OPINION

Finding the real: Enough with the bullying; we can do better

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Let's talk about bullying - and let's make it stop in Pratt.

Bullies are nothing new. As long as there have been humans on the planet, there have been bullies and victims. I don’t like bullies, I don’t like seeing the helplessness of victims, especially when they are kids I know and love. I don't like when people throw their weight around in the business community with gossip or selective support economically. Who does?

I know of some kids who are having trouble with bullies right here in Pratt schools, in junior high. Those pre-teen, early teen years are so hard, especially when one just doesn’t quite fit in. How can anyone make a difference, change the dynamics, create a world where there isn’t bullies? Talking about it, sharing experiences helps.

When I was in junior high I don’t remember having much trouble with bullies. Maybe that was because I had a best friend who always stuck up for me. I was a little squirt, the smallest in my class, but I was also fast and  smart and that made people jealous so they picked on me. One day in the locker room a few classmate bullies took my gym shoes and were throwing them over the top of the lockers. My best friend took their shoes and threw them in the toilet. Problem solved. I was lucky I had someone to stand up for me. Shout out to my best friend, whom I haven't seen in years, but I know would stil stick up for me without question, as I would her.

Later in life, I realized it probably would have been better for me to learn to deal with bullies at a younger age. It took me 30 years to realize that there are ways to take power away from bullies without anyone getting hurt. I also learned that sometimes bullies are their own worst victims.

Believe it or not, bullies are people too. Most bullies are the way they are because they are covering up their own hurt and pain of rejection, insecurity or helplessness. As long as they can make someone else feel weak and insignificant, they feel stronger.

Feeling empathy or sympathy for bullies can help diffuse a situation, but it doesn't protect the victim. Learning how to develop inner strength does help.

Weakness comes from inside, developing self-confidence, learning the value of individual gifts and traits is a good place to start. Develop an inner core of strength that remains untouchable by anyone on the outside. Being a Christian helps tremendously with this concept because a believer is never alone. When God is in you, always with you, there is never a time when all is lost.

Of course, we live in a broken world where there are unreasonable people all around. When the mind has been damaged beyond repair, there is no making sense of a situation. Bullies thrive on chaos, uncertainty and weakness.

One way to take power away from a bully is to not respond to taunting. That’s easier said than done. Bullies count on an emotional reaction to create a scene in which they hold all the power. Social media platforms are often blamed for the perpetuation of bullying, but the truth of the matter is that parents have not taught their children it is okay to turn off the noise. In fact, it takes a stronger person to walk away from a useless conversation that it does to get in the last word. And adults suffer from that complex more than children, whether in person, on Facebook or by email.

It is my understanding that a lot of school-age bullying happens, however, when children are too young to know the difference between bad and good vibes. That is when those who know better might gently step in and explain how hurtful words can be. Again, weakness is in the person who bullies. It takes a stronger person to rise above or put a stop to something that doesn't feel right. Children, especially, are likely not able to separate themselves and their inner value from hurtful words when they are not true, because they still take them at face value, and that's when the damage is done.

My own mother always told me to “make like a duck,” meaning a duck can fluff up it’s feather and shed water when it rains so it never gets soaked. When confronted by a bully try pretending you are a duck, and then just breathe and enjoy the rain. Shake off fear and look into a bully’s eyes and see them for what they are - alone, afraid and uninformed.

It has been my experience that most bullies are uneducated, or mentally limited in some way so that they cannot function without a smokescreen of chaos in life. Or they have simply had bad role models in life. Children do what they see. Immaturitiy, greed and selfishness in adults create a breeding ground for bullying behavior.

We can all do better.

When one has a strong inner core it is possible to befriend a bully and model a better way of communicating, one that uses respect for differences and honors individuality, all the while valuing one’s own needs and talents first. However, we need to teach our children, and model in our own lives that it is not a bad idea to consider getting away from a bullying situation until one is ready to deal with it. There is no shame in staying away from someone who threatens another's life, self-worth and stability.

And it is always a good idea to tell someone else about what is going on. True friends should always help their friends stand up to bullies, sometimes just simply calling a situation what it is can be enough to diffuse a hurtful confrontation. We all know what it looks like and how it feels, why turn away?

Bullying doesn’t do anyone any good. It doesn’t make a person look cool, it doesn’t make them look strong. In the long run, it has the opposite effect. The best thing to remember is that bullying is really the bully’s problem, not your own. A bully is motivated by fear. Issues can be resolved when that fear is identified.

I wish I could go to school with some of my young friends and be the person that throws the bully’s shoes in the toilet. But I can’t, and that really doesn't solve anything. So instead, maybe we could all take a closer look at what fear is fueling this bullying behavior. And let’s work at building up the inner core strength of those who are feeling shaky as they deal with the changes and drama that all junior highers must face. American poet Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.” We all need to do better in modeling good behaviour in our society. Children do what they see, and if they don't see the right behavoir at home, in school, or online, they fill the void. It’s 2021 and we all have bullies to deal with in all stages of life, in business, in politics, in the community, in our schools. We can do better because we all know better.