Friday, March 8, 2013

All Eyes on Bullies

Seemingly out of nowhere, bullying found itself back at the center of attention this week.  Ray Rice and Courtney Watson testified in favor of a bill in the House of Delegates making cyber-bullying a crime, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $500 fine.  Council-member Calvin Ball publicly introduced Howard County Voices for Change (sure to cause my dear Voices for Children fits with confusion), which will "facilitate discussion among youth coupled with the county's anti-bullying task force" to create bottom-up solutions for bullying in and out of our schools.  Off the local scene, Slate's Emily Bazelon published a new book called Sticks and Stones, focused on solutions to bullying that is soaring up the charts, for which there is a long-form summary found here (highly recommend the read as a filter on solutions via legislation). 


Count me as someone who does not believe the solution to bullying will ever be found in the statute books.  I've found that the most well-intentioned people are having a hard time remembering what it was like to be a kid.  Or maybe they just don't care.  The impulse is to do "something" and "this is something."  I still think we have a problem with the bully concept; pointing outward instead of inward.  If more talks to kids started with "I was a bully" instead of "I was bullied", we may be moving in the right direction, but our own weakness and pride prevents this.

There's biology and psychiatry at play.  Up to a certain age, our empathy circuits are not fully formed.  We have a hard time putting ourselves in the shoes of others.  How often do we show exasperation towards a child that seems to show no regard for how hard their parents work to put food on the table and keep the house clean?  It's the exact same thing!  As Bazelon notes in her article and her book, the most successful efforts at addressing bullying find a way to replicate this biological-deficiency, such as a prompt on your Facebook feed saying "That sounds a little harsh.  Are you sure you meant to say that?"  Or a legion of Twitter handles telling the bully "That was not cool" in various forms of aggression and vulgarity.

We cry out when a seven-year-old gets suspended for making a gun out of a pastry, but don't stop to think "how did we get here?"  We get there by trying to legislate solutions to complex problems.  Anyone who monitors these things can predict that it is more likely that a law criminalizing cyber-bullying will result in injustice than justice.  Objectively appropriate application of the law will result in a subjectively inappropriate sanction.

Meanwhile, we have a building full of popular, successful, charismatic leaders, none of whom is willing to once say "I was a bully" and start the conversation there.

That's all for today.  Have a great Friday doing what you love!  It's impossible not to.