When did things get so mean?

In the classic 1970's  horror movie Carrie bullies poured pig's blood on their victim. Today's  bullie's are often literally out for blood.Recently, I was shocked and saddened to read that a friend’s daughter had been bullied at her suburban high school. According my friend’s Facebook posting, the abuse went on for several years. I was relieved that my friend had moved her daughter to a new school. She wrote that she had been frustrated with the refusal of school administrators to deal with situation. Sadly, the situation has yet to be resolved, but my friend and her daughter are receiving a lot of support from loving friends and family.
 
I immediately contacted my friend to say how sad I was to learn about her daughter’s situation. I told her I didn’t remember this type of bully behaviour when we were younger, but I also know life wasn’t perfect then; some kids had a rougher time growing up than we did.
 
Recently, some of our old school friends have posted on Facebook their memories of being teased. None mentioned viciousness on the scale of what is reported today. It would not have been tolerated by our teachers or students. Bullies today, as my friend put it, are literally “out for blood.” The expression is not an exaggeration. In our new bully culture, where no one intercedes to protect the victim, violence and even death are all too often a reality. 
 
Recently a young Canadian girl, Amanda Todd, was driven to suicide by cruel and relentless peer bullying, as was Phoebe Prince in Massachusetts a few years ago. Neither girl received any help from school officials or schoolmates. To this day their communities remain callous and remorseless.
 
It is not just schoolchildren who are bullied. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, the Workplace Bullying Institute reported that about 53 million Americans – more than third of the American work force – had been bullied at work. An additional 15 percent of those surveyed admitted they had witnessed workplace bullying. Gary Namie, a social psychologist, established the WBI in 1997with his wife Ruth, a clinical psychologist after she was bullied in the workplace.
 
I have witnessed it myself. A year ago another high school friend sought support on Facebook as she was bullied daily by her supervisor. It was heartbreaking to read accounts of this cheerful and generous woman being demeaned and humiliated by her unhappy supervisor. All her friends celebrated when she found a new job where she was appreciated and happy.
 
“Bullying causes health harm,” says Namie. “It is psychological violence. Research shows that the level of anger and depression is higher from bullying than sexual harassment. It's much more akin to domestic violence – except the abusive partner is on the payroll.”
 
Bully behavior has become commonplace in daily life. At my lovely, Zen-like health club, two men recently tried to bully another member. The incident involved shouting and profanity. The woman who was bullied is a friend. I was speaking with her when the incident happened. My friend and I were both physically stressed by the  incident and I know it was stressful for the other members and staff, too.
 
I can only hope that workplaces and schools will become more compassionate and proactive in dealing with violent behavior. Bully behaviour does not happen in a vacuum. It is a direct result of stress and violence.
 
I was lucky not to grow up with in climate that tolerated violent behaviour. Without exception, the few kids who acted out came from homes with problems. They brought to school frustrations and coping mechanisms learned in homes fraught with abuse, neglect, and often alcoholism.
 
Also, the teachers and other professionals who worked in schools back then were happy well-educated professionals. In our pro-education suburb they had the support and cooperation of parents. This seems a far cry from the tense, stressed families and over-worked angry school administrators one sees on the news today. It is a miracle that we have any dedicated teachers left at all, given the current lack of support for education.
 
The same counter-productive, negative conditions can be seen in many workplaces today too. How happy and secure are most people at their jobs today?
 
Sadly, stress rolls downhill and doesn’t bring out the best in many people.
 
Darlings, we live in stressful times. Hurricane Sandy has just placed huge burdens on many in our country. And many others have lived under huge stress since the recession of 2008. Tough economic conditions have placed strains on emotions and behaviour. Even if you are not directly affected by a struggling economy, you deal daily with those who are feeling stretched and squeezed.
 
Together we can change our bully culture. Say no to bully behavior. Speak up to stop bullying when you see it. Be consciously inclusive. Together we can make the world a kinder, more civil place.

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Are you enough?

Skydiving builds confidence, but so does dancing and tennis.One of my recent columns kicked off some emotional discussions among women I know about the scourge of bullying.

 
I singled out people who denigrated the actress Demi Moore for showing off her gorgeous body. What was so surprising and sad was that many women my age still have raw feelings about things that were said or done to them as teens. It is also alarming that the problem has gotten worse. We have all heard about the father who lost it upon hearing that his handicapped daughter was bullied daily on the school bus. Then there was the tragic case of Phoebe Prince, the young Irish girl who was hounded by her classmates until she killed herself in a fit of depression. 
 
