Thursday, October 28, 2010

Grab The Bully By The Horns

Mrs. Manning came into the classroom. She was a fixture at my elementary school. No one thought anything about it. We all grew up to find our own ways regardless of Mrs. Manning's visits.

Hobos, witches, cowboys, etc., walked around each classroom while the kids sitting in their seats similarly dressed waited there turn to show off their Halloween costumes.

With little hands over our hearts, we cited the pledge every morning before taking to our old wooden flip top desks and textbooks.

However, when it came to dressing different, challenging the boundaries, boys growing hair a bit longer than the norm, girls wearing pants, the axe came down. It was a time of revolution, evolution, change. Or was it?

One day back in the 60's when I was in high school, I decided to wear my up in a band making a sort of bun on the top of my head. As vividly as if it were yesterday, I remember looking in the mirror of the restroom (where we all gathered before classes began primping in the long mirror) in time to see the most popular girls looking at my head and sneering. A few comments were made about the mound on the top of my head. Already an insecure girl, I immediately let my hair down. An event was imprinted on my mind.

Bullying is not new. It has been around since the beginning of time. Parents didn't try to stop it. The dad's expected their sons to fight it out, get the upper hand. Pay back. The girls pulled together into groups with the 'in' group setting the tone and the 'others' always hanging back. Have times changed?

Where does the bullying begin? Does it stem from parents insisting that celebration be erased from schools? Does it come from religious symbols and celebrations eradicated from the public eye? Does it happen when children carry on their parents' warped beliefs? Does it come from anger, insecurity, the result of being bullied?

Why do other children follow the bully? Why does gang atmosphere take over so easily? Where in the heck are the teachers who don't notice, don't observe the behavior? What is wrong with parents who don't know the difference between right and wrong? What happens when no one intercedes and erases this disease that continues to haunt our schools, our neighborhoods, our world. Some politicians bully. Some video games encourage bullying. TV is full of bullying. Most comedians make a living at making someone a target for teasing.

"Grammy, I don't think that was very nice," my granddaughter says watching a cartoon where someone is teased by another character.

"You're right. It's not very nice." We watch TV together talking about actions that are far from stellar. She thinks we are learning together....maybe we are.

I learned to step back and observe because I had needed it as a silent child. I learned it by working with teens at risk who had been sexually abused, beaten and suicidal. I learned it by trial and error with my own children. I learned it from a sense of fairness I learned by being on the other side of the bullying.

'Teach the children and change the world'. I think maybe that should be stated as 'teach the parents and save the world'. We are the models for not only our grandchildren, but a model for their friends as well.

What can we do? First of all, dialogue is essential. Listening to our children and grandchildren teaches us, expanding our knowledge of ourselves and the things they face each day. Sitting with a grandchild, next to the bathtub as they wash off the day's remnants, a grandparent might learn of day's events.

"I sat next to this boy in choir today." The comment came out of nowhere from my oldest granddaughter. "He rides my bus and sat next to me on the way home." A new corner has been turned for her. Interest in boys and evidently, boys interested in her.

My lighthearted youngest grandchild will often share something that has bothered her all day when we are just snuggled up on the sofa watching TV or lying in bed reading books. It begins with "Grammy, did you know....."

I have no solutions. I miss the good old days when I was a little kid parading my Halloween costume around every class room, our morning routine that started the day with a pledge, a Christmas tree that was just a Christmas tree, Mrs. Manning who came in for religion in the morning. I liked her. Can't remember a single thing she taught, but she was like a grandma who came to visit with a basket of love.

We live in a world of bullies. Maybe it is our duty to 'seed the clouds', to raise a new generation to think for themselves and to find peaceful means of resolution. Maybe we need to teach embracing differences instead of raging against them.

I say we eliminate the word 'bully' from Mr. Webster's dictionary.

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