Bullying is aggressive and intentional behavior that causes harm to another person, and an action that is based on an imbalance of power. There is workplace bullying, neighborhood bullying, school bullying, intimate partner bullying and, in today's technologically advanced world, cyber-bullying.
We can learn what to do if our child is bullied, or if our child is a bully. We can peruse guidelines on how to handle workplace bullying and we can learn what our options are if we are involved in a personal relationship with a bully.
That adage, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is not true. Words are powerful and can be used to inflict pain on another. Words can be used to incite or to offer insight. As children, we were taught to respond to hurtful words by flinging back the sticks-and-stones chant before turning away to hide our tears. Victims of abuse long have said that verbal abuse is much worse than physical abuse because while bruises heal, ugly words bestowed on someone will continue to replay over and over. Name-calling is etched in the mind and leaves scars in the heart of someone who is bullied.
The 2008 statewide bullying conference is being held April 24-25 in Orlando. This two-day conference is a very comprehensive overview on the dynamics of bullying and how to implement specific strategies in schools. Additional information regarding this conference may be obtained by calling the Bullying Prevention Team at (850) 245-0416.
Everyone in a community pays for bullying. We pay to have school resources officers to patrol school grounds so they can be on site should an altercation escalate. We pay in the form of hiring more law enforcement and building bigger jails. We pay in the form of an increase in juvenile and adult crime, drug use/abuse, mental health concerns and lost productivity when people miss school or work. We pay through an increase in taxes to support these services and we pay through a lowering of the property values in our communities.
Instead of attempting to stamp out each spark that flares up, perhaps we can try building a firewall to constrain bullying and the devastating impact it leaves on individuals and society. My suggestion for implementation of a community awareness project to address the issue of violence, abuse and bullying that face our youth would be to propose the idea of "curriculum infusion" in our educational system. Curriculum infusion is a concept that has been used regarding drinking and drugs on some college campuses. Essentially what happens is that "experts" of a particular issue are brought in to teach/train public educators about the subject. These educators then develop and implement lesson plans addressing the topic for a specific time period. One week is then devoted exclusively to the topic to ensure the majority of students receive the information.
The art teacher could spearhead involvement of students by making banners and posters and/or developing public service announcements. Math instructors could focus on the financial costs of abuse from a personal, business and community perspective. Health teachers could go over the processes and procedures for formulating individualized safety plans. The violence intervention experts don't tell the teachers how to teach, but they do remain available as consultants. Curriculum infusion would enhance and showcase school policies and procedures regarding bullying and violence.
Bullies, or abusers, are not born that way; they are influenced by variables throughout their lives. Some may want to blame violent video games or graphic images from slasher movies. Some may want to pin the blame on the breakdown of the family or violence in the family, but it's more complicated than the "monkey-see, monkey-do" explanation.
Families can be loving and supportive or violent and abusive. An individual's friends, or peer group can reinforce positive and helpful actions or encourage destructive actions. Comments on the playground can result in retaliation. In the educational system, are some students more important than others? Reports of numerous school shootings trace the shooter back to an individual who was bullied relentlessly by other kids.
Although power, or the pursuit of power, can be found in all bullying actions, power itself is not a bad thing. It all depends on how an individual uses the power. A colleague used to say if we could wrap it all up into one word, that word would be "respect'' — for yourself and for others.
It sounds so simple and harkens back to the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do to you".
Mary Ann Peavler is certified as an advanced level domestic violence advocate. She lives in Spring Hill and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.