Bullying a Legacy from Our Leaders?
By Hwaa Irfan
Sometimes, when one knows something to be true, and it pains one that that is a truth, to witness repetition of it in daily life might compel one to deny that it has become a sad reality. For all intents and purposes the U.S. projected image falls short in the context of bullying and an alarming product of that shortfall is xenophobia in the lives of ordinary American citizens.
And so it was for a 16-year old Croatian girl as she laid in her prom dress in her coffin. Sladjana Vidovic’s could not take any more and committed suicide by jumping out her bedroom window. A native of Bosnia, her reality in an American school was full of taunts because of her not so perfect American/English accent at a school that ironically goes by the name of Mentor High School. When one is insulted without justified cause on a regular basis, in an environment that is under the mistaken belief that this is the only way to live (Ohio was voted one of the 100 Best Places to Live” by CNN and Money magazine in 2010), the insults become personal because one begins to see one’s self through their eyes, and eventually in their image. The irreducible right to human dignity is stolen, and the scars remain long into adulthood. This is the case for 1st/2nd generation children of migrants, as the parents are preoccupied with settling into their new environment, making a home, and making a living that can better the chances for their children. This leaves the child in a world of their own, a world that they cannot reason with, because they do not have the previous experience, and many times the vocabulary that goes with that experience to objectify the process by talking it out whether the medium be a diary or somebody else.
When one’s peers takes one’s name, which is a name from one’s home country, and then turns it into something disgusting, one is vilifying not just a name, but one’s identity. Sladjana’s name was changed to “Slutty Jana” or “Slut-Jana-Vagina,” which is no indication of her nature, but is an indication of the manner in which her peers have been raised. But how is one to know that, when one’s family migrated to a country in the hope of a better life? Sladjana had food thrown at her, in a time when 49,000 Americans are in a very desperate need for food – what does this say about the manner in which her peers have been raised? Sladhana was pushed down the stairs by a boy, hit in the face with a bottle by a girl, death threats in the middle of the night – future American voters. Sladjana tried, but for how long can one defend one’s self against such ignorance. She could not take it anymore, and withdrew from the school one week before she died to attend online schooling. It was probably then that she felt the fullness of the humiliating experience of Mentor School!
In the Middle East, one can say to their faces that they have not been trained (mafish tarbia) properly, and that would be enough to stop a person dead in the tracks of their bad behavior, but this requires a community that has communal mores rooted in some basic ethics. Mentor School promised to intervene to her parents, but school values have to be pervasive enough to over ride the lack of values that the children enter school with. It also requires a school to be vigilant in the implementation of such values. Yet, school values are remiss when the family asked for records of bullying to only tell the family that the records were destroyed in the process of switching computers – the school really aught to change its name!
The same peers who walked up to Sladjana as she lay in her coffin and laughed – yes laughed! It was maybe then that the reality for Sladjana who brought home to her family. Not the fun loving girl who loved to dance with her family or the Sladjana who always had an infectious smile, but the Sladjana who faced an ugly reality in the pleasant beach town community they had migrated to from Bosnia. The death of their daughter is a rude awakening for her parents, an awakening that has led them to take legal action against the school, but will the school wake up?
The reason given by some of the students who were interviewed was that if one is not in the school team, or a cheer-leader then one is considered to “not be cool,” and not being cool opens the risk of being bullied. Looking at the growing problem of school bullying, a longitudinal study was carried out by Dr. Terri Moffit, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, U.K. The study looked at 2,232 children from when they were 5 years old to seven years old. Looking at the school attended, the neighborhood and the family that large schools with a large population was a direct link, but found a decrease in bullying when the school population was larger – the researchers suggested that this may be due to under reporting. It would make sense if one compares those who move from living in the countryside to the city, and the depersonalizing experience of the large, overcrowded city.
Another causal factor was domestic violence in the home, and abused children ran the increased risk of becoming victims of bullying. Internalized behavior problems increased the risk of becoming a victim of of bullying, and a decreased the risk of being a bully. Children who externalize the problem are more likely to become bullies.
The list is far too long to demonstrate the means by which politicians in general today “act” on behalf of their people, against their interests, and the interests of the people of another country. If a prime example has to be plucked from the air, then the most apparent case is the case of Palestine because Palestinians voted in a manner that was not in favor of, Israel, and Israeli allies, and China for having the economic prowess that seems unavailable to the G20.
Our politicians provide a carte blanche example for the rest of the population, preferring their interest over the interest of the people. The first method is to make the people believe that they are actually living in a democracy, and by democracy I am referring to Western countries who expect others to follow their “example”. By referring to one’s country as a democratic state, one creates victims. By telling a country that carries out a misdemeanor on one of its citizens that they have no human rights – no democracy, one is hiding/ignoring the misdemeanors and human rights abuse that is taking place in one’s country, especially those that are a product of one’s policy.
When a person stands up for themselves, they are given all kinds of derogatory labels including a dissident, a traitor or a terrorist or simply mentally ill as a result of cumulative psychiatric injury. Like child bullies, some adults/politicians are skilled at manipulating the perceptions of others, i.e. those excluded from the arena of direct bullying. Citizens are told not be violent, but out of the public view, the bully/the government are violent if not physically, psychologically/economically/culturally etc; and because the real target of the bully/the government has been vilified publicly, the public adds to the process believing the myths of the bully/the government; and because the socially accepted bully/the government said it is true, it must be true!
Even if discovered, because of the social acceptability, the the socially accepted bully/the government does not have to accept responsibility, and the victims are considered to be weak and oppressed by their own values accept that those values to the socially acceptable is the flaw and the whipping stick. The bully is empowered by the social acceptance, and claims the right to violate the rights of the target/victim for there is only one boundary, the boundary of the bully/the government. In turn what happens to the target/victim is that they internalize the process of humiliation and blame themselves, because unless they have a strong identity, there is no socio-cultural support to explain otherwise.
Like child bullies, some governments are made up of politicians who lack true self esteem and in so doing ape high self esteem in the form of arrogance, being self assured, the feeling that they can do anything they like and get away with it and therefore untouchable, and rule by fear.
To break this cycle we have work from both the top and the bottom of society, i.e. from the child bully to the government, and this means that citizens can no longer afford to shift the blame. A major step towards that endeavor is to be informed by means other than that provided by the schools and the pertinent governments.
Bully Online , U.K.
Overcoming Bullying , U.S.
Safe Schools Coalition , U.S.
Bullying No Way , Australia
Barr, M. “One Ohio School, 4 Bullied Teens Dead at Own Hand.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/9302406
Bowes L, Arseneault L, Maughan B, Taylor A, Caspi A, & Moffitt TE (2009). School, Neighborhood, and Family Factors Are Associated With Children’s Bullying Involvement: A Nationally Representative Longitudinal Study J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry.
“Myths and Perceptions About School Bullying” http://www.bullyonline.org/schoolbully/myths.htm