand, teach a friend, empower a child or try a new perspective
yourself. Bullying is the tip of a dangerous iceberg of cultural immaturity. I
am certain we are better than that.

Will you take a stand?

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