Children run home screaming that someone at school is bothering them – calling them names, picking on them, and fighting. Parents are familiar with this scenario because many of them were victims of bullying as well. Somehow, they got over it - moved on with their lives. However, as new parents, they find themselves rushing to the side of their children, allaying fears, and demanding that a cap be placed on bullying. Okay, it’s probably safe to say that bullying has been around a long time – so why the focus?
While W.S. Churchill conveyed to us that there is a way out everything except death, recent attention has focused on individuals who took their own lives and the lives of others as a result of bullying. Thus, is it possible for parents, counselors, and educators to convince children that these targeted acts of unkindness, cruel words, and outbreaks of physical abuse inflicted on others will pass when they enter the magical world of adulthood?
Are we kidding ourselves? Let’s face the facts. It would be unrealistic to go home each night, look in the mirror and convince ourselves that bullying goes away in adulthood. We know bullying stays; it also morphs into retaliation, coercion, power play, and corruption. So, as children transition from the playground to the workforce:
The fish bowl gets bigger with more room to swim,
but watch for bigger fish that gobble at whim.
A friend once shared her experience about standing up for a coworker who was treated terribly while employed by a large firm. After attending several meetings, she was convinced that her fellow coworkers were going after this person for no reason. This individual did his work, voiced his opinion at meetings, and appeared to be doing a good job. Although his opinions did not always align with the group, he was polite and considerate of others. Yet, he was subjected to continuous mistreatment and harassment from coworkers.
It became clear that the efforts put forth to go after this person were not random acts. They were part of a plan, developed and supported by the boss who used his Machiavellian skills to avert detection and responsibility for the consequences endured by this coworker.
As time went by, she began to notice that her friends at work started to ignore her and to treat her differently. Her salary increases were decreasing and she knew that coworkers were sabotaging her work, speaking untruths about her, and interfering with her relationship with others in the firm. It became apparent that because she stood up for the rights of this one coworker, she too, became a target of bullying and retaliation. It was obvious the other coworkers sided with the boss – viewed as the safe-haven group. Whatever the boss wanted, they performed. If he said, “Jump off the cliff!” Okay. “Eat dirt!” Okay. “Hurt others!” Okay.
Coworkers were afraid to confront the boss and stand up for this one person. After all, there were repercussions for not cooperating with the boss. The coworkers were well-educated people who had careers and family members to think about, children in school and college, and concerns about the economy. Why consider the harm done to this person; just press the easy button.
In exchange for their support, later discoveries through legal channels revealed that the safe-haven group was showered with bonuses, higher raises, and awards that appeared to fall from the sky. The message was clear. Bullying and corruption pays at the expense of others throughout our lives.
Now, what do we tell our children?