A few key names to consider: Richie Incognito, Chris Christie, Michael Dunn; the Baruch College fraternity boys. What do they have in common, this odd group of disparate males? Bullying. Unacceptably aggressive behavior. "Boys will be boys" mentality. Yes, it's a motley crew.
Frankly, I'm sick of that phrase, "boys will be boys." I have a boy, now a man, and I can't remember a time when that boy's "being a boy" included slamming another kid's head to the ground, making repugnant sexual comments about a teammate's sister, shooting strangers over loud music, spewing racial epithets, or demanding political support with threats of reprisal. And yet that kind of behavior is not only too often dismissed by that idiotic meme, it's behavior that appears to be metastasizing in a global culture that continues to move the bar of what's acceptable.
One need only glance through history books or the cultural media of a society to see that bullies and their ilk have been with us since time immemorial. Perhaps it is part of testosterone-driven DNA to grab a gal by the hair and drag her to a cave, demand "protection money" with threats of mob annihilation, or throw your weight around to win a few votes. Certainly we've got enough dark folklore, gangster movies, and political scandals to prove the point. But when does the toxicity of all this thuggery reach a saturation level that is no longer forgivable, no longer something to brush aside with weary tropes and deflective winks?
Now. Right now.
Let's look at just a very short list of stories that have made the news of late:
Hazing Death of Baruch Fraternity Pledge Declared a Homicide: This would be the homicide of young college freshman, Chun "Michael" Deng, whose head was bashed into the ground as part of a hazing ritual of the Pi Delta Psi fraternity at New York's Baruch College. One can only ask: did not one of those boys involved consider the ramifications of such physical bullying? Not one? Apparently not; it took them over two hours to even get the injured boy to the hospital, where he later died. Boys will be boys.
Florida loud music trial: jury fails to reach principal murder verdict: Surely you've heard of this one; it's been all over the news. An aggressive fellow with a gun decided the music coming from a van parked in a Florida gas station was too loud and after a verbal altercation with the teenagers in that van, pulled out his gun and took 10 shots, 3 of which killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was found dead in the back seat. Despite claims that other guns were drawn and the shooter was "charged" by the angry victim, no such evidence was found. The verdict - while stunning in its lack of conviction on the murder charge - will still put this guy away for awhile. Bullying behavior once more leads to death. But boys will be boys, right?
Chris Christie's problem is that he's really, truly a bully: Ah yes, "Bridgegate." That ongoing debacle of epic proportions that appears to underscore the thuggish behavior of the very high-profile and potential presidential candidate, Chris Christie. While others may argue for or against his "style of leadership," this article is just one of many that illustrates how bully mentality is used in lieu of smart, political diplomacy. Perhaps because it's more expeditious? More effective? Or maybe just another "boys will be boys" interpretation of how to be a powerful man who "gets the job done."
NFL must quickly create safer work environment in response to Ted Wells report : This one tackles (pun grimly intended) a myriad of issues related to the bully culture in athletics, specifically the abrasive, abusive behavior of Richie Incognito and his henchmen on the Miami Dolphins. While public response has taken all sides on this issue, I urge you, before you too fire off a comment about what a "pussy" Jonathan Martin is or how football players are excused from integrity because of the aggression they're allowed on the field, to read the very comprehensive (144 page) REPORT TO THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE CONCERNING ISSUES OF WORKPLACE CONDUCT AT THE MIAMI DOLPHINS. It is a sobering indictment of where the "boys will be boys" mentality can ultimately lead: to a systemically corrupt atmosphere where ugly, assaultive, racist, misogynist, and emotional (sometimes physical) abuse is not only endemic, but tolerated and forgiven. It might give you cause to rethink your stance.
And those are just a few of the current stories; there are many others like these. But let's be clear - and fair; it's not just about the male of our species. The climate in which misguided boys grow into misguided men who metastasize from schoolyard bullies to destructive thugs is the same one that fosters the female bully, the "mean girls" who can terrorize a victim to death with just the right degree of online harassment. I would hazard a guess that just as many women become bullies as men and while they may not be as physically violent, they are no less toxic. Just read the story of 14-year-old Rebecca Sedwick's "suicide by bullying" and you'll get the point. And how many women were involved in making online death threats against 5-year-old Disney star, Mia Talerico, because her show, "Good Luck Charlie," included gay parents in a storyline? Equal opportunity thuggery, certainly.
But whatever the gender, the issue of bullies doesn't seem to rise to a level of concern for enough people. Someone said to me recently, "It's the way of the world, the way of culture. There will always be bullies, there's nothing we can do about it."
Yes, there will always be bullies. But I beg to differ on the "nothing we can do about it" abdication. There is something we can do about it and, like so many other things, it starts in the home. In the early environment where core values are embedded and honorable behavior is both modeled and expected. Children can and must be taught empathy... in fact, empathy is the antidote to bullying. When one can "walk in the shoes" of another person, they're less likely to slam a weaker kid's head into a locker. When one has learned how to calm an argument or deflect the escalation of a fight, they're less likely to join a wolf-pack hell bent on "kicking some pussy's ass." When one has been taught the value of ethics, integrity, tolerance and respect, they're less likely to spew racial epithets, demean women, terrorize the less popular, or find victims amongst those who are different in one way or another.
I know some resist the "put it all on the parents" theory, but, dammit, that's where it starts. Take it seriously from that point and at least a kid will have a foundation to hopefully keep him or her grounded when the toxic influences of the outside world creep in. When we live in a society where even our online discourse has been co-oped by trolls (compelling a recent study to label the practice "everyday sadism"), we MUST get very proactive about the messages, imprints, ideals, philosophies and practices of our children. We created them and our job is to send them out into the world as the best possible adults they can be.
Let's do better at that. Humanity depends on it.
Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Facebook, Twitter, and Rock+Paper+Music. Details and links to her other work at www.lorrainedevonwilke.com.