Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito is a meathead jock. He can’t distinguish between bullying and camaraderie— an unfortunate situation that has existed in team locker rooms for ages.
But Incognito’s teammate/victim on the Miami Dolphins, Jonathan Martin, is acting like a ninny. Sure, being a professional football player is a high-pressure job, both on and off the field. But you can’t run home to Mommy when your feelings get hurt (and show her the text messages that made you sad.) As Marlon Brando says in The Godfather, “Act like a man!”
Adults can’t play the bully card. That’s for kids (and Bloomingdale Council Members), which I discuss in this column from November 2012.
There isn’t a hotter hot button topic today than bullying.
We all support the “Stop Bullying” campaign in grade schools. Young children come in all shapes, sizes, and maturity levels, and schools need a no tolerance policy on bullying. Children of all ages (adults, too) need to be taught (and frequently reminded) to treat people with respect, courtesy, and dignity. All people. That’s one of the basic tenets of our society.
Too Old To Bully
But I question the need for a “Stop Bullying” campaign for adults. Mature adults can stop bullying by:
- avoiding jerks
- defending their actions and opinions
- calling the cops
This idea seems to be forgotten, especially by certain members of the Bloomingdale Borough Council.
Things got contentious at an October 2012 council meeting, with Democratic Councilman Ray Yazdi demanding that Republican Councilwoman Linda Shortman explain her vote on an issue.
Instead of answering, fellow Republican council members Jo-Ann Pituch and Mark Conklin announced they were leaving, and encouraged Shortman to do the same. The three council members left, and, lacking a quorum, the meeting was adjourned.
Shortman said she left the meeting because she felt “badgered and bullied” by Yazdi. But using the “mature adult” points outlined earlier, you can see how Shortman’s argument wears thin.
First, if you’re an elected official, you’re going to meet jerks. Politics is full of them, and the public isn’t much better. Shaking hands with jerks, defusing them, and getting them to compromise is a huge part of the job. You should know that before you decide to run for office.
Second, you’ve got to be able to defend yourself and your opinions, especially if you’re a voting member of a governing body. It’s not bullying if people ask you questions. They expect an answer. That’s called accountability. And if people ask questions in a rude way, well…read the paragraph before this one again.
Finally, I’m not sure how Shortman, Pituch, and Conklin could have felt physically threatened since the police department is right across the hall from the council chambers. Granted, we live in strange, violent times, and you have to be careful. (Learning to differentiate between a bully and psychopath would be a useful skill.) But Yazdi posed no physical threat to his fellow council members. He was just being annoying, and they wanted to get away from him.
Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way, and Bloomingdale Mayor Jonathan Dunleavy agreed.
“It was an absolute disgrace that the majority chose to leave the room. They have been elected to govern the borough,” Dunleavy said. “If issues become difficult, they can’t just pick up their toys and go home.”
“Pick On Someone Your Own Size!”
The members of the Bloomingdale council aren’t the only adults to stretch the “bully defense” too far. Remember Karen Klein, the kindly grandmother who was bullied by brats on a school bus? We all felt for Ms. Klein, but couldn’t she have defended herself against a bunch of children? Again, you’d think dealing with brats and bullies would be part of the job if you’re a school bus aide. Couldn’t she at least move to another seat?
Recently Wisconsin newscaster Jennifer Livingston made headlines with her on-air response to a viewer’s email. The viewer called Livingston fat, and accused her of setting a bad example for young viewers. Livingston fired back, saying the viewer (a knucklehead named Kenneth Krause, for those keeping score) set a worse example by judging her based on her appearance rather than by her character. Livingston also accused Krause of teaching kids to be bullies.
Knucklehead Krause is undoubtedly a rude jerk. But he’s not a bully. He’s expressing his opinion. (Hey, childhood obesity is a serious issue!) Agree, disagree, or blow him off, but don’t use him to teach a lesson on bullying.
What The Bully Teaches Us
The current anti-bullying campaign in schools seems to be a reaction to Colombine/Virginia Tech-type shootings. The idea is force children to be nice to each other, and if no one gets their feelings hurt, then no one will bring a gun to school and start shooting. It’s a dubious strategy, at best.
But the school bully serves an important function, a different kind of teaching moment that I fear is being lost on the youth of today.
We all remember the school bully of our youth, usually a big, oafish kid who picked on smaller children (which was practically everyone).
We all had to figure out a way to deal with that guy: avoid him, make him laugh, buy him lunch, stare him down, do his homework, tell him to stop, etc. If you felt brave you could fight him. The even more adventurous might befriend him. Get to know a bully, and you’ll usually find someone who’s scared and insecure, and/or lacking social graces and manners.
Either way, dealing with a bully (or anyone who is confrontational, cruel, rude, incorrigible, hotheaded, etc.) is an important life lesson, one that should be learned in grade school. You’re going to encounter people like that throughout life. The big oaf from the playground will grow up to become your lab partner, co-worker, boss, or spouse.
Or maybe the person sitting next to you on the borough council.
Originally published in Wayne TODAY, November 2012.