Bullying. It is the buzzword around town. It whispers the names of Jamey Rodemeyer and Tyler Clementi. It is the face of those who are not perceived to live up to the expectations of a society that insists it is enlightened, yet encourages an impossible perfection. It is the experience that will follow you and haunt you, well into your adult years.
My 17 years of experience as a human services professional working with people with intellectual impairments, autism and other disabilities has afforded me many unpleasant experiences with how incredibly cruel people can be. The bullying these individuals have endured has far out-shadowed my personal experience with it. During times that I have defended those who are bullied, I have experienced the rolling eyes and accusations of political correctness when I have asked people to refrain from using the "R" word in casual conversation. Regardless of the insistence of many that equal opportunity is afforded to all, I know this not to be true.
I would have expected that my years of advocacy and loyalty to those who are most often bullied would have prepared me to be the mother of a preteen girl entering middle school. Sadly it has not. My child has been bullied. I was not prepared for the feelings of anger and sadness, feelings that I had experienced many times before, but never in the context of a mother protecting her child. I am sympathetic to her embarrassment because no child wants her parent to know she is not loved by everyone. I am furious with the parents of the bully. I have watched them and suspect that this behavior is very much tolerated. I am frustrated because I know there is little I can do. It provides me with empathy for the overprotective parent, because I want more than anything for this to stop.
Make no mistake, I am not perfect, nor is my daughter. In fact this past year, she was the person who bullied another child. I was angry and she was regretful and we used that as a very important teachable moment. I am certain that she will never do that again. I do not expect perfection - humans are quite imperfect - but isn't that the point? We are gifted with the ability to think, to feel and to make good choices. Unfortunately, sometimes we do not.
Bullying for me has moved from a buzzword to an action with which I am now intimately involved. I am amazed - astounded really - that this could be the case. Because virtually any day I can turn on the television and find a talk show or news report on bullying. Because as parents, we would expect nothing less from our children than complete respect for one another. Because I was under the impression that we have learned as a collective society that the psychological damage caused by bullying is relentless and unforgiving and we would wish that on no other human being. Because while we may not like one another, we recognize the obligation to basic human decency. I thought that as parents and as a community directly impacted by the horror of bullying, that we knew better.
As we enter the start of a new school year, I ask you to consider your own actions. Are you the person who is buzzing about bullying while tolerating the act? Or are you the person who will take a stand, today - right now - to make it stop? On behalf of the millions of people who are bullied every day, I implore you to be the latter.
Karen Battaglia, who has worked in human services for 17 years, has faith that kindness can prevail.