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A Woman's View: Where bullies learn it from

Published: Monday, June 11 2012 6:04 a.m. MDT

I am afraid of bullies.

Still.

I am afraid of them for myself and for my children, for all our children. I want to believe there is something we can do to help each other, but I’m not sure we have the will to do it. We just don’t like getting involved in “other people’s business.” That’s what we think of it as, “other people’s business,” even when it’s obviously painful or hurtful, we excuse it away. And when the bully leaves, after the damage has been done, we don’t comfort the one who’s been hurt for fear that the bully will turn his or her ire on us.

We are cowards. At the end of the day, I guess that’s the ugly truth of it. We choose the safety of justifiable distance over compassion.

“Unfortunately, as cold as this sounds, you can’t change human nature,” Sharla Jessop, vice president of Smedley Financial, commented on “A Woman’s View.” “You can’t force someone to change. Something is going on in these children’s lives that is causing them to act out, and we can’t get in the middle of it.”

Until the victim is our child. Then the coward goes right out of us. “I had a child who was bullied in junior high school,” Christine Sharer with Pathway Associates shared, “and it was done by the cool kids. And the school didn’t take it seriously. They said we had no proof. So, we changed schools, and he was fine.”

I brought the subject up on my Facebook page, and Sharer’s story was echoed over and over again. The school didn’t take us seriously. Some parents suggested going to the district to bring pressure on the school. Some suggested trying to get the bullying on tape, especially filming it. My friend Rose, whose family has suffered mightily at the hands of a bully, suggested a governor’s commission to study this issue, which she called an “epidemic,” and that may be the right word.

One mother shared with me that her son was bullied at school and that may be the cause of some of his “sickness,” which he had been battling for seven weeks. She was curious if she would see his illness dissipate with school being out now. I hope so. When she talked about her challenge on Facebook, she had a flood of other mothers sharing their stories with her. It’s a family of Facebook mothers of bullied children.

What can we do? What can we mothers of bullied children or just mothers who want to help do?

“It has to come from the peers,” Jessop urged. “Their peers have to set the standard.”

She may be right. I mean, we can take them out of school, get restraining orders, get the bully suspended, punish them, etc., etc., but if their peers still snigger, if their peers still let them get away with it and think it’s OK, nothing will be really done. They’ll just do it to the next kid in the next situation.

And why shouldn’t they? They’re just modeling our behavior. They see an adult say something cruel or derogatory about gay people, other friends in the group hate it, but nobody calls the guy out on it — why? It’s just easier not to. Or they see a husband belittle his wife, over and over and over, or maybe all women in general. “Hey, they actually found a woman who knew the name of the vice president. Can you believe that? Ha! Ha! Ha!”

Except all the women in the room feel belittled, but nobody says anything. And the children watching learn that it’s OK to belittle others, especially if they’re gay, and always if they’re female. If a woman gets her feelings hurt and leaves the room crying, don’t think anything of it. “She’s just being hormonal,” one guy will say to the other. They’ll laugh, and the children will learn.

One of those children may call your child a “fag” tomorrow in school, and the other kids will laugh, or at least not stand up for your son. Why would they? No one taught them how. They learned how to laugh and look the other way.

I want to have more courage, beginning this day, to say something with love to anyone around me when I think they are saying something unkind. I want to risk their thinking that I’m a politically correct dork. I want to risk whatever they think if it will teach my children that you should stand up for the underdog, for each other, for all of us.

Maybe it will even teach me to stand up for myself. And then I could live in a little less fear of bullies.

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