Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Conversation with My Brother, The Bully

A few months ago I shared with you the story of my personal bullying experience as a child at the hands of my brother. Recently, I had the opportunity to have a candid conversation with my brother and get his perspective on being the bully.

Sister:  You admit that you bullied me?

Brother: I didn’t see it as bullying you. Just a form of teasing. It was fun to get you angry. And I knew you wouldn’t retaliate. Besides, my friend Mike teased his sister all the time. And we never got into any trouble for doing anything. There were no consequences for our behavior. Mom never said anything or punished me.

Sister:  What about the violence? The pain you caused me?

Brother: I don’t remember too much about that. That time I rammed the plastic pool boat into your face and chipped your tooth---I meant to hit your nose.

Sister:  You broke my front tooth. (What?! You wanted to break my nose?!)

Brother:  I didn’t think about it one way or the other. The time I beat up your friend, I just got out of control. I didn’t mean to bloody her nose.

Sister:  You didn’t even get grounded or any form of punishment. Mom forbid me from seeing my friend because she said she was the troublemaker.

Brother:  I know, like I said, no consequences. Mother tolerated my behavior, ignored it. I think if she had been a better parent and paid more attention to what was happening, then she would have come down on me and stopped me.  I think she insulated me from the reality of being a bully. And besides, you never fought back.

Sister:  It wasn’t worth it. You would hit me harder. You never thought once about my pain?

Brother:  Part of being a bully is ignorance of others’ pain. And a lack of respect for another. Part of my excuse then, is that I would get out of control. Even our father just said that he never hit his sister, why did I? But why wouldn’t I, if I could do anything I wanted and not have any consequences?

Sister:  Would you have stopped it if you had been punished?

Brother:  I think so. My wife called me a bully once and it shocked me. I was just teasing her and I thought nothing of it, until she reacted. The victim usually doesn’t fight back. Bullying is a form of dominance and lack of respect. I really thought about it and realized that I didn’t want my wife to be a victim of my bad behavior. I also wanted to be a better parent than mine, and set an example that I don’t think our parents did for me. Self-discipline and respect---those are values that are taught by one’s parents. With better guidance, I think I might have been a better brother.

Sister:  Well, it’s never too late.

As I sorted through my emotions and reactions, I realized I was less angry at my brother and more angry at my parents--my mother, whom we lived with full time, and my father, whom we saw a few weeks every few years. Why didn't they stop the bullying?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Exotic, Evocative and Spellbinding

These two marvelous literate books, The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafo︠n written in the gothic genre, took me through a labyrinth of wonderment, tragedy and romance. Zafo︠n’s writing is exotic, evocative and spellbinding; his characters are heroic in an epic tale of doomed love, betrayal and intrigue. I read first The Shadow of the Wind, a fast paced mystery, then The Angel’s Game, a more mature and deeper exploration of characters, which actually takes place before the events in the The Shadow of the Wind. A skilled and true craftsman of words, Carlos Ruiz Zafo︠n, makes sensible the grotesque, mysterious and desolate landscape of the gothic novel. A truly magnificent feast of words and a wholly satisfying meal of two tales.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Does Doubt Lead You to a Deeper Conviction?

A review of A Prayer for Owen Meany
A strange and peculiar book, like the character Owen Meany himself, John Irving’s novel explores the vast realm of faith, justice and fate, through a narrative of a single person, John Wheelwright. John and Owen remain friends from boyhood to manhood, their fate intertwined when Owen accidentally kills John’s mother. Was it an accident or fate? Is Owen an instrument of God or merely a little, odd person with a queer voice? Does doubt lead you to a deeper conviction and stronger faith or acceptance and acknowledgment of God as omniscient and omnipresent? I found the narrative distracting, with Owen’s “voice” in all CAPS screaming his every profound thought. The main character John seemed nebulous to me, never quite acting his age as a boy, and immature as an adult, and through it all, I just never cared about any of the characters. After reading it, the aftertaste was a bit bitter with overtones of ennui.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Positive Messages in Songs: Dan Evan's Letter to My Addiction

Are you as excited as I am about the growing number of songs with positive messages being produced in the last few years? Music is a powerful medium, especially for reaching children and teens. I've found so many wonderful songs lately and I'll share some of my favorites with you in the coming months. In many cases, your purchase of these songs supports bullying awareness organizations.

