Octo Observations: Stargazing vs Bullying

Less than a month into 2019 and many of us are pondering ways to improve ourselves. Runners don their jogging togs, diet ads abound, caloric goodies are forbidden, and resolutions to lose five or ten pounds niggle our thoughts. The remains of a double batch of chocolate frosted crème de menthe brownies reside in our freezer. Determined though I am to dump them, they are still there. My parents survived the Depression and taught me “waste not want not.” Unfortunately, this practice is bad for one’s waist!

Addressing our inner selves along with our physical body  requires will power, too. Last Sunday our young minister preached a positive sermon on “Stargazing,” the essence of which was counting our blessings and being positive. As I listened, my thoughts centered on how important it is for each of us to find the best in our fellow man. We live in an increasingly fractious and critical world. Attribute that to internet gossip, rumors, Facebook, tweets, the government, or just plain lack of good manners. Whatever the cause, time to take stock of ourselves and decide our own role in stopping the ugliness. Nastiness, mean remarks or putting someone else down has no place in a kinder, gentler world.

Since time began, bullying has existed. Sadly, since 1995 it is on the rise. Recent statistics indicate that 64 percent of American adults believe bullying is more prevalent among young people today than during their own childhood. As an elementary school child in the forties, I remember occasional bullying during recess. One little guy would pummel another or tease incessantly. Teachers had little patience for such actions and quickly sent the offender to the principal’s office. In seventh grade, there were “slam books,” small blue spiral note pads that looked like assignment books…..passed surreptitiously from one student to the next. Each page had a student’s name on it, and when a slam book was passed, instructions were to write a few words or a sentence, anonymously, good or bad, about that particular person. (Because I attended an all girls’ school, there were no male distractions.) Some girls wrote nice comments, while others were nasty. It took a while for teachers to catch on, but I believe they were alerted by attentive mothers whose daughters were treated poorly. I remember the day our English teacher stood up and demanded that all slam books be surrendered to her. Books disappeared, and severe lectures were delivered to each class. Our school had a merit system, whereby infractions were penalized by demerits. If a girl received too many, she was called up before the honor court. Slam book violations earned several demerits.

My Google search revealed three types of bullying: 

*VERBAL, which includes teasing, name-calling, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, and threats to cause harm.

*SOCIAL: Relational efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of targeted people.

*CYBERBULLYING: these are most evident on Face Book or Twitter or in chat rooms.

These day young girls who bully classmates are known as “Mean Girls.” This Christmas our eighth grade Connecticut granddaughter shared her experiences. As an avid and competent gymnast with a bedroom full of blue ribbons and trophies, our youngest granddaughter is petite, trim and fit: a pretty, super student, too. She is tiny, and as such has yet to develop some of the physical attributes of many girls her age. According to her, she handles the occasional nasty remarks by ignoring these “Mean Girls.” She says, “I have learned not to let them bother me…they think that if they act this way they will be the popular ones.” Good for you, honeybunch! But think about the young girls whose self-esteem and parental support system is not as secure. Those children become ripe victims of “Mean Girls,” and suffer emotional abuse. Where are the teachers in today’s world who stop this? Where are parents who suffer consequences because they allow their children to treat contemporaries that way? 

My concern is that if nasty or abusive behavior by youngsters is not addressed and treated during their youth, they will become those who bully in the workplace and in their own homes. In 1997 Peter Randall wrote a fascinating book called Adult Bullying: Perpetrators and Victims. Thanks to Amazon, I own a copy, and am learning a great deal about this subject. 

There is a biblical saying which my parents often repeated to me. It has stuck. And it says, in essence, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” My dad lived his motto that “if you cannot say anything nice about someone, do not say anything at all.” And if he were alive today, he would be 117 years old. He would be appalled by the cruel, mean things that are said about people of all callings, all stations in life, all around us. Sadly, this disrespect is only increasing rather than disappearing. We see evidence of it each day.

