Monday, November 04, 2013

Feeling bully

I’ll bet Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins now wishes he’d lived up to his last name.

And I’ll bet I’m the only person making that joke.

Hazing is the stupidest, jerkiest behavior around that doesn’t (usually) involve death. I’m grateful that I can’t comprehend the thrill of taunting and torturing underlings and making them do things like carry my equipment and pay off exorbitant tabs.

It’s inhuman to make people demean themselves that way. And for what, so the victims make “buddies” with their tormentors and later have a chance to do it to others? Gee, what an incentive!

(It reminds me of how some rich people say, “you’ll see one day,” when explaining why the poor and middle class should support tax policies that favor the rich and soak everyone else. Because maybe you’ll deserve to soak someone someday...)

A lot of factors make a team (or other organization) a champion. Hazing isn’t one of them. It doesn’t make anyone better at their job and it doesn’t foster equal relationships. It exists solely for the thrill of the executor, who in most cases has had the same thing done to him previously. There are plenty of ways to foster team cohesion that don’t involve actions like Incognito’s. Maybe the Dolphins should try some of them out. Clearly, they need to.

Being hazed and/or bullied is not a character-builder. It’s not a necessary part of growing up. It doesn’t build character or grow hair on your chest. It isn’t a way of paying dues. It doesn’t make you a man on either end of it. Life has plenty of obstacles to learn to surmount already, thank you very much.

All bullying does is leave deep psychological scars. I should know. Whether it was having food thrown in my face in the school cafeteria, having my cap constantly stolen from my head on the playground, having girls pretend to like me only to humiliate me later, being shoved while using the urinal (and having to call home for new pants as a result), being pressured to give all my change to older kids, being set up to get in trouble with teachers and coaches or simply being taunted by richer, popular classmates, I had a long laundry list of insecurities that I had to work through, and still do every single day. I’m lucky that I came out of it a lot better than some others do, avoiding drugs, self-harm and violence. Would I be who I am now if many peers hadn’t given me a difficult time in that time of my life? Hard to say. But I can’t say I’m glad it happened. And I’ve tried really hard never to pay it forward. (I’ve no doubt failed at times.)

I’m lucky because, at the peak of this torment at 12, I had family, friends and teachers who I could count on to remind me that I’m a worthy human being. They helped me over that hump more than they probably know. Which is the No. 1 reason that this blog bothered me so much: “Why My Kids Are NOT the Center of My World.”

If you know a mother on social media, chances are they’ve helped Stephanie Metz’s essay go viral. It's mostly pedestrian parenting pap about Kids These Days and how parents’ only choices are to exercise extremely tough love, or to coddle children until they’ve weaved an umbilical cord that reaches into the basement. But Metz really veers into reprehensible territory when she says this:

“There was a time when kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off and worked through it (ask me how I know this).  Now, if Sally calls Susie a bitch (please excuse my language if that offends you), Susie's whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide, and this society encourages her to feel like her world truly has ended, and she should feel entitled to a world-wide pity party.  And Sally — phew!  She should be jailed!  She should be thrown in juvenile detention for acting like — gasp — a teenage girl acts.”

I think this was the attitude of some of the teachers I had who could have otherwise stopped some of the bullying against me. They apparently thought it was Boys Being Boys (or Girls Being Girls, since I was an equal-opportunity target) and perhaps even thought that it would be good for me. Fortunately, other teachers (and my parents) thought differently. I can’t imagine how further screwed up I’d be if my mom was as dismissive (even nostalgic?) about bullying as this woman is. I don’t agree with everything Metz says, but on bullying in particular, she’s just plain wrong. Even most of those who otherwise love her blog seem to agree.

Whether it’s the school playground or the turf of the NFL, an enforced hierarchy of fear and harassment is only damaging. Bullies have always deserved punishment — but in the online age, the consequences of letting such behavior slide is especially perilous for everyone involved. Bullied people deserve better and so do the bullies, who themselves have problems.

Let’s just all be better people, OK?

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