In the current culture the definition of bullying has changed from objective to subjective. Now a person can merely state she is being bullied when her feelings have been hurt. "Bullying" has lost its original meaning. It has been corrupted.
Previously name calling and teasing were considered a normal part of growing up. Children did it to each other. It was part of learning that others can be quite mean. The definition of bullying in the past was limited to physical or verbal intimidation of a stronger person with a less formidable one. The bullying was an attempt to force a person to do something against his will. It was much more objective than our present subjective one.
Today, normal exchanges between children are treated as horrendous incidents. Now when a person feels someone has demeaned him he can pull out the "bullying card." The victim's sensitivity to the words and actions of another is the major determining factor of the "new bullying."
Name-calling was not perceived as bullying but a foolish action that only resulted in the obnoxious child eventually being shunned by others. This was a natural children's learning experience among peers that increased the awareness of how to select friends. They realized children could be either tyrants or friends.
This switch from objective criteria to a subjective definition of bullying is leading us down a dangerous path. Individual speech and behavior are being censored by attaching the bullying label to a person for ridiculous reasons. Just a short time ago these behaviors were seen as appropriate behaviors in specific settings. Unsupervised play among peers taught children to stand up for themselves and fight their own battles. These incidents allowed them to be desensitized to put downs and to deal with other kinds of interaction.
Presently, school officials, legislators and the media are attempting to send anti-bullying messages by employing a misguided bullying strategy. In Florida there is proposed legislation, "The Safe Athletic Education Act," that would require athletes to sign a pledge not to engage in bullying. Since there is no agreement upon an objective definition of what constitutes a bullying action, any decision will arbitrarily depend on the feelings of the person in charge of the investigation. Refusal to sign this pledge will disallow innocent students from playing high school sports. This is granting unlimited bullying rights to bureaucratic administrators.
This is an attempt to bully adolescents into signing a statement that the students know is in conflict with normal and competitive behavior in the locker room and on the competitive playing field. "Trash talking" is a part of everyday life in these arenas. Bureaucrats do not have the foggiest idea of what takes place in high adrenaline sports activities.
The news media became involved with the Miami Dolphins locker room. Jonathan Martin accused fellow lineman, Richie Incognito, of bullying. They were teammates and supposedly friends. Most of the Miami Dolphin players' statements indicated that their trash talking behavior was not out of the ordinary and certainly not racial.
The NFL floated a trial balloon that mentioning the "N" word or the "F" (gay slur) word would be considered bullying. The league players denounced the plan as a form of censorship of free speech. African Americans often refer to each other and friends by using the N word.
Public schools are decreeing zero tolerance of bullying. This usually means both parties will receive the same punishment regardless of their involvement in the incident. Just like the NFL, these top-down policies are bizarre attempts to eliminate complex human interactions.
Each incident should be investigated as unique. There should not be a blanket punishment to all involved. Instead, it should be carefully decided on the facts of what took place. Sensitive and kind speech and behavior cannot be legislated by the state. Youngsters have to develop "thick skin" to function in the crude and insensitive subculture of their peers.
As a society we should not be hypocritical when attempting to command our children to be decent people. "Do as I say, not as I do," is a bad policy. The teaching of appropriate behavior is best left to the family. Intimidating individuals with censorship of speech or action from high ranking officials will not work.
This will create more problems than it will solve especially by increasing disrespect for our authority figures. Only after exhausting all other avenues, ignoring to removing oneself from the company of the instigator, a person needs to defend himself by speaking with the proper authorities to receive assistance. We do not need more ridiculous unenforceable laws.
Domenick Maglio, PhD. is a columnist carried by various newspapers, an author of several books and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program in Spring Hill. Visit Dr. Maglio at www.drmaglio.blogspot.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.