How Will Our Kids Learn if Adults Bully One Another?

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Anti-bullying campaigns dominate the Internet lately, and rightfully so. Frequently we turn on our computers and head to our favorite news websites to learn that yet another child has taken his life as a result of incessant teasing or ridicule from his peers. As adults we experience empathy not only for the tormented victim but also for his parents and their overwhelming sense of loss from the death of their beloved child. Most of us recall the agony and humiliation felt from the sting of a bully’s words, and we desperately wish to help rid the world of the insecurities and intolerance that lead to such hateful and destructive behavior.

Anti-bullying Respect Tour 2009

Unfortunately, though, bullying is not strictly relegated to the under-18 crowd. I think, until we put an end to adult bullying, more and more of our children will turn to this behavior as a socially-accepted manner of elevating themselves within their own peer groups.

One of the biggest examples of adult bullying is in politics.

In 1991 I moved from a large city to a smaller town. While I enjoyed the laid-back pace life in a small community offers, I was appalled by some of the political campaign ads I saw on TV. Frequently these ads were nothing more than “smear campaigns” -- commercials that blasted the actions and/or personal philosophy of political opponents while providing no information about the candidate who actually sponsored the ad. I found this type of marketing frustrating. Since I was new to the area and unfamiliar with local politics, I needed as much information as possible in order to make an informed decision at the polls. Sadly, television ads did not provide additional insight toward a candidate’s qualities. On these commercials the candidate spent most -- or all -- of his or her time slamming the opposing challenger in such a way that I never remembered which candidate the ad was intended to promote. I thought, “Surely this type of campaign ad is ineffective and short-lived.”

I was wrong.

Unfortunately, common practice today nation-wide dictates a similar type of approach not only in campaign commercials but in speeches as well. Candidates no longer inform us about what personal qualities, experience, and viewpoints they possess that will make them an excellent choice for an office, necessary information to help voters make informed decisions. Instead they focus on the qualities their opponents possess that they deem “bad” or “inappropriate.” How on earth are we supposed to know if you will do a better job than your opponent if you don’t tell us what your qualifications are? I would never hire a person based strictly on his criticism of other interviewees. Why would I choose a lawmaker based solely on his or her condemnation of the other candidates?

Worse, what message are we sending our children regarding the treatment of those who are different from us? Instead of respectfully disagreeing with others and providing information supporting their ideas and suggestions for handling various issues, candidates attack their opponents’ personal beliefs or ideals and layer them in accusations of wrong-doing that eventually often prove unfounded. The desensitization of our society toward such ads has created an environment of finger-pointing and name-calling while issues get swept under the rug for another day.

When children see adults in leadership positions launch personal attacks against their adversaries with whom they harbor a disagreement they learn to accept this behavior and, in turn, treat their peers in the same manner. “Shock jocks” and other media commentators also use these strategies to bait their audiences into a frenzy of hatred for the sole purpose of increasing their audience size, which, of course, sells more ads and brings in more sponsors. In other words, they encourage people to spout off hateful remarks with no regard for the feelings of the person being attacked (and often no regard for the facts, either) -- just to make more money.

In a world where sound bites and money call the shots, what do we do to eradicate this situation?

I honestly don’t know the answer to this question. I don’t know how we keep kids from being bullied, literally, to death. I only know that I have had enough.

I’ve had enough of reading about yet another teen suicide caused by bullying.

I’ve had enough of reading articles about different ways to combat bullying.

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