Wednesday, March 02, 2016

No More Bullies

If you have been watching the current political campaigns one candidate has stuck out for his vulgarity and bullying behavior. That person would be Donald Trump, the current front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. His rallies, speeches, tweets, and debate performances have been marked by his complete disregard for others. He takes great pleasure in insulting his opponents and all who would differ from him. What is perhaps more distressing than his behavior is the support being given to him. He appears to be tapping into a strong "us versus them" populism that is linked to an apparent desire for an authoritarian leaders. It seems that a significant number of Americans want a President that will "stick it to everybody else," whether friend of foe. A significant number of Americans appear to believe that the nation isn't being properly respected. So, we turn to the biggest bully on the block and offer him the keys to the kingdom.


When I watch Donald Trump on stage I cringe. Perhaps that's because I'm a bit sensitive about this whole matter of bullying. I must confess that growing up I was bullied by my peers. Some of this was physical and some was verbal. While I was never small for my age, I wasn't physically imposing. I enjoyed sports, but I was not athletic. I also didn't like to fight. So, I was an easy target. I was Jeb Bush to Donald Trump. 

While I incurred a bit of physical bullying, most of it was verbal. Some might call it teasing, but even teasing can be destructive. I never had a true definition of this until I read about microaggression (see my review of the book Microaggression in Ministry).  Microaggressions are words and actions that whether intentional or not serve to demean others. Teasing is a microaggression, including teasing by friends. Since I suffered from low self-esteem, this teasing didn't help matters. What is difficult to acknowledge is that much of this teasing came from people I considered friends, but, I put up with it because I didn't want to be left out. Better to be teased and in the group than be left out.  So, you can see that I'm sensitive about bullying, whether in the church or outside the church.

The problem with the Trump phenomenon is that it ends up encouraging the opposition to engage in the same kind of behavior. Thus, verbal assaults have become commonplace in this year's election season.  What is interesting is that these actions are taking place after a few decades of emphasis in our schools on anti-bullying education. 

Several years back I spent a year as project coordinator for the Santa Barbara Anti-Defamation League's "No Place for Hate Campaign." My job was to encourage schools, businesses, religious entities, etc. to put a focus on educating themselves on matters of racism, sexism, bullying, and more. We wanted to encourage the community to embrace others rather than push them aside. If they would engage in a few programs that would encourage such attitudes and behaviors then we would recognize them as "No Place for Hate" sites. 

I realize that the phrase "No Place For Hate" is a registered trademark of the ADL, but perhaps it's time for a national "No Place for Hate" campaign. It's time we say no to bullies. It's time we recognize that teasing a person about their weight, their race, their sexual orientation, or their eyesight to name a few possibilities, is simply inappropriate. Yes, microaggressions hurt. The bullying that is taking place in our political sphere will hurt the nation. Rather than build walls and tear down one another, let's build bridges, tear down walls, and embrace one another as children of God.  

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