I started to wonder why some things cut so deeply. It seems to me that we women constantly ask ourselves “are we enough?” So, when people make us feel not beautiful, popular, slim, smart, or sexy enough, we can be crushed. Alas my darlings, most parents are lousy at preparing any of us to deal with the harsh reality of the popularity sweepstakes.
 
Malcolm Gladwell makes the point in his book The Tipping Point that sooner than anyone’s parents would like to believe, peer groups become the ultimate influence on all of us. He cites the book The Nurturer Assumption by Judith Rich Harris which says that the personalities of children are shaped by their peers.
 
What I have noticed is that the children who have the best social skills are those who coast through life. And there is the rub. How do we teach children to be dans sa peau, or to feel good in their skin? Social skills are subtle and not easy to teach. Sensitive teachers and camp counselors can help, but bad ones can damn an awkward child to social hell.
 
If you listen to beauty experts or any of the world’s great “dames”, they always say the true secret to making it in this world is confidence. I know they are right. Getting though this life relatively “unscarred” is about having the stuff to stand up to bullies, and maybe even being able to stop bullies in their tracks. But where does this elusive confidence come from?  
 
I have noticed that many ‘experts’ are silent on the subject. Most of my life I have been called a confident woman. I didn’t — and still don’t always — feel that way. But, I did realize early on, that “fake it till you make it” was good advice. You can never make others like you, but you can work on the skills that can make you feel better about yourself. That does give you confidence.
 
It may be superficial, but wearing the right clothes can help you blend into the crowd. These days it’s easier, as trends are quickly available at all price points. If you’re fashion individual, go for it. But most people with shaky confidence feel better blending in.
 
If only more parents would stop trying to tell their kids that people teased them because they are jealous. It does not help, and often it is not true. It would be better to figure out why their kids are getting teased. I suggest moving their children to a more accepting and nurturing atmosphere. Bright children do better in environments that reward their intelligence. A nerd or outcast in one school can do just fine in elsewhere. Why let a person develop a bad self image? Obviously this matters, as so many are scarred for a lifetime. It’s sad and often unnecessary.
 
We have to stop bullying, but I think it is just as important to teach women how to be strong, vital, and confident as young girls. Mean girls often grow up to mean women. Studies show a high incidence of bullying in the workplace is done by women bosses. An old high school friend had a terrible experience with a mean girl boss who tried to wreak her confidence. She put her down constantly and gratuitously. Once she even compared her academically to her (the boss’s) young son. Another younger friend had the ultimate boss from hell — the meanest mean girl. She would torture my friend with personal insults and an excessive workload. She liked to hit her with surprise projects as my friend was on the way out the door at 7 or 8 at night. Then she would want to be girlfriends and go out for drinks. My advice to both of them: get out as soon as you can. Maintain your self confidence through talking with friends who love you and doing things you are good at, but call everyone you know as you look for a new job!
 
Getting out of a bad situation is not being a quitter. I was brought up never to quit. And the thinking used to be that you had to learn to get along with all types of people. I still think it’s important to learn how to go along to get along. Sports, clubs, and other enjoyable activities are great for that. But I have also learned that certain people are dangerous and mean. They don’t play by the same rules as the rest if us. The smartest thing to do is to get away from them. The best thing my father ever did for me was get me out of gym class. I hated it. I am far from lazy, but I hate sports. I loathe getting sweaty and wet in the middle of the day. I took ice skating, dance, swimming, and host of other lessons to keep active. I walked hours as a teenager. By removing me from what I considered a “hostile atmosphere” my father kept me from feeling helpless and developing a complex. Thanks to my father, I have never hesitated to say thanks but no thanks to any situation that made me uncomfortable — from dating to work. My father was really good at letting me know there was difference between sticking for yourself and being a pain in the butt. My mentors finished my social education by explaining that life was not fair and there would always be mean girls. The trick was never to play their game. They explained I had to learn to stand up for myself without becoming mean or whiny. I was not happy to hear this , but they were right.
 
No one is immune to criticism or slights. Recently Kathy Lee Gifford on The Today Show recounted how Victoria Principal, the actress and beauty expert, made a remark about Kathy Lee’s figure while they were at some function. “You have a beautiful body Kathy Lee, but…” She went on to ask if Kathy Lee had “problem with dairy”. Perhaps Victoria Principal meant to be helpful. Perhaps she was being catty. But she was definitely on thin ice. No one wants to hear about their alleged physical shortcomings when they attend an event.
 