This first song is from Dan Evans, a former Biggest Loser contestant turned songwriter/singer and motivational speaker. The song is a powerful message of hope and self-love especially considering how often many of us can be our own worst bully.

You can buy the digital version of "Letter to My Addiction" for only 99 cents and a generous portion of the proceeds from sales go to Hey U.G.L.Y. (Unique Gifted Lovable You), a non-profit organization founded in 2002 that offers programs to boost character development and self-esteem including programs for schools, contests, and a weekly radio show featuring inspiring music.

by: D.Evans / T.Leah / S.Lewis

I'm tired of hating me
And living with no pride
I'm letting go of you
Letting go of you
I'm taking back my life

I'm getting free at last
You're nothing but my past
And I'm not going back to how it used to be
When you had your hold on me
I'm getting free at last

Friday, September 7, 2012

Should We Hold Parents of Bullies Financially Responsible?

I recently watched the video of Karen Klein, the bus monitor from New York who was harassed unmercifully by four teenage bullies. (Read the article at the Huffington Post.) She received apologies from the parents and two of the boys. The four boys caught on video deriding, verbally abusing, taunting and throwing a book at the bus monitor received suspension, anti-bullying education classes and community service hours. The outrage from sympathetic viewers of the video on the web netted nearly $700,000.00 for Ms. Klein. According to the comments on articles written about the incident, some folks seem to believe that Ms. Klein should NOT accept the money or should donate it to charity.

The question for me is not whether she deserved the money, or what she should or should not do with it, but rather, who takes responsibility for these despicable actions and who should recompense for the pain and suffering of the victim. The punishment allotted the four bullies was justified and we can only hope that it has a positive effect on them. I, however, that the parents of the bullies should also bear a portion of the burden of responsibility for the incident.

Obviously, schools alone cannot teach children basic values of respect, tolerance and good manners; primary caretakers (in most cases parents) must also model these behaviors for their children. We all know that parents are responsible financially for their children until they come of age. I firmly believe parents should be liable for damages incurred by their children through thoughtless, inconsiderate, vicious, and reprehensible actions. One Canadian teenager who was bullied sued the parents of his tormentors, winning a judgment of nearly $400,000.00 and, sending a very clear message that parents are at least financially, if not morally, responsible for the behavior (and misbehavior) of their children.

Perhaps if we hit parents of bullies in their pocketbooks--threatening the retirement nest egg, the vacation, and the college education funds--the message would resonate far more deeply than suspension, ‘re-education’ or community service. I know I cannot afford to shell out a half million dollars for something my child should not have done in the first place. Can you?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

October is National Anti-Bullying Awareness Month

 Please join me and thousands of educators, parents, students and community members in observing National Anti-Bullying Awareness month this October. Some communities are holding awareness events (see your local news or visit the Community Events list at Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center website). Many schools are hosting guest speakers and celebrating Unity Day on Wednesday October 10th. 

For more information on how you can spread the word, host your own event and more, visit Pacer's National Bullying Prevention Center website.

Bullying Prevention and Awareness Facts

  • More than 160,000 U.S. students stay home from school each day from fear of being bullied.
  • Bullying directly affects a student’s ability to learn. Students who are bullied find it difficult to concentrate, show a decline in grades, and lose self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.
  • Students who are bullied report more physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, than other students.
  • In some cases, bullying has led to devastating consequences, such as school shootings and suicide.
  • Bullying affects witnesses as well as targets. Witnesses often report feeling unsafe, helpless, and afraid that they will be the next target.
  • Bullying is a communitywide issue that must no longer be ignored or thought of as a rite of passage. Students, parents, and educators all have a role in addressing bullying situations and changing school culture.
  • The two keys to creating change are: increasing awareness that bullying has lifelong impact, and giving people the tools they need to respond effectively.
  • Students can be especially effective in bullying intervention. More than 55 percent of bullying situations will stop when a peer intervenes. Student education of how to address bullying for peers is critical, as is the support of adults.
  • Silence is no longer an acceptable response to bullying. Adults, students, and educators can no longer look away when they see bullying. Ignoring it won’t work. Everyone needs to be empowered with options to respond. 
(Facts courtesy of's Bullying Prevention Center website)