Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Bullies and Bigots

I am going to start right off offending certain liberals by daring to use the words bullies and bigots as the title. There is a philosophy out there that nobody is what they do, they are who they are. So the fact that someone bullies others does not make them a bully. We must separate out the good in them from the bad. If that person is a great father and husband but mistreats those at his place of business, that means he's not a bully or bigot?

The idea for writing about this subject began with the image above that a friend posted on Facebook. She had added her concern that we find ways to stand up to this behavior without turning into bullies ourselves. Because I agreed with the image and  know it takes courage to confront bullying and bigotry, I shared it but without an explanation and got a comment from another friend asking is this creating a title or talking of a behavior?

Well it's both and I thought it'd take more than a Facebook comment for me to explain what I mean and why this matters. Also where does it lead when bullying is ignored?

I  think people can become bullies and bigots. They can do something so often that it becomes part of their persona, and it's no different than when we speak of someone who is so generous, gives so often that we consider them a saint. We become what we consistently do. Yes, it's not all of who we are; but if we regularly engage in bullying behavior, it should be at least one adjective to describe us. That does not mean that one act of bullying makes someone a bully. It does mean that if it consistently happens, yes, they will attain the reputation of a bully.

The nice thing about being a bully or bigot, and there really is only one nice thing, is such a person can change that behavior. They don't have to stay either. If they recognize it as being a bad thing, not helping their lives, they can turn it around. It's not a skin color, a gender, how they look, having a disability, or an ethnicity. It's a behavior but when that behavior is routinely followed, it  becomes a title.

My own experience with being bullied is mostly through what I have read and the stories I've been told. I actually have never been bullied. I have never bullied anyone else either. I have had people say mean things to me-- mostly when a child; but that's not being bullied. Bullying is something that keeps happening, and it's done to browbeat the victim and gain power for the bully.

I wrote one of my books that centered around bullying and bigotry-- Moon Dust. It explored this behavior from the consequences in schools and homes. Although the villain was a male, there was also a woman I would also call a bully. She never actually appears in the book, but the ramifications of her behavior were still being felt on the one who had, as a child, been her victim.

Here's the thing about confronting bullies. The victim generally cannot stop it. It takes someone either stronger or who doesn't care whether the bully likes it or not. The weak are at the mercy of both bullying and bigotry until the larger population or a strong individual steps in and says-- enough.

Children are where this can do the most emotional damage. The bullying can be physical or emotional. The 'cool' kids find someone different to build the strength of their group. Empathy for what they are doing to the weaker one is lost on them unless someone can show them a better way. There is nothing wrong with using shaming to do it. It is shameful behavior to bully another and deserves to be seen for what it is with no soft soaping.

The whole experience can be turned around when someone steps in to stop the bullying, someone stronger-- leaving a lasting memory on the bullies and the bullied. Some years back, A boy in the church youth group told me how our son, when he was one of the big boys on the bus stepped in to to protect him. He hadn't forgotten it. Maybe someday he'd do the same thing for another when he was the strong one and could.

I have quite a few family stories about someone who confronted a bully. Farm Boss had the experience in high school where he stepped between a bully and his victim and got punched hard for his trouble. But the bully later became a friend and who knows if stepping in that day turned his behavior around. Stepping between bullies and their victims can have a cost but there might be a benefit also.

He told of a boy who was a bully in an earlier school he attended where the principal stepped in but understood the boy was being bullied and brutalized in his home; so what the boy needed was attention. By an adult, someone in power, doing something about it, another life was turned around. Bullying does not have to be a permanent condition.

Where it comes to bigotry, it comes out of the same basic source-- fear and need for power. It is connected to bullying because bigots often abuse and bully. They do it because they get power from it or possibly have decided the 'other' is a threat.

Bigotry can come from those who do not think of themselves as bigots. Like the young woman after this election who said she wished Obama would be assassinated. They asked if she was a bigot when they interviewed her. She denied it. Of course.

Some of the most bigoted stuff I've gotten has come through jokes where when I would confront the sender by saying it wasn't funny, they would act offended. It was just a joke. Well sorry but making fun of someone of another race, gender or ethnicity is a way to belittle them and generally based on lies about who they are.

These days with the internet allowing for anonymous bullies, perhaps the behavior is growing as some threaten and frighten others for the joy of doing it. When it's children taking the brunt, they have gone so far as committing suicide to escape what they feel they cannot any other way.

Bullying and bigotry can be a huge problem in school where children cannot escape from the bully or bigot, where they become so depressed that they cannot function. But it doesn't end there. It can be in the workplace and homefront. It is when a man sexually fondles a woman who has no power to stop him, where insults are thrown around, gossip spread, lies created all to put down the 'other'.

It might seem idyllic to say there are no bullies or bigots only bullying and bigoted behavior. I don't buy it. When someone does something often enough, it's what they become. But they can change it. And it will take someone stronger to make them face that truth. The victim is unable to do it which is why they were chosen or even created.

