Thursday, January 14, 2016

Making Bullying Great Again

When I was in elementary school, I rode the bus to and from those hallowed halls of education every day. On one particular trek back home after an arduous day of multiplication tables and bagged milk, I was caught staring at a cute, older girl by one of the "cool" kids. I immediately felt as if I had swallowed a house -- there was a solid ten minutes before my stop. I was no longer riding a bus, but instead found myself in the clutches of a childish thunder dome.

One of the kids found out my name was Daniel. "More like, Danielle!" The dig was met with uproarious laughter -- oh, the humanity. I think that was the day I officially decided that I would go by Dan forever.

I had, no doubt, broken a sacred rule for school-aged kids: older kids (especially of the opposite sex) are off limits. And in breaking that precious rule, I inadvertently opened myself up to some good, 'ole fashioned public humiliation. I can remember the moments on the bus like they were yesterday. I can even remember the Phoenix Suns hat (snap-backs before they were cool) I was wearing. Backwards? Of course.

But I do not have any memories of the aftermath. None. When I got home that fateful day, I met up with my neighborhood friends and spent the rest of the evening trying to figure out how to sell pizzas (made of play-dough, topped with nickles, dimes and pennies) to kids' parents. I didn't have a Facebook, Twitter, or any form of social media with which to bear my soul and recent trials. I was forced to get over it.

So what has changed? Why are 7-year-olds wearing bullying bracelets, that, with the touch of a button, stream a live audio feed of the unfolding events directly to their parents? More importantly, why are parents rushing to the aid of their special snowflake at the earliest sign of trouble?

I contend that bullying, measured both by number of incidents and their severity, is not on the rise. Organizations claim that it is, but I imagine there are lots of "bullying" incidents being reported that would have little claim to legitimacy if the public mood surrounding the subject wasn't so hellbent on justice for bullied children, no matter the cost.

So why all of the anti-bullying campaigns, Facebook groups, .org's, PTA meetings? For the love of all things, why the damn bracelets?

Because we have completely lost our perspective. And without the ability to put things into perspective, our capacity for handling adversity is in serious decline.

The permanence of the internet, and our plethora of channels to immediately access that permanency, is a powerful thing. And for young people, it's the gateway drug that can lead to the complete loss of one's sense of purpose and value. And young people are learning these habits from their parents -- constantly checking their feeds, updating here, quipping there.

This is the equivalent of drinking yourself into oblivion in front of your child, and then gracing them with a bottle of Maker's Mark for their 11th birthday. The only problem with this analogy is that when you are drunk and you do something reasonably stupid, people know you are drunk. They know that tomorrow, when sober, you will be back to your old self.

But the internet doesn't know that what you say when you're 12 probably has no bearing on who you actually are. To the internet, what you say is what you are. Kids no longer learn to forget about the silly little mistakes they make, because those mistakes follow them for a lot longer. And heaven forbid they go viral.

We are no longer free to make mistakes. Therefore, we are no longer privy to the treasure-trove of learning experiences that come from those mistakes.

Some perspective: there are probably a lot of parents out there concerned, right now, about bullying. Let's say there are 10 million moms and dads fretting, up all night, because O'Doyle (rules!) took Timmy's ball at recess.

Now, how many of those parents are going to vote for Donald Trump in 2016? Before you ask me what's wrong with "making America great again," ask yourself this: how many people did Mr. Trump bully the living shit out of to get to where he is today?

Now, off to find that lost perspective. On the internet. Oh, dear god. 

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