Have You Ever Been Bullied?

That is a question I keep asking myself these days.  I ask it when I hear “Make America great again.” I ask it when I hear our governor say that “slavery taught important skills.”  I ask it when an 18-year-old from an affluent community slings anti-Semitic slurs at a group of teens dressed in religious garb. I ask it when I hear very dear and old friends tell me that there is no such thing as systemic racism. I ask it when a qualified minority has been passed over for a white male with lesser qualifications other than being a “buddy.”

The question behind the question is really, “Have you ever found yourself in a position where others make you feel as if you are less?”

“Make America great again”….for whom?  “slavery taught skills”….and what was the price paid?  Bullying is a way of putting others down.

Today, our country has been given permission to put others down; to be mean.   That is so unfortunate because all that has happened in the past four decades has been intended to stop bullying.  We legislate equal rights because, without the legislation, things would not change. That is just human nature.

Have we gone too far with the legislation?  I suspect every citizen of the United States would have a different response to that question.

But what we have had is some modicum of decorum.  While we might not agree, we moderated our disagreement when we spoke or acted.  There was a façade of courtesy.  That is gone.  That is a shame.

Bullying takes many forms.  The American Psychological Association defines bullying as:

“Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions.”

What that definition tells me is that bullying is often subtle. Or it could be quite overt. Either way, someone is in the position of being seen as lesser than the other.  I find that troubling and the antithesis of who we thought we were, as a country.

I have had my share of being on the receiving end of being made to feel less, early in my career as a United States Marine.

I have watched my uncle and his life partner suffer disparagement throughout their 50 years together, until the time when my uncle was dying and the hospital would not allow his life partner to be with him – only family.

With decades as an executive in private industry human resources, I have watched white male business leaders make their hiring decisions based on familiarity.  No one had to tell me why affirmative action was legislated.  I’d seen it with my own eyes.  In truth, I still see it today.

Is all that bullying? It seems to fit the definition.

Which is why I ask myself the question, “Have you ever been bullied?” when I hear someone making remarks about making our country great again.  For whom?

Perhaps those who sling mean remarks or subtle looks have never been on the receiving end?

The license we have been given to disparage others is troubling. That we want to erase the centuries of disparagement is even worse, but that is for another article.

The proverbial pendulum has swung, perhaps too far for some.  People like Jordan Peterson have provided support for persons who feel that their role in life has been compromised and they are struggling to find meaning.

Moms for Liberty promises to protect girls from life’s hard lessons.

The Christian right calls people back to traditional, conservative values.

None of these are wrong.  Like advocacy groups before them, the NAACP, League of Women Voters, the National Organization for Women, GLADD, and other movements to protect LGBT rights, or like the American Civil Liberties Union that has defended rights protected by the Constitution since 1920, special interest groups band together to find support and a louder voice in hopes of finding their constitutionally protected rights.

The pendulum is a scientific concept. It is drawn by gravity to the middle.  When it is pulled to one side, it swings to the other side until gravity eventually brings it back to equilibrium.  Scientifically, the time between swinging from one side to another is called “the period.”

That’s where we seem to be these days – swung to the other side, waiting for gravity to create equilibrium.

The physics of a pendulum, though, is straightforward. With human beings, nothing is ever that easy.  Think of the number of people in the country and then multiply that by all the different variables that define each of us.

But as human beings, we can control ourselves.  That is powerful.  Could we bring the pendulum back to equilibrium?

Honestly, I’m doubtful.

Which brings me back to the question: “Have you ever been bullied?”

In my opinion (and experience), there is a benefit to being bullied.  That benefit is growth and strength. By surviving as individuals, we grow stronger.  But we often need a support system as we grow – someone or something to provide insight, hope and strength.

But if we never have to dig down deep in ourselves to find the strength to pull up, we remain on the surface thinking that everything is okay and will continue to be okay.  At least that’s what it looks like from our narrow vantage point.

If, on the other hand, we experience bullying and survive, I think it may open our eyes to others’ plights and troubles.

Even if we have not experienced the troubles personally, we are privileged to read about others’ experiences, feel their pain, understand the myriad differences in people and groups of people, and open our minds to the possibility that there are, in fact, those who are not treated as equal.

When I think about America, it is the equal opportunity that we have espoused for centuries that makes me proud.  Not equal outcome, because that is not possible.  But equal opportunity.

I get the pendulum swings back in favor of “the way it was.”  But who was “that way” for?  If we allow ourselves to erase or whitewash history, we are doing a disservice to everyone.

And in today’s world, the license to be mean and say whatever epithet comes to mind, no matter how hurtful or rude, has created a divide that will be difficult to heal.

Bullies have been told, “It’s okay to be a bully.”  Accountability has left the building.

Maybe not, but that remains to be seen.


Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson
CAROL is the founder and Principal of Anderson Performance Partners, LLC, a business consultancy focused on bringing together organizational leaders to unite all aspects of the business – CEO, CFO, HR – to build, implement and evaluate a workforce alignment strategy. With over 35 years of executive leadership, she brings a unique lens and proven methodologies to help CEOs demand performance from HR and to develop the capability of HR to deliver business results by aligning the workforce to the strategy. She is the author of Leading an HR Transformation, published by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2018, which provides a practical RoadMap for human resource professionals to lead the process of aligning the workforce to the business strategy, and deliver results, and writes regularly for several business publications.

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