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Neagley: On Bullying

09/06/12 5:55PM By Marilyn Neagley
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(Host) Issues of diversity and social equity are much in the headlines these days, and bullying seems to be widespread. Commentator Marilyn Webb Neagley is an education consultant and author with both professional and personal experience on the subject.

(Neagley) As a child I was once unexpectedly shoved outside school by an older girl, who cornered me when I tried to break away. An upper classman told her to stop, but she ignored him with a defiant grin. Then, out of nowhere my 230 pound grandmother appeared in her over-sized car. I'll never know why she came for me that day but I was very glad to see her and my school mate never bullied me again. Without a word spoken the girl understood that what she was doing was completely unacceptable.

Sometimes, just the strong and silent presence of a third party will help diffuse intended harm. Other times, respectful dialogue may uncover deeper personal stories and lead to understanding.

A neighbor recently made racist comments, knowing that my granddaughter is bi-racial. A wise mentor suggested that I simply respond with the question, "Why did you say that?" It was excellent advice. Asking a question and waiting for a thoughtful reply is potentially much more helpful than severing ties or fueling confrontation.

Webster's Dictionary offers contradictory definitions of the word "bully". As an adjective "bully" is synonymous with excellent and admirable. Yet as a noun bully is defined as "a quarrelsome, swaggering, cowardly fellow; one who terrorizes or threatens those weaker than himself."

And bullies do sometimes hold positions of leadership and power. They may be charming and admirable yet feel the need to tear others down. The show of aggression may be a way to maintain power or respond to fear. Seeking the protection and validation of a group, bullies often gang together hoping they themselves will not be harmed. And, if everyone else is bullying, that must make it ok.

Few of us can say we've never been bullied or have never bullied another. Perhaps as employers we've publicly humiliated an employee, just to let him know who's in charge. As a parent or teacher, we may have disciplined and embarrassed a child in front of others. Or we may have used humor at someone's expense, just to get a laugh.

In its simplest forms, bullying may appear as bad manners - like choosing to ignore another person, withholding a compliment and refusing to say "I'm sorry" or "thank you". More deeply damaging and dangerous forms of bullying range from name-calling and making racist or sexist remarks to physical abuse, like date rape. Extreme examples of societal bullying are experienced through acts of war and terrorism.

Standing up to a bully takes courage. When my own children were picked on they were told that the bully probably hadn't been loved enough. I hoped this would help them find the courage not only to stand up to the bully, but also empathize with the bully. After all, courage stems from the Latin word meaning heart.

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