Let me lay some context out. Bullying has been, at least partly to blame, for two teenage suicides in my area over the last 6 weeks. One occurred just last week. A student, a good student who was a popular student, took his own life because of the bullying he was subjected to at the school he attended. And the superintendent, as they often do, shifted the blame from the school to the whole community. And, he speaks truth in that a suicide is a whole community problem. But, lest we forget, the first community that student was part of outside of family was the school. And the school did not step in and bullying happened and it cost a young man his life. And this is a tragedy. This is the tragedy of tragedies.
And now America has elected Donald Trump, a person who has run a campaign endorsed by the likes of David Duke, a white supremacist, and the Ku Klux Klan. He made fun of and bullied a reporter with a disability. He also, in the last days of his campaign, bullied a reporter he thought did not treat him right. This is among the myriad of things that he said about other people groups.
And now his treatment of people and what he has said has caused a spike in bullying in schools. In fact, at a local high school today (11/9), there were at least four incidents of bullying that took place by white students against Latino students. Another teacher at another local junior high detailed how students were telling Hispanic students to “pack their bags” – this is not only bullying, but harassment and should be dealt with harshly. (However, this school system has covered for bullies and ignored the pleas of the mentally ill for a long time – decades. Fighting for change here has been like climbing up a very steep mountain.)
The election of Donald Trump normalizes the type of feelings and behavior that leads to bullying. We are telling our kids that it is perfectly acceptable to treat people however you want as long as you get what you want. It says to our girls that it is fine if a man assaults you, especially a rich and powerful man. The election of Donald Trump says that this is acceptable and normal. And it is not.
You see, as someone who works to curb bullying, to help those with mental illness, and who tries to dissuade this behavior in others, the optics of this election make making fun of the disabled ok; give credence to our fear of the other and our racism; subject women to men’s whims; and really play to our deepest fears. And these are things that ultimately lead to bullying. Bullying comes from our basest instincts of survival and of inserting ourselves over another out of fear and a desire for control. It is to pick on the weak, the other, simply because they do not fit, they are not like “me.” It is the ultimate in cowardice because it makes no attempt to understand, only hate and indifference. And Trump’s election has brought on the fact this will rise.
An organization like Here/Hear is needed now more than ever. Bullying coupled with the fact that more and more youth are suffering from severe depression is a recipe for disaster…it’s a recipe for a world where suicide rates continue to rise among our young people. We are actively trying to be a positive force in such a toxic environment by working against bullying wherever it may occur and by telling people there is hope, there is a way to overcome. But it’s not easy and this election has made it difficult.
So, what do we do? And, I mean all of us.
First, we cannot resort to demonization of the other or fear of the other. We can be angry at wrongdoing but that cannot lead us to hate; we must work to actively combat the conditions that give rise to bullying.
Second, we cannot allow those in power over us to “walk all over us.” Too many times bullies are masquerading as coaches, teachers, pastors, principals, counselors, etc. and we need to resist this as well. We need to resist these people when they enable the bullying of another.
Third, bring in organizations like Here/Hear to talk about bullying, mental illness, and suicide among your students, whether junior high, high school, college, or even graduate level. Bullying is a problem at all levels and we can work to mitigate it if we raise awareness.
Fourth, have people on staff who are trained in something like the QPR Institute‘s Gatekeeper Workshop. Doing so ensures that there are people who can detect and ask questions of those who may be suicidal and can begin the process of helping the suicidal get help. Here/Hear can teach how to do this, or there is an online course that people may take.
Fifth, and this is most important: don’t be a bully and don’t endorse them. If you see someone bullying another person, step in and say something.
Let me end with this. Tomorrow (10/10) my oldest son, who is 10, will give a speech to his 4th grade class to be their student government representative. When I asked what he thought was most important thing he could say to his classmates, he said that being against bullying is most important. And, when I asked what that means, he said that it means that all students are treated equally, that no one excludes others, that students ask and receive help from each other, and that the teacher can teach them ways to be respectful and mindful of other students’ feelings so they don’t accidentally hurt each other. And when I juxtapose what this 10 year old boy says with the rhetoric in much of our country, I have hope. I have hope that students will hear him and not the adults, that they can coalesce around as simple an idea as treating each other with mutual respect. I have hope that children will win out and that their parents’ hate will be overcome.
And giving people hope is perhaps what is most needed in the face of bullying. You see, when the bully wins you must cry, but then you must lick your wounds and get up and fight another day. Eventually, through mutual work and talking about it and perseverance, we can overcome the bully, every bully,…together. The only way to do so is to cling to the hope that hate and fear cannot and will not win.