Bullying has been in the headlines a lot lately, with the news bringing stories of tragic teen suicides occurring with what seems intolerable frequency and now of a bus monitor reduced to tears by no larger a power than middle-schoolers. There is also the documentary Bully that came out recently, shining a spotlight on the issue. Someone I know remarked that a distant relative, living in Arizona, seethes with hatred towards Mexicans. My acquaintance remarked, “don’t they realize that the Mexicans were there first?” It got me thinking about the proud history of the United States, which has as some of its earliest chapters the wresting away of this land from the people who lived here. You know, the Native Americans.
What is bullying after all? According to an online definition, it is to “Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” Would it be fair to say that early Americans bullied this land away from the Indians, who – for all their various skills and knowledge – were no match for invading diseases, alcohol, fire power, and the written word? For that matter, the entire history of Europe is about bullying and posturing: fighting to the death over land and resources. To be fair, wars existed among some Native tribes as well, but the fact remains that peaceful and warring Natives were equally out-bullied by settlers. So what?! We were stronger, right? The school bully is stronger too. His or her philosophy is “I will take what is yours because I am stronger. I will humiliate you because you can’t defend yourself. I will taunt because there is nothing to stop me.”
So, is there something more to bullying than peer pressure and hormones? Is bullying part of the fiber of the American character? Are there examples of widely accepted behavior that could be considered bullying? Is it bullying that McDonald’s can pay you $7.25 an hour (basically because your dad was in prison and your mom was a druggy, and you didn’t have the good sense to discipline yourself throughout your childhood, teach yourself proper English, and get into college)? Is it bullying that the lawyer, who had the good fortune of having sane parents and good discipline, and possibly a college fund, can charge you a $120/hour when your son is arrested (basically because you can neither afford to pay others to keep him occupied, nor can you afford to stay home to watch over him)? Is it bullying that the good people of Alabama can make a law making the existence of the horrible immigrants in their state who undercut them in competition by being willing to pick produce and gut chickens for dirt cheap? Isn’t the nation transfixed and salivating to be like Donald Trump, whose favorite phrase is “you’re fired”? Aren’t Americans in love with reality shows based on the premise of humiliation, whether it is scheming, catty women on the Bachelor, or an out-of-control chef on Hell’s Kitchen? Is it not a mantra on Wall Street that “greed is good”? Doesn’t the better-bankrolled candidate win? Doesn’t the person with the connections get hired? Doesn’t the stronger always get the better of the weaker, whether the imbalance of power is “real or perceived”? Isn’t bullying institutionalized, and even revered?