Sometimes with trending stories like bullying, it looks as though all the news reports are a continuous story drawn with one brush stroke. In fact, it's more like a Seurat painting. Only when you look up close do you realize that the dots aren't connected but individual points on a screen.
In the past month, several seemingly non-related stories have boldly drawn new battle lines about how people treat each other.
- Sen. Ted Cruz bullies Congress and colleagues to force a government shutdown
- A clarion call for the parents of the girls who cyber bullied 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick to be held accountable
- Dolphins football player Jonathan Martin saying no to hazing from his teammates
These stories have collectively raised awareness and debate about the issue of adult bullying which happens to be the focus of my new book, The Need to Say No: How to Be Bullish and Not Bullied.
The benefit of all these stories clustered together is that the media has put the spotlight on the issue, which leads to more people speaking out which may lead to changes in how anti-bullying laws are enforced.
Would Martin, the brawny pro-football player, have had the courage to speak without the issue dominating the news? Was what he experienced different than other athletes in a sport's locker room? After all, he wasn't a wimpy-looking kid or a guy from the wrong side of the tracks getting picked on. He's a Stanford grad. But with raised awareness, he knew he didn't have to take it and could say no to unacceptable behavior.
Furthermore, would the Miami Dolphins have reversed course and issued a statement late Sunday night stating they are "taking these allegations very seriously" and stressing they are committed to a culture of team-first accountability?
I doubt it.
Nor was I shocked to learn that Vivian Vosburg, whose daughter tormented Rebecca Sedwick, was later arrested after a video surfaced showing her punching two young boys. As Justin Patchin, co-director of the Cyber bullying Research Center, and co-author of the upcoming book "Words Wound: Delete Cyber bullying and Make Kindness Go Viral" points out, the laws of every state (except Montana) direct schools to enact bullying policies. If the parents don't respond to the teachers' complaints, what can be done?
Is is surprising that many bullies have parents who are bullies? They will defend their little demons when you call up begging for mercy by dismissing your concerns with that popular, but insensitive cliché: "Kids will be kids. Maybe your kid should toughen up."
Rare are parents like Jose Legares, a Texas dad who listened to those complaints and made his son wear a sign that read: "I am a bully." This punishment, said Legares, was to sensitize him to what it feels like to be humiliated. The young boy later apologized to his classmate.
Sadly, more resemble the parents of the two girls in Florida, now accused of such brutal relentless stalking that Rebecca Sedwick, 12, hurled herself off a tower and committed suicide. As the result of tragic suicides like Rebecca Sedwick, the cluster effect has had an impact on the internet companies who initially were resistant about releasing information on the identities of cyber bullies.
Public pressure, along with the media coverage of stories such as Sedwick and 34-year-old Carla Franklin who successfully sued Google to expose the person who wrote false hurtful comments on the Web about her, have helped reverse this policy.
Enlightened individuals are also saying no to bullying. Florida Sherriff Grady Judd decided to get involved in policing existing laws and possibly expanding them to take action outside local school's jurisdiction.
It's not as though adult bullying has not been a topic of concern. Aaron Sorkin's movie, A Few Good Men addressed this issue as do books like Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being.
But lately with these news stories coupled with the fierce global competition bringing out the worst in people, adult bullying is suddenly too rampant to ignore. Americans want to say no to this behavior which is undermining our families, raising our stress levels and robbing us of the potential to live in a civilized culture.
Those who diminish others to raise their own status can no longer escape criticism because now there's a punitive label attached to it. In the current marketplace, being branded a bully is now taken more seriously in the boardroom, in the bedroom, on the football field in the school classroom.
This sensitization with all this media coverage is a step in the right direction. What I've learned is that bullies need to establish dominance. They create the illusion of their power but deep down fear being challenged. Which is why all of us must remember that silence is a sound. By speaking up, you can change the image people have of you as well as the image you have of yourself.