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Canaries in the mine - Part 2
June 26, 2012
CALGARY, AB, Jun 26, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Before gas detectors were available, miners carried caged canaries into the mines. When the canaries stopped singing or died, the miners would leave the mine.
Today, young people are dying from over-exposure to bullying. They are our canaries, warning us of danger.
What danger? First, there’s the danger bullying poses to our young people.
I recently saw Lee Hirsch’s documentary, Bully. I have been haunted by three things I saw: how common criminal assaults were; how the adults didn’t recognize what was happening; and how few people were in the movie theatre.
Physical attacks used to be rare; now they’re commonplace. There’s a viciousness to bullying today that was rare 20 years ago. Gossiping at school rarely went beyond the students at that school. Today, bullies put their gossip and verbal attacks onto the internet and social networking sites where thousands can read their poison. Bullies don’t have to get in their target’s face to spew their vile words; they can reach their target in the privacy of their own home via text and email messages. Thanks to technology, bullies can stalk their targets wherever they go. It’s difficult for targets to keep their own rooms as sanctuaries. It feels like gang warfare: bullies versus targets, only the targets aren’t defending themselves.
When a young person tells their parent or teacher what’s happening, the parent or teacher is not getting the full picture. The words used to describe bully behaviours – gossip, said bad things, pushed, shoved – don’t convey the viciousness of the attacks. We need to start asking, ‘What do you mean by X?’, when someone is telling us about being bullied.
Bullying is a really tough topic. Most people have vivid memories of being bullied, and it still hurts to think about it, let alone go watch a movie about bullying. So I can understand people staying away. But when your tooth is hurting, you need to go to your dentist to drill out the cavity. Yes, it will be painful, but it needs to be done. Bully is one film that needs to be seen.
The larger danger is found in ideas young people have learned: that destroying someone you don’t like is the thing to do, and that suicide is the thing to do when bullying gets bad.
Associated with the idea of bullycide is the idea that those who commit bullycide are weak and therefore somehow defective. What a bully-based idea. They may be weak, but they’re only weak because they have been beaten down to the point where they think killing themself is the only option left. It’s like saying a person killed by a drunk driver is to blame because they got in the way of the drunk driver.
The idea that it’s OK to destroy someone you don’t like or who is somehow in your way didn’t start with our young people. They are just more open about it. Demonizing the other side is standard operating procedure in American politics these days. Just look at the attacks on Sarah Palin and her children. After the Obama Campaign released the names of some donors to Mitt Romney’s campaign and attacked them, bloggers joined the attack. One donor, Frank VanderSloot, has described how the false allegations not only affected him personally, but also affected his company’s sales. That’s not just rough-and-tumble politics, that’s the politics of personal destruction.
It’s difficult to have a public debate about political policies or about a politician’s track record when stepping into the political arena means that the lions will be released – not just on you, but also on your company, your family and even your children. No longer are people being silenced by a stronger argument, but by stronger mobs.
This idea that it’s OK to destroy someone you don’t like or who is somehow in your way isn’t just found on the campaign trail, it’s found in our workplaces, at sporting events, and even in our homes. It’s a dangerous idea that needs to made obsolete.
One sentence can help: When faced with the choice of bullying, tell yourself, ‘There has to be a better way,’ and find it. When someone tells you how they bullied someone else, tell them, ‘There had to have been a better way.’
Compassion is that better way. Being kind instead of cruel. What a great idea!
Anne McTavish is a conflict coach and lawyer, and her website is www.FistFreeLanguage.com.
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