Friday, November 08, 2013

It doesn't always get better

Okay, for better or worse, I'm chiming in on the hot-button topic of the day/week/month: bullying.
This is a subject that has gotten a lot of attention recently, even before things really bubbled over with the situation involving Miami Dolphins teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito. I've had my personal opinion about the matter for some time but it's this incident that makes me feel obligated to say something about it.
Because a lot of people see this as a personal conflict between two grown (and very large) men, it's not bullying to them. Jonathan Martin, the protagonist ("victim") in this scenario, is 24 years old, 6'5" tall and weighs 304 pounds. The antagonist ("bully") is Richie Incognito who is 30, 6'3", 319. There are people who believe that a 6'5 guy who weighs over 300 pounds simply can't be a victim of bullying. Especially if he's a football player. Players in the NFL (who are increasingly showing up in off-the-field headlines as the victims of suicide) are supposed to be as rough and tough as soldiers. Martin got fed up with taunts that included racial slurs and threats against his family members and left the team. People say this makes him a coward. He should have "manned up", "done something about it" and "handled it". First off, I think leaving is doing something about it. Because he's big and a football player, he doesn't have the option that most of us have which is to simply remove ourselves when we don't like what's going on around us for whatever reason? No, that's not handling things, they'll say. No, he should have stood up "like a man" and fought it out with Incognito. Those people believe that Incognito would have stopped misbehaving and probably even developed a deep and newfound respect for Martin. I would imagine that in those people's minds, Martin and Incognito would go on to become lifelong friends and go on to lead the Dolphins to victory in eight or nine Super Bowls. Those people live in a fantasy world. I believe the problem is deeper than that, at least out here in the world that I live in.

It doesn't always get better.

Justifying what's going with the Miami Dolphins as something less than bullying is a hair's width from the mindset that women who wear certain clothing are asking to be raped. It's what makes people snicker when they hear of incidents where a man is the victim of spousal abuse. Come on, folks. Yet, instead of putting some thought into these things, I see and hear people trying to boil things down to the simplest terms possible by saying things like (and these are actual quotes):
  • "...the "wussification" of our great nation"
  • "Man, all I know is if someone said those things to me, I'd tell him 'here's where you can meet me, let's handle this like men.'"
  • "It's ridiculous and we wonder why some kids these days are growing up to be wimps and cry babies" 
  • "Our children are being taught by and guided by liberal pussies. This is a result." 
  • "I hate how kids now are being raised to be "victims" in everything. Take responsibility and accept the punishment." 

We should be a little more enlightened than that by now, shouldn't we?  It's bigger...and more important... than political affiliation and jingoism, isn't it? I would think so. We should have at least started turning that corner when we started making buildings accessible for people with disabilities without thinking of them as less than human beings. Ultimately, we're talking about what kind of human beings we want our children to become and what society should look like in the future, right? Probably, but we can't get there as long as people think there are simple answers to complex problems. Hey, for what it's worth, I agree that we are all a little too soft these days. If we had to deal with what the pioneers did just 150 years ago, I'm not sure we'd make it. Forget the physical toughness; with our "what's in it for me?" sense of entitlement, there's no way we'd have ever been able to establish the basic infrastructure that allowed this country to become what it did.

"...but I'm not going to California. Why should my taxes pay for some stupid railroad? Or any roads at all, for that matter?"

But I digress. You aren't liable to find a bigger advocate for taking personal responsibility than me and I believe we could all benefit from developing thicker skin. Life is hard whether you ever encounter bullies or not and ultimately, you have to be personally accountable and take some initiative when you try to handle your problems one way or another. I also think it would be great if every time somebody hassled you, you could just belt them in the mouth and they would settle the hell down and leave you alone. But those conditions are not part of the reality in which any of us exist. For starters, bullies rarely let you just haul off and smack them in the mouth. That actually runs counter to their preferences. What if you're not a lineman in the NFL? What if you're small, weak or unskilled in fighting and you don't have the luxury of a Mr. Miyagi or Obi Wan Kenobi to help you learn combat techniques? Or what if you're none of these things? WHat if you are the biggest, baddest, mannest man, with tattoos and everything and the other guys is just that much bigger, stronger and better at fighting than you are? One day, you reach your breaking point, "man up" and challenge whoever it is that's making your life miserable... and not only do you not win the fight, you don't land a single blow and in fact, you get your ass decisively beat. What do you think is more likely: 
  • that your nemesis, impressed by your spunk and backbone, gives you respect by cutting you a wide path and leaving you alone?
  • that your nemesis, now with the verified knowledge that he can beat your ass in a fight, decides to dial up the assholery and make things even worse for you?
Look, I believe that part of growing up is testing boundaries and a lot of that comes in the form of teasing and responding to getting teased. That doesn't always necessarily translate to "bullying", in my opinion.  I'm not saying that every kid who gets teased or picked on is a "victim". Nor am I saying that every kid who picks on other kids fits into this category, but many bullies are true sociopaths who actually want to destroy people on every level. There's evidence that Incognito was bullied as a kid, was taught to "man up" and now as a full-grown adult, has a track record of bullying behavior that goes back over ten years if not longer.  Are we to believe that not once during that time span did someone "man up" against Incognito, thereby teaching him a lesson and ending his bad behavior? Meanwhile, what about those who simply can't fight their way out of these situations? What do we say to them? 

"Well, too bad. You didn't sufficiently "man up" enough and now you deserve to be treated terribly for the rest of your life. Sorry. You are less than a man and therefor, you have allowed this to happen to you. Should have been born bigger, stronger and with an inclination and ability to solve your problems physically, LIKE A MAN. Of course, we still expect you to be a healthy, stable and productive member of society who treats others well, pitches in when we need help and raises good kids of your own, so good luck with that, you little bitch."
Not to mention those who simply choose to leave instead of fight or take it, and as a result, face being labeled as "cowards" which is at least as bad if not worse.

Yeah, I'll agree that all sounds really simple but it sure doesn't seem like a solution to me.

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