News & Press
Community Wellness: Time to stop our bully culture.
By Robert Lathers, LMSW
Posted Mar. 11, 2016 at 11:07 PM
Bullying is the use of one’s power to diminish the freedom and safety of someone else. It is now a pervasive part of everyday community life. It is everywhere. It is practiced by adults, adolescents and even children.
We are hearing that cyberbullying is rampant and that it is very harmful. But bullying has a long reach and it is found at work, at school, in the lunchroom and on the playground. It can be in homes between parents, between siblings, and too often between parents and children. It lives in neighborhoods. We experience it when we are driving as we are gestured by someone who feels slighted by our driving behavior. It can happen at stop lights, as some people even go so far as to wave or point guns at other drivers. As if none of this is enough, we get to experience it when we watch television sporting events and sadly, even more recently, when we are watching political debates. It has become an all-too-acceptable part of our daily life and culture.
A few years ago I was a registered MHSAA basketball official. Several times a week I put on a striped shirt and drove to a middle school or high school gym to participate in a game that I played and loved through my college years. It wasn’t always fun being half-wrong on every call I made, but is was joyous being exhausted at the end of the night and feeling like I contributed to the game. Then one night, a parent approached me at half-time and told me that if I did not stop making such one-sided calls that he would be waiting for me after the game. I brushed it off, but as I was leaving the gym I saw him standing next to my car in the parking lot. I had to call the local police to escort me to my car and I watched in my rear view mirror all the way home. It was the last time I officiated a basketball game … bullied out of the game.
However, my personal experience is small compared to the magnitude of the problem as we know it today. Anyone who is “different” is potentially at risk. Everything about us can be fair game. Our religion. Our weight. Our gender identity. Our reading level. Our place of employment. Our parents. The way we talk. The games we play. Where we live. A disability.
Persons with a disability are often too familiar with being bullied. This is especially true for persons who have a developmental disability who are too often excluded from the “normal group,” or the “normal graduation” or “normal jobs” or even “normal public places and events.” Persons with addictions are often referred to as “addicts” and persons with a mental illness are referred to as a “mental case.” Just because it's verbal bullying does not make it any less harmful. In fact, I believe that bullying has become the single most major obstacle to overcoming the stigma of a disability, an addiction or a mental illness.