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We learn right from wrong from our role models

Bullying is all the rage these days and the rage is directed against the bullies. So it should be. There have been high profile cases recently showing the tragic consequences this behaviour can have. These put the focus on teen bullying, but the problem is more serious. It is a wider and deeper illness that has infected society since well before the Age of Social Networking.
A bully is an aggressive individual who uses his or her strength to intimidate someone who is perceived to be weaker or more insecure. Sometimes it is the threat of physical violence, sometimes it’s hurtful verbal abuse.
Youthful bullies learn the trade somewhere. Most often, in the home. One of the most common home-grown forms is domestic abuse: a father who uses the fist to dominate the mother. When children grow  up in this environment, when they see that bullying gets results, what do they learn?
Add in cultural expressions of bullying such as the recently concluded TV program House MD.
The main character, a doctor, was a bully. He belittled and intimidated his colleagues and patients. At the end of every show Dr. House was proven right. Bad behaviour got good results.
Think also about how political attack ads change voting behaviour.
We’ve seen it in Canadian elections, and we’ve seen it almost every day in the past few months from the American election. Lies and innuendo are used to destroy political careers.
Ann Coulter, an ultra-conservative news commentator, called President Obama a “retard” and still kept her job. Once again, bullying was not punished.
Before the birth of the Internet, hurtfulness was more transient. Stupid words would leave a mouth, hit an ear and disappear into the air. They’d rattle around in the mind for a while, then be forgotten or covered over. More often than not, they’d be met with a statement that “sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me.”
But now they are not just spoken, not transient. They are written and stored on Twitter and Facebook and they don’t go away. Names do hurt.
We have to teach our sons and daughters the quantity of friends is not as important as the quality of friendship.
Facebook “friends” are not friends at all. They are contacts.
No one grows up with thousands of friends. A couple of dozen, if that many, will be true friends, people you can turn to in times of need.
Several more will be acquaintances, people with whom you can pass the time of day once in a while. Social network contacts are just that. I can like Jeff Beck’s music and have him as a Facebook “friend,” but I’ll never meet him in the Woolly and buy him a beer.
Bullies can be either individuals or institutions. It is encouraging, if slightly ironic, that schools are taking a no nonsense approach to the problem. Ironic because there was a time when the schools themselves were the bullies. They were part of a culture that forced young people to conform to whatever norm was predominant at the time.
If our schools and courts are ever going to deal with the problem effectively, they can’t just punish the bully.
The only way to end it is to find out where and when on the path from childhood to adolescence and into adulthood did the transition from good to bad occur.
Find the parent or teacher or priest or social worker who did the damage and punish him or her as well.
No one is born bad. We learn right and wrong from people we see as role models.

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