Telling people to “Quit bullying” is like giving cough medicine to a woman with pulmonary edema. It treats the symptom and not the problem. Two problems that exacerbate bullying are a decline in morals and a societal move away from community.
David Stuck and Deborah Greenbaugh were fellow students in my elementary school class. Both were bullied. David stuttered and had a last name that fit too well with his trademark handicap. Deborah was lanky, nerdy and Jewish and just-didn't-fit-in. I knew that this bullying was a bad thing. My parents wouldn't have approved and a voice in my soul said it wasn't appropriate. See how I remember their names even today. Still I said nothing though David and I had sort of a fellowship. He called me every Monday night for the weekly spelling words (he missed class for speech therapy); always interrupting an episode of Davy Crockett. I'd get mad for the interruption but I felt bad about the bullying. Contrast that with the soul of today’s culture in which Snark is the status-quo and points are given for satire and innuendo.
“Since time immemorial, etiquette has been used to establish the principles of social virtue, as well as the rules, symbols, and rituals of civilized life,” but this etiquette Judith Martin speaks of is a lost ideology. “…such virtues as compassion, respect, and toleration are shared by morals and manners, and hence form the basis of imperatives of ethics, as well as of etiquette.” Generation X-ers have tossed out these virtues with the bathwater as have their parents before them. If virtues such as respect and compassion are not bedrock values then there is no reason bullying is wrong.
As a teen I belonged to a Boy Scout troop. In our troop there was a pecking order. The highest ranked and the older boys were expected to pick on the younger and lower ranking. Whoa to you if you were outside the troop and picked on any of us. We were a solid unit, part gang, part family. The same guys that would pick on the young and weak would carry their packs a mile for them if necessary. It was a safe place to belong.
Service organizations, churches and synagogues were previously safe places to belong. Yet in current years, “the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.” “In his book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," Robert D. Putnam said that attending club meetings, such as those held by Rotary and Kiwanis groups, has declined by 58 percent in the past 25 years; and that we have 43 percent fewer family dinners and fewer friends that drop by our homes to say hello. We are much more likely to sit in front of our X-Box or I-thing than we are to be integrated into a safe community such as Girl Scouts or the local Rotary club.
Bullying is only wrong if there is a moral imperative. If we no longer hold to a Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) or simple etiquette than picking on another is simply showing off one’s wit and society rewards that behaviour. Too it is easier to do in the privacy of ones’ home as opposed to a group or club that has some values for the group and the individual members.
We can make Public Service Announcements all we want about the wrongs of bullying. We can enact laws that bully people into not bullying. We can even create huge advertising schemes that focus on beauty not bullying. Telling people it is wrong when there is no standard or benchmark to measure it against guarantees failure. You can keep giving the coughing woman Codeine but it doesn't get to the heart of the issue.