Tolerating bigotry or bullying, with some sense that it's not the bigot or bully's fault, that it comes out of their religion, etc etc., cannot stand if a culture wants to be a good place for all its citizens. Recently we read of a school girl who stood up to what I consider bullying behavior by a religious group. She was shot in the head for it and is still trying to recover. Will her culture as a whole stand against what she was enduring? Time will tell as it does take courage and the risks are not unsubstantial.

After I wrote this, I saw this story:  Mexican cartel assassinates woman where she had stood against the bullying and illegal activities of a drug cartel. Some might say that is an extreme example but that's what happens when a culture ignores bullying and bigotry. It can go and will to the extreme.

Image on top from Facebook. Photos purchased from CanStock. I am really liking getting these for here as well as my books and trailers. It's not very expensive and often illustrates something that words alone don't really express.


Diane Widler Wenzel said...

I have been bullied. When I was five years old a six year old boy used to pester me on the way to school. He once drug me to the ground in the walkway of a busy intersection. Then he pulled down my panties, etc. I complained to my teacher and parents. The principal had a meeting with me, my parents and the naughty boy. He was asked to apologize. He did not stop pestering me until I caught him and used my coat to propell him into the bushes with a wasp nest.
Another example that I have intimate information of a victim of sexual abuse who successfully stopped her abuse. Her father made an advance (slapping her behind) and she told him his behavior was not appropriate. He would have to stop if he wanted to be in her house. It did take courage and she broke out in hives but he stopped because he wanted to be with her and his grandchildren.

Rain Trueax said...

Thank you, Diane, for sharing such powerful examples and how a victim can stop it in some situations. It always takes courage.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Yes, some situations it does work to face up to abuse. I do not know how often it works. But in my case the boy who treated me outrageously, quit bothering me. I felt empowered. The wasp stings hurt so much that he cried. I felt justice had been done since the adults did not punish him, and he continued to bother me, he deserved to be stung. I felt justified in using force. Especially being a smaller 5 years old girl facing a tall 6 year old boy. It would have been better not to use force, but I still cannot imagine how since I tried to tell him no..

Rain Trueax said...

One thing I thought about after I wrote this with something else I heard. Someone can become a bigot by having had a bad experience with say a certain type of person which could be of a country, color, gender, etc. So they then assume everyone from there will be that way. It's based on something that really happened but they have expanded it to all from that group. There is a narrow line here of understanding that sometimes how someone looks can determine their risk to you but only some who look that way. That's where you should go more by actions, stay alert, and pay attention.

An example is our American West when both Native Americans and the European derived settlers would come across each other. Definite differences and some of each group could be dangerous to the other but not all. It's not bigotry to be aware of potential risks. It's bigotry when that awareness goes too far and makes a judgment call on a whole group where there is no basis in fact beyond knowing someone somewhere else.

Human nature is complex and it's not just in my country or this time period where this whole thing can lead to the inability to act as well as the overreaction. It's why I believe it's good to think about such not only to be aware of bullying when we see it-- subtle though some of it is-- but to be sure we aren't falling into a bigotry trap ourselves.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Yes, I personally know a man who had several bad experiences followed by generalizing it to all Jews. It was easy for him to join a hate group that was organized like a Catholic mass. Later in life he realized his mistake.

Hattie said...

Strong essay. Thanks.

Ingineer66 said...

No one group has the corner on the market of treating another group badly. The South Africans were treated horribly by the British and then when they got in power they treat the blacks poorly. The Jews were subjected to unspeakable horrors by the Nazi's and then when they got their own country they treated the Palestinians poorly. The American Indians did unbelievable things to other tribe members, but then were subject to harsh treatment by the Spanish and the Americans.

We had a bully that lived around the corner. He tried to intimidate and chase kids that walked by his house on the way home from school. Nothing bad happened to me other than being scared. He chased a friend of mine with a knife once and that is when parents got involved. The family moved away shortly after that.

Diane Widler Wenzel said...

Ingineer66, yes, I can see the underdog when given more power does become the aggressor. And they do not see themselves as bullies because they think they are using self-defense or say that justice is served. As a child my impression was that pushing my tormenter into the wasps worked. As an adult, I am not sure my response should be played out on international levels. If I was reprimanded for my deed, I do not recall. I just remember that boy keeping his distance from me thereafter.

Rain Trueax said...

It's the problem of the child who is abused growing up to be an abuser. But I believe we have free will, can look at what isn't right and change our ways. I know of a man who had a rather cruel stepmother, cold at the least but when he had a family he gave all he had not had to his children and wife. Same thing with cultural groups that have experienced abusive behavior. It doesn't excuse them becoming abusers.

Ingineer66 said...

Diane I think your response to the bully was perfect and apparently effective. Institutionalized persecution is a different story.