I would dare to say that the bully and bullying has been a common experience for most of us. I have a vivid memory of a bully and his gang “being offended” because I took a short-cut home by crossing a park behind a grocery store by Washington Street in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood.
I got hit in the mouth and could not eat anything solid for almost six weeks. I remember the playground bullies at Garden Place Elementary School and Horace Mann Junior High that made me stay on high alert through most of my years there,
Most hurtful were the verbal mimicking and comments made about my heavy accent that I later learned to diminish and my expressed plans to one day go to college and even learn to fly a plane. Also, very perplexing was being confronted in Germany as a 17-year-old boy by threats from some fellow airmen that said that they were members of the Tennessee Klu Klux Klan and could do harm to me for being a Mexican.
The irony was that I had no idea of what they were talking about and did not know at that time anything about the KKK. As I matured, I came to the conclusion that all of the incidents of intimidation including my training in the military were necessary Rites of Passage that one must successfully navigate to join the “grown up” community.
Yet, there was always a question in the back of my mind about what made a person a bully and why bullying was so prevalent in our society. The question got louder when a couple of former bullies of my youth came to me for help to mend their shattered lives.
The word “bully” was first used in the beginning of the 16th Century to mean “sweetheart” (Dutch) or “brother” (German). Within a hundred years, it deteriorated to mean “harasser of the weak” (England) and its verb-form “to bully” defined as “to use force, threat or coercion to abuse, intimidate or aggressively dominate others” by a behavior that is repeated and habitual.
Generally, the prerequisite to bullying “is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power” that encourages the bully to attack those perceived as weak as well as to provide cover for the bully’s own weaknesses and insecurity. Bullying has been divided into 4 types: physical as in the playground; verbal as in “calling names, threatening somebody, and making fun of others;” social or emotional as in spreading rumors, nasty jokes designed to embarrass others, mimicking, excluding and damaging reputations or social standing of others and; cyber bullying that uses the internet to deliberately create social and emotional distress in others.
Bullying came into the agenda of our research community in the late 70’s and has been a subject of intense study beginning in the 1980’s. Due to technology, globalism and increased communication, bullying has continued to grow at a rapid rate and is now fully entrenched in the political institutions of our democracy.
It is like a virus that plagues the minds of those that feel superior to others to the point that they want to demonize fellow-citizens because they see them as undeserving. The American political divide is being filled by the intimidation tactics of the bully that senses an opportunity to diminish others.
Bullying has become a major threat to our national discourse and civility. But it can never be a credible tool against a strong America.