The truth is that the strong don’t always survive. Usually the weak survive and the cowardly and the mediocre. They gather their forces to destroy the strong because the strong are at the core of their fear. (Pete Hamill, Forever)
Shortly after the publication of my children’s book, The One and Only Ben, I was invited to be the featured speaker for an anti-bullying program at a local institution and to read the book. (I’ll share more about that institution in a moment.) One of the themes of the book is self-faith, recognizing the capacities, gifts, and blessings that are ours alone. Needless to say, lack of self-faith and the correspondingly increasing rates of depression and suicides in our schools is a growing concern.
Though I’ve chronicled my own experience with depression and my abiding sympathy for people who suffer similarly (people who’ve experienced depression will never let another suffer alone), I have to say this: I don’t have much sympathy when it comes to children being bullied.
Yes. It’s horribly, unimaginably sad when children are tormented unto suicide and self-destructive behaviors. But if we believed we owe our children the senses of strength and independence they need to live their own lives (rather than making them the obsessive centers of ours); if we gave our children the time and attention they crave (rather than the pharmaceuticals we think they need); and if we taught our children to flatten bullies’ noses (rather than becoming the cringing victims on which bullies prey), they might not have to rely on national organizations to fight their battles for them.
Lest you find me heartless, permit me to say this, as well: The local institution to which I was invited wasn’t a school. It was a retirement living community. The program in which I participated wasn’t for children. It was for seniors. And even after having had retirement-living communities for clients, for the bullying of seniors I had no capacities for understanding, patience, or tolerance. But then I did a little digging.
According to SeniorHomes.com:
Between 10 and 20 percent of older adults living in senior living communities are mistreated by their peers, and often the behavior goes unreported.
And according to the Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook:
Dementia can sometimes be the cause of violence since someone with dementia may wrongly perceive things as threatening so they resort to a more primitive response … Bullying can also be a result of the human phenomenon of the strong picking on the weak and not a function of aging at all.
There you have it. To recast the terms of the Sourcebook in their relative reality, in the elderly, we see the human phenomenon of the weak picking on the weaker. In children who will grow older and stronger, who can learn to defend themselves, and who can move out of and beyond the circumstances in which they’re bullied, there is hope. In the elderly, there is only aging, weakness, and helplessness — even in those who bully to hide their fear of aging, weakness, and helplessness.
And, so, even with the institutional rules and order of senior living communities, we remain human to the end.
Learn more about the link between bullying and substance abuse with this guide by Keith Prance.