Saturday, April 20, 2019

What Happened to Be Best?

As a society, I don't believe we have a clear understanding of what is considered bullying these days. My traditional definition of the verb form would say that a weaker person or entity who is targeted for ridicule and humiliation by a stronger person or entity is being bullied. The act of bullying might consist of something of value or significance being taken by force--one's dignity, peace of mind, sense of security, or perhaps even a life.  For example, we all seem to agree that this is a classic representation of a bully:

(And the fact that he resembles someone we know is purely coincidental, right?  More on that later.)

However, we don't always seem willing to use that term in every applicable situation. For example, were the people who gathered in the angry mobs to protest the integration of public transportation and schools a bunch of bullies? Were the people who heckled former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a public restaurant to the point where she left bullying her? How should we refer to police officers that use excessive force to subdue unarmed suspects?

When a powerful first-world nation dangles the threat of withdrawing or withholding monetary aid from a third world country, we call it diplomacy. When a person submits to participating in certain ritualistic behaviors to join a group, we call it being initiated. When some rich guy uses his platform to disparage refugees, asylum seekers, dead Senators, and various women who have stood up to him, we call it free speech. When a public official, who happens to be the first Black Muslim refugee elected to Congress, speaks out against anything and that draws harsh condemnation from political "friends" and foes alike, it is called piling on.

So while I am very clear that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is being bullied, I recognize that she is a polarizing public figure and to the extent that public scrutiny comes with the territory, she's going to need thicker skin. But she should not need body guards, and the fact that she does because of the deliberate mischaracterization of her statements by certain media outlets and the exploitation of that backlash by the DESPOTUS, it looks a lot like bullying to me.

But let me offer a more down-to-earth example: earlier this week a random tweet on my TL caught my attention. Someone's child somewhere thought it would be cute to post a picture with a racist caption, so one of his classmates thought the proper response was to activate Black Twitter. And in due form, the Twitter-lashing forced an apology, but something about that made me uncomfortable. When does adult social media intervention in a dispute among high school kids become bullying?

Then I remembered the campaign championed by our elusive FLOTUS called Be Best, so I decided to seek her wisdom and guidance on the matter. Surely the website dedicated to her signature initiative would have some tools and resources to provide an answer to that question...

What was I thinking? There's no reason to access that page unless I want pictures of Melania Antoinette feigning concern as a screen saver. Why should she care that there have been children younger than 16 committing suicide because of peer bullying, like the young man in Houston, another in Kentucky, and a young girl in Alabama? Why should she ruin her couture by allowing those mothers to cry on her shoulder? Why would she speak out against the type of cyber bullying Rep. Omar has been subjected to when the main culprit has been her husband? Why should she speak up for anyone other than herself?

Well then, I guess it is up to me to call it all out in the open: Fat-shaming is bullying. Mommy-shaming is bullying. Gay-bashing is bullying. Street harassment of women is bullying. Ridiculing people who are differently-abled is bullying. Religious intolerance is bullying. Encouraging mob retaliation on social media is bullying. Death threats are a form of bullying.

And while I know that social media mob retaliation or call-out culture is a thing (e.g., the glee we all got from the public roasting of Permit Patty and her ilk), there needs to be a line. There is something fundamentally wrong when a bunch of adults think it is acceptable to gang up on a kid. Even a stupid kid who provoked understandable outrage with a racist post, because he won't learn anything from this experience except to retreat to the dark edges of the internet where his ignorance can devolve into resentment, bitterness, or worse. Bullying is a cycle just like other forms of abuse.

Our failure to understand that is exactly how Biff Tannen got to be President instead of Tracy Flick (different movie, but she didn't win either). And since we can't go back to 2015 to fix the present, let's put up a good fight for the future.

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