On Bullying

You, with your words like knives
And swords and weapons that you use against me,
You, have knocked me off my feet again,
Got me feeling like I’m nothing.
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard
Calling me out when I’m wounded.
You, pickin’ on the weaker man.
Well you can take me down,
With just one single blow.
But you don’t know, what you don’t know,

Someday, I’ll be living in a big old city,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Someday, I’ll be big enough so you can’t hit me,
And all you’re ever gonna be is mean.
Why you gotta be so mean?

You, with your switching sides,
And your walk by lies and your humiliation
You, have pointed out my flaws again,
As if I don’t already see them.
I walk with my head down,
Trying to block you out cause I’ll never impress you
I just wanna feel okay again.

I bet you got pushed around,
Somebody made you cold,
But the cycle ends right now,
You can’t lead me down that road,
You don’t know, what you don’t know

~ Taylor Swift, “Mean”

David Brooks’ newly revived blog over at The New York Times provides a reliable stream of interpretations of psychological and sociological academic studies, highlighting their relevance to the layperson.

In this post, Brooks asks a question that I’ve been trying to find an answer to since childhood:  Are bullies thoughtless or careless? 

The study in question suggests the latter–from the abstract:

Relative to victims, both bullies and defenders showed advanced moral competence, integrating information about beliefs and outcomes in judging the moral permissibility of an action; victims showed delayed moral competence, focusing on outcome information alone. Paradoxically, despite the advanced moral competence of bullies, they were woefully deficient with respect to their moral compassion when compared to both victims and defenders.

In English:  Bullies may be able to tell the difference between right and wrong even better than their victims, but they don’t give a rat’s ass about how their actions affect other people’s feelings.

Having been on the receiving end of my fair share of bullying, this part seems obvious.  So let’s assume this is the case — kids bully because they lack compassion, not because they lack moral competence.  What should be done?

Brooks’ conclusion is:

This reinforces a growing body of research that suggests knowing right from wrong is not necessarily connected to behaving rightly or wrongly. Moral lectures don’t work well, but telling people stories designed to arouse compassion might.

This raises the question of whether compassion can be taught (as Brooks suggests), or whether it is instilled (or not) by personal experience, or even if it is something we are born with (or not).

My wife considers me to be a generally compassionate person. Could this be the reason I was the target of bullying? Or, did bullying result in my sympathizing with other targets, rather than with bullies and defenders (the cool kids)? Or, did my parents’ heavy-handed insistence on doing the right thing, the moral competence side of the equation, require compassionate behavior and thereby breed a compassionate attitude?

This chicken-and-egg causation may illuminate the discussion from a human development perspective, but I think the important takeaway from this research is that we need to better understand how to effectively educate all students about the consequences of bullying. In order to do that, aggressive actions need to actually have consequences for the bullies. If I came into work today and called a co-worker a faggot, I could be fired and/or sued for sexual harassment. But in a high school hallway, it simply comes with the territory — there are usually no consequences. Then we wonder why so many people in my generation are diagnosed with anxiety and depression and prescribed Prozac. Certainly not because we spent our formative years shitting on each other’s self-esteem, oh no.

The bullying I put up with in school back in the 1990s seems quaint and harmless compared to what I’ve read about in the papers — cyberbullying, sexting, spreading disgusting rumors via the Internet and cell phones, without stopping to think twice about the consequences. The technology automatic displays of aggression, discouraging compassionate reflection.  This 21st-century bullying has me genuinely concerned about teenagers today and in subsequent generations.  If stories like this one — a Western Massachusetts girl commit suicide last year after being targeted by ruthless bullying — don’t instill compassion, what will work?

Fortunately, schools and State governments are starting to catch up and address bullying more seriously. And, there is evidence that recent tragedies involving bullies pushing kids over the edge garnering national attention is prompting kids to develop more compassionate attitudes. But, we know bullies are with us to stay. Finding an answer to this question, how do you teach compassion, as well as ensuring that bullies incur consequences and accountability in their schools, is key.

And now, for something completely different

Because this blog is only four days old, and has no readers, I can do whatever I want. That said, I’m introducing a theme of covering items of culture and style most guys have no interest in.  Appropriately, I’ll use this post to introduce my heretofore nonexistent readers to a very hot young blonde. 🙂

Miranda Lambert has been an obsession of mine since her first album, Kerosene,was released in 2005 (fellow country fans may recall the singles “Me and Charlie Talking” and “Bring Me Down”).  Miranda’s voice evokes a passionate style, feelings of anger, of love, of nostalgia.  I purchased her second album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in May 2007, coincidentally in celebration of finishing my Master’s degree. It went on to win an Academy of Country Music Album of the Year award, and in fact is in my top ten albums, but I was personally a little disappointed. As noted by some country fans, it appeared to be an attempt to transform her image into a that of a badass Texas girl above all else (which she is, but also so much more).

I fell in love with Miranda all over again with Revolution — her third and heretofore best album. For her efforts, she took home Female Vocalist of the Year and Album of the Year awards, and her introspective hit “The House That Built Me” topped the charts and took the Song of the Year and Music Video of the Year categories in last year’s CMA Awards.  The album is Miranda at her best — introspective, sassy, poignant, and with a measure of attitude.