I can’t count the women over the years who have said rude things to me in public. I still remember with clarity the lovely women who tell would tell me that the acne I had so carefully covered with makeup was caused by the make-up itself, or by something I had (not) eaten. Some were trying to be helpful, some were not. All the remarks were inappropriate and hurtful, as none of their “advice” was solicited or private. By 16, I had a fabulous doctor and clear skin. Now I smile when women tell me I have beautiful skin. I do, but I worked for it. And as soon as my skin cleared up, mean girls found other things to pick on. 
 
The number of indignant and hurt friends who have told me what other women dared say about their weight, clothes, makeup, hair, children, work or personalities would fill a tome. Some have been truly shaken when the remark has come from a close friend or family member. Thanks to dear older friends, I learned many years ago to let most hurtful remarks roll off me. I stay far away from those who make them. It sounds glib, but you have to get over it!
 
Darlings, confidence is a gift you give yourself. Parents can help, but the best person to nurture you — is you. If you have scars, heal them. I’ll tell you a secret: happy people attract good things and feel more confident. Forgive and forget is the worse advice ever. Forgive maybe. Let whatever hurt you go. But never forget. Stay far away from toxic people. They seldom change their hurtful ways. 
 
Find your talents and develop them. Excellence builds confidence. Glory in your beauty, darlings. Believe me, you are beautiful. Find the experts who can help you shine. Nurture yourself. Surround yourself with love. Shine your light for others. You are enough!
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Grown-up mean girls

Mean girls not  just in high schoolWatch almost any episode of the Real Housewives on Bravo (Slice) and you can see a level of nastiness that is truly shocking – and these women are privileged by any standard. While their small-screen antics can be amusing, they are far from it in real life. I have a brilliant young friend who is currently working for a bully. It is tough economy, so she is stuck there for now. Her boss drains the life out of the whole office with biting personal comments, undeserved professional putdowns, and non-stop abuse. Another friend, a PR maven, remembers one hideous female boss who screamed at her and even hit her. The tyrant knew she desperately needed the job at that time.  
 
Meanness is not reserved for the work place. A sweet friend who had been out of work, in spite of her best efforts, attended a friend’s baby shower. While there she was questioned about her job prospects and love life. It was all quite civilized until the dragon-like mother of an acquaintance cornered her. The gorgon began an inquisition about her personal life in the most condescending tones. She even had the nerve to ask: “Well are you going to work or can you afford to become a of woman of leisure?” My friend was disconcerted by her rudeness and her implications. This woman was well aware that my friend is a well-educated woman who has held very good positions and would again. She was simply being a *itch because she sensed that a beautiful, younger woman was temporarily vulnerable. She was an old mean girl.
 
According to a story in The New York Times in May 2009, based on research from The Workplace Bullying Institute, at least 40 percent of work place bullies are women. They usually bully other women. This is not shocking to anyone who went to high school. We have all seen how mean girls can be. Women are reluctant to report other women because of false notions of sisterhood or not wanting to be perceived as whiners. I was surprised by the reaction surrounding Elizabeth Lambert, the violent soccer player. As bad as this behaviour is, this type of viciousness is easy to spot and stop.
 
It is harder to stop put-downs, verbal abuse, backstabbing, and sabotage. We are trained to ignore it, take the blame for it, or feel bad for the needy and insecure offender. Darlings, if you are subject to bullying at work, get out as fast as you can. Keep records if it is really bad; you have rights and legal recourse.
 
If you are bothered by a bully in a social situation, get away from the bad person. Don’t think twice. If the mean girl is in your circle and you can’t avoid her totally, speak up. Don’t lose your cool. Practice, if you are easily rattled. Confide in a friend for advice. Find a non-hostile way to say: “back off Suzy Q”.
 
If a good friend is temporarily acting up because she is feeling bad about her life, find a way to give her some space. Try to be understanding, but never be anyone’s punching bag. If the bad or abusive behaviour persists, find a gentle no-nonsense way to tell her you know she is going through at tough time, but she needs to cool it.
 
If you see another woman getting bullied, step in and deflect it. In the work place it can be trickier to control grown-up mean girls. Be aware of your rights. If you are the boss watch out for bullies below you. We can complain about men all we want, but we need to clean up our own act. Don’t stand by and let unkindness become the norm.
 
Darlings, kindness is underrated. People like people who like them. You reduce your stress and that of others by being kind and joyful. Compliments, cheerfulness, and pleasantries make life nicer. One of the keys to happiness might just be finding time to be nicer and more supportive of each other, and putting a stop to the culture of grownup mean girls.
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