Bullying permeates culture

Published 5:36 pm Thursday, December 5, 2013

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Joan Nash at the swimming pool where we both swim occasionally.

It had been years since I’d seen Joan, probably since our sons had been students of the Polk County school system. After the usual “how are yous,” we began talking about schools and children and conservation and all those things that old friends start talking about after 10 years of not talking to each other. Bullying in schools is the topic that consumed most of our time that afternoon. Joan asked me to write a Conservation Corner on that topic, and I told her that I’d do my best. Since then, I’ve been consumed with the thought process required to connect bullying with conservation. The connection is there, but it is a subtle one.

Bullying requires an aggressor and a victim. Most of us have had enough experience and counseling to know that sometimes the victim is a participant in the bullying as well as the bully. Both are part of a very negative form of interaction. We also know that victimization takes on a pattern with time. The first time a child is victimized, or bullied, that child is totally innocent. With successive bullying, that child may begin to accept the situation as “just the way it is.” We also know that children who bully often have been bullied themselves at some time or other in the past. Bullying produces more bullies, more victims, or more denying people.

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What I have been wrestling with is “Who, in this scenario, takes responsibility for those negative actions?”

The bully will say the victim deserves it; the victim blames the bully for being mean; and the person in denial says the situation is “just life,” not worth serious discussion.

Is the problem of bullying one of aggression? Or is the problem one of negative aggression versus positive aggression? And, what has this got to do with conservation?

Here’s where my mind is in a quandary. A seed bursting through earth’s floor is aggressive. Birth of a child is aggressive. Life itself is aggressive.

The seed takes responsibility for its actions; it grows and gives forth another seed (or 100 seeds) at the end of its growth cycle. The baby says, “Here I am!” When that baby dies, he goes back into the earth from whence he came along with his parents and grandparents.

We take responsibility when we are proud of what we have done. When our actions have originated from a negative or selfish place, we tend to blame it on someone else, our culture, our government or corporations. I believe the culture that we have created has the propensity to accept life as it is so long as we are benefiting from the results. We are the richest nation or earth, and that is because we live in a country blessed with countless natural resources. We came to this fertile country at a time when we knew just how to extract the life out of all those natural resources, thanks to the modern industrial revolution.

Is it totally out of line to say that those natural resources have been the victims of our insecurities, our insatiable need for more and more things to fill our own lack of self worth? And what responses would the victims have: to keep on being victimized, or push back aggressively with reactions such as climate change, barren soil or erosion, or to accept it all as the way it is? Those resources are there for the taking. If we don’t get them, someone else will. It would be sheer stupidity to leave those natural resources “as is” while we “do without.”

Is bullying a problem in our schools, or is it a problem that permeates our entire culture, one that values the winner above all? Bullying requires a winner and a loser; being a winner is very important. Our ecosystem works quite differently in that all systems need to be in balance for the total ecosystem to survive. In short, we all win or we all lose.

The “we” includes all creatures, large and small, smelly or cute, wild or domestic. A bully society will eventually be a dead society. We’ve definitely got a problem.

What’s happening in our schools is the tip of the iceberg. And it can’t be fixed with negative actions. We must choose life over things, real value over instant gratification. It means listening to the victim, Mother Earth, treating her as a partner rather than a victim. And it won’t be easy.

Maybe at Christmastime we would be wise to listen to what Christ said, “As you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.”