“Why do bullies bully?” A noteworthy on-line article says, “Bullying is a horrible fact of life and can affect us at any age.” Peter Graham writes that “Bullying is the aggressive behavior arising from the deliberate intent to cause physical or psychological distress to others.” Reasons stem from feelings of inadequacy, jealousy or problems at home or being bullied themselves, thus the trigger for anger and vulnerability. The bully often goes after someone “different.” This can happen in various areas of our society, even in families. An older child can be resentful of a younger child, and perhaps it stems from feeling left out when new baby is born. Perhaps it is totally unintentional by parents, but for whatever reason, they are unable to recognize the signs, and help the older child manage his or her feelings. How well I remember as a young mother of four trying to do all in my power to make sure no older child felt left out when we brought a new baby home from the hospital. We had our challenging moments, of course, but as I look at all four adult children, it feels as if their affection for each other is genuine and lasting. 

Look at today’s society. We are fixated on “social justice.” Much of that is warranted, but taken to an extreme, it can become insidious, and detrimental.  We see how wide the gaps are now between people of different ethnic backgrounds. So many are feeling persecuted, and it is happening not only among minorities, but even among people with varied political or religious beliefs. All the more reason that from early childhood, “it is essential that parents teach about bullying, so that their children develop positive mindsets and are better able to approach bullies and possibly prevent lasting damage.” No innocent baby is born with prejudice. Rather, it is acquired.

Peter Graham also writes that since 1995, bullying has been steadily rising.  To understand why this is happening would be a semester college course! But, I have my own suspicions, and part of me wonders if many young people are led to bullying by the fractious climate in which we live. More and more negativity abounds, whether it is on a government level, a local level or a personal level. We rarely look for the good in our fellow man.  Rather we pounce upon  perceived faults, failures and picky comments by anyone in power.  Where are inner filters that keep us from making nasty comments about others? These days newspapers too frequently highlight the downside of a story, rather than the upside. Bad news sells more papers than good. Facebook can be positive or toxic…most of us have read or received posts that trigger dysfunctional, hurtful and unkind responses. How sad. In some cases basic manners are not being taught either in schools or in homes. Are working parents now too busy with careers or simply trying to make ends meet to spend much needed one-on-one time that their children crave?  Is it too easy for couples to toss in the towel and get a divorce impacting their children rather than sit down and work out their problems?  Is consistent discipline archaic? Perhaps it is computer games, cell phones or unmonitored access to the internet as well as violent TV shows. Are too many teachers so afraid of offending parents that they let some observed negative behavior slide? Times have changed dramatically, and it is not good.

SO, what can we do to correct or discourage this behavior? What can I, as a bona fide Octogenarian do to deter this downward slide toward disrespect so detrimental to those around us? I can only affect those whose lives I touch each day. A thought.  Let each of us lead by example. We can each do our very best to be the best, most loving people possible: we can practice the Golden Rule on a daily basis. We can exemplify good manners. We can teach our grandchildren that it is not what you have that matters in this world.  It is what you are inside your hearts that counts. 

 A few years ago, I received a thank you note from a younger granddaughter who wrote, “Thank you, Grammy, for teaching me that shopping is fun, but being a good person is much more important.” I treasure her words…and I am so happy she, at age nine, was able to grasp my message. 

As grandparents, parents, neighbors, friends, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles we can teach our younger generations that we are all the same in God’s eyes. We can teach them that “honey catches more bees than vinegar.”  We can give praise when earned, but offer positive criticism when warranted. We can teach youngsters to surround themselves with people who lift them up rather than put them down. 

Most of all, we can turn off the TV, put away the cell phones, unplug our computers, spend meaningful time together, and take our youngsters outside on a beautiful evening. We can teach them to look up at the stars, each unique, and perfect. We can remind them that the best part of life is free because we can CHOOSE how we want to look at the world. Let’s view it through a lens of love, gratitude and kindness. After all, a few pounds may come and go, but a gentle word or thoughtful act lingers long.

Top photo: Bigstock

Joy Nevin is the author of Joy of Retirement – Live, Love, and Learn. Click to buy on Amazon.