Thursday, July 5, 2012

Bully for Us All

Bullying seems to presently be our culture’s “cause da jour.” Barely a week goes by without someone writing a book about this problem or starting a charity to combat its consequences. And that’s admirable. As far as it goes.

But as is the case with so many of our difficulties, no one I’ve heard thus far is attacking the root cause. If this is a cultural malady, then there’s something festering in our culture. That fester needs more than a Band-Aid. It needs an antibiotic.

Bullying has always been prevalent. But why does it seem so much more common today? Well, I’m going to blame the same culprit that I see as having a bad influence on most of our society—Television, or more broadly: what passes for entertainment today.

Watch most any sit-com long enough and there will be an episode wherein there is an attempt to joke about some poor young soul having to systematically give up his lunch money to the school thug. Anyone who’s ever been in that position knows that’s not funny.

But what do you expect when children rule the roost? That’s exactly what has happened. Before the 1960s, most bullies were eventually dealt with sternly by the adults in their lives: their parents, their teachers, their neighbors…and even some of their victims. Now, sternness (however deserved) of any degree is interpreted as brutality.

There is an episode of the old Dick VanDyke show, that could never be aired today. It’s episode 20 of the first season, broadcast February 7, 1962, and entitled, “A Word A Day.”

Dick asks a clergyman how his father disciplined him as a child, and the clergyman answers, “With an understanding smile and a rap in the mouth.” The line got a big laugh—back in 1962.

Today, that line would generate hate mail, boycotts of the program’s sponsors, and perhaps even cancellation of the show.

An increase in bullying is a symptom. That increase is a part of the price we are paying for relinquishing our responsibility as adults—a tendency that has increased over the past several generations. It’s a signpost indicating: you are now entering 21st century culture.

My task here is not to advocate one form of chastisement over another. I’m not a child psychologist; just a parent. As always, my goal is to make people think. Every change comes with cost. Did the escalating permissive attitude that took hold in the 60s cost us control over our children? If so, how much control did we lose?

More importantly, how can we regain that control without swinging back too far in the opposite direction?

If you’re at least thinking about this right now. I’m content.

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