I’d be remiss not to mention that she is soon to be married to fellow country singer Blake Shelton (known for “Austin,” “Old Red,” and “All About Tonight,” among others), whom I saw last year headlining WGNA’s Countryfest. Congrats to both!

Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton

 

Countryfest is an annual concert in the perfect setting: Altamont, New York – set against the backdrop of the Helderberg Mountains.  Lots of beer, pickup trucks with painted-over back windows, fried dough, bikini-clad women… you get the idea: a country music fan’s dream.

I said all that to say this — Miranda Lambert will be headling Countryfest on July 9! (and no, this IS NOT  a paid promotion).

A Few Good Men in the Tundra

The Albany Times-Union’s “Strange News” headlines are among my reliable sources of daily amusement.  Unexpectedly, today’s blog inspiration comes all the way from the manly military and oil town of Anchorage, Alaska, where a few dozen men walked a mile in high-heels on Friday to raise awareness and funding to end sexual assault and violence against women.

I like this for two reasons:

1.  Men are taking the initiative to speak out against rape and domestic violence. This is critical to ending the culture of silence that surrounds these behaviors.  A lot of guys have the attitude that if they see their buddy acting coercively or violent toward a woman, it’s none of their business.  But, if one of your buddies is walking in high-heels to make a public statement that this behavior is not okay, you might start thinking twice about whether you have support, instead of counting on the people around you to keep their mouths shut about it.

Thomas at Yes Means Yes writes:

“…if we are going to put a dent in the prevalence of rape, we need to change the environment that the rapist operates in. Choose not to be part of a rape-supportive environment. Rape jokes are not jokes. Woman-hating jokes are not jokes. These guys are telling you what they think. When you laugh along to get their approval, you give them yours. You tell them that the social license to operate is in force; that you’ll go along with the pact to turn your eyes away from the evidence; to make excuses for them; to assume it’s a mistake, of the first time, or a confusing situation. You’re telling them that they’re at low risk.”

We need to create a rape-unsupportive environment!

2.  They are sending the message in a fun, self-effacing way. Guys can laugh at other guys wearing high-heels, and they can laugh at themselves wearing high-heels.  “Busting balls” — poking fun at each other and being able to laugh at yourself —  is a cornerstone of male camaraderie.  In this sense, the element of humor makes the message more widely palatable.

I consider myself to be sensitive to feminist concerns and receptive to feminist messages.  But, anti-feminism is common in conservative rural communities.  Men are more likely to hear anti-domestic violence and anti-rape admonitions and consider them part of a litany of other “fem-nazi” (in Rush Limbaugh’s parlance) propaganda.

So, in short, to the extent men in conservative America can take up the mantle against domestic violence and rape in a fun, “hey, that’s not cool, man” way, we’ll go further in changing the culture.

So, I think I’ll blog

First, the title is inspired by the book Guyland by Dr. Michael Kimmel, a sociological discussion of masculinity in contemporary America and the complexity of being a young man.  Undoubtedly, I’ll summarize and discuss the book more thoroughly in a later post.

Second, everyone is familiar with the “guy code”:  Man Up.  Boys don’t cry.  Bros before hos.  Nice guys finish last.  The thing is, I don’t abide by it. I don’t want to abide by it.  The guy code makes no sense. Sure, sometimes I act the part and follow these rules, but are they really the life guidelines that comprise manhood?  No.  Are they what I would teach or expect of my sons (if I have any), on par with the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments? Certainly not. I’m sorry, but I will befriend women, including those I wouldn’t sleep with, and view them as equals.  Sports are fun to watch on occasion, but they are not important.  In my view, violence is unacceptable.  Unless my life or someone else’s is threatened, I’d walk away from a fight.  The pressure to prove yourself and fit in is ubiquitous, and at the same time, it is pointless in a universal sense.  It is far more important to do the right thing, to be a decent human being, than to “be a man” and fulfill an arbitrary gender role.

I cannot help but feel like an outsider in “Guyland” — Kimmel’s term of art for the culture of teenage and twenty-something men.  Most of my friends since childhood have been girls or women; in fact I’m happily married to my best friend.  Even so, this culture should be discussed more critically.  To be blunt, why do men do such stupid, eff-ed up things, and what can be done about it? The “guy code” seems to be an elephant in the room of society whenever I read news reports of rape on college campuses, domestic violence incidents, disgusting hazing practices, school bullying, and numerous other activities ranging from  poor judgment to sociopathic crime.

So, I think I’ll blog because I’m passionate about this topic, and also because I’ve been out of school for four years now and could use some intellectual and creative stimulation beyond my work in government bureaucracy and watching six nightly reruns of Family Guy.  It is my hope to meet some like-minded folks, men and women, who feel alienated or offended by the crude behavior and the oppressive rules of “acceptable” manly behavior.  It is also my hope to discuss, with a measure of humility, humor and respect, what should be done to change it.