Bullying. It’s a HUGE topic in the news today. The government has even set up a web-site and an initiative to stop bullying in schools.
From that web-site, bullying is defined as:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.
I actually like Wikipedia’s description a lot better, which admits bullying can happen at any age. Bullying can occur in any context in which human beings interact with each other. This includes school, church, family, the workplace, home, and neighborhoods. It is even a common push factor in migration. Bullying can exist between social groups, social classes, and even between countries.
All that aside, I feel like we’ve become very quick to define an action as “bullying.” Statements can be critical. Statements can be judgmental. But those same statements aren’t necessarily, by definition, “bullying.”
This week, a big item in the news has been about Jennifer Livingston’s segment on a Wisconsin news station addressing a man who sent her an email criticizing her weight. From that email: Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain.
Livingston chose to address that email by tying it into October being Anti-Bullying month. She encouraged young people to not let emails and comments like the ones she received bring them down. Her statement, “You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you have admitted you don’t watch this show. You know nothing about me but what you see on the outside.” really resonated with me.
Whether or not the original email was actually a “bullying” action or just someone being critical or judgmental is up to debate. The fact remains, this man judged Livingston based on her outward appearance without knowing her personal story.
I hope my family does not mind my recounting this story (and I’ll probably get elements of it wrong, and for that I do apologize, but you’ll still get the gist of what happened.) I’ve mentioned many times in this blog that my nephew has Muscular Dystrophy. Part of his regimen of drugs and exercises and dietary restrictions to help slow the progress of his MD is that he takes steroids every day. And anyone who has ever had to take steroids for any medical reason knows, steroids will make you gain weight.
I still remember the anger that filled me when my mom told me about the night that apparently a man dared to tell my nephew he should probably lay off the french fries while at Dairy Queen, telling him it looked like he’d had plenty already. To this day I wish I could look that man in the eye and tell him what a judgmental and ignorant #@$#&* he is. To say that to ANY child in the first place makes this “man” very small, but to say it without knowing the person and their story makes it 10,000x worse.
When I heard the story of this reporter, I was reminded of that story with my nephew. Some people have medical reasons for weighing what they do. For others, it is just genetics. They can diet and exercise every single day, and they will never be a size 4. (Hey, in contrast, in high school I couldn’t get health insurance because they said I was “too thin” and clearly must be sick or something. Nope. Nor did I diet. Heck, I ate crap all the time! I just had that fast of a metabolism and couldn’t gain weight if I tried.)
For me personally, I’ve only dealt with anyone asking me if I am pregnant when I put a few pounds on… because I always carry the majority of my weight in my abdomen. Its the bane of my figure. I know this. But it still stings when someone asks, because for me it might as well be, “Hey why don’t you go do some sit-ups or something.” (Seriously, though, do I REALLY need to say its not smart to ask a woman if she’s pregnant or when she is due?)
But at the same time, when I say I am not, it is followed with, “Well when are you guys going to have kids?”
This question is, for me, just downright rude. While I appreciate friends with kids telling me that having kids is the best thing they ever did, and while I know I’ll love it as well, I also appreciate people respecting that my husband and I are happy as we are and that we will have children when we are ready. And THAT decision is ours alone.
However, even more, I know too many women who are dealing with infertility to not find that question to be potentially very hurtful. I also know a lot of women who will wait to tell anyone they are pregnant, and if a miscarriage occurs — consider what kind of a knife it could be to that women’s heart if you go, “So, hey, when are you guys having kids?” if she just lost a baby?
YOU DON’T KNOW because a couple choosing to have a baby is a personal decision — not a group or community decision. Stop trying to meddle into that decision making. (Or, if you will, stop trying to bully them into having children just to make you happy for them.)
I am not against criticism. You can learn a lot from criticism, and life will hand you countless opportunities to be criticized. Be it for a job not-so-well done, or going jeans shopping with your best friend. But criticism done out of “looking at the cover without reading the book” can easily be perceived as bullying.
As we work this month to fight bullying, can we also just fight to, “Think before you speak?”