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    Jennifer K. Crittenden earned an MBA in finance and worked for over twenty years in the US and abroad, rising from financial analyst to chief financial officer. She is the author of four books, including the award-winning Discreet Guide for Executive Women. She offers professional development programs through her company The Discreet Guide.

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Bullies at Large

In Is Bullying the New Witch Hunt?, I object to calling all viciousness, or even criticism, as bullying, but don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of bullies out there, and they come in lots of forms: the abusive older brother, the mean fat kid at school, the cruel warehouse supervisor. By the tried and true methods of intimidation, by physical size, status, or power, they seek to manipulate, control, humiliate, or torture those who are not in a position to fight back. They should be stopped but often are not, as we know from just about every movie about middle school. Surprisingly, this sadistic behavior is often tolerated, for complicated reasons, societal, political correctness, or tacit collaboration. We explore a few examples below.

The most classic kid bully I ever met was a sixth-grader at my son’s school. I knew more about this boy than most mothers because by coincidence I had come across his notebook on the playground one day after he had forgotten it. Trying to figure out whose it was, I peeked inside. As I paged through it, it became apparent that this was a very special notebook. It was a journal laid out day by day in which the teachers would keep track of incidents involving the bully that took place in their classrooms or on the playground, for what purpose I wasn’t sure. To show to the parents? To embarrass the child? For the principal’s use? It read like a montage from a Month in the Life of a Bully: shoving a kindergartener in the mud, pulling a second-grader’s hair, kicking a boy in the shin after he beat him in a footrace. It was none of my business, but I couldn’t stop reading the appalling litany.

So I was armed for bear when the principal asked to talk to me after I had witnessed the bully twisting a neighbor’s son’s wrist and making him cry.

“You say that the school has a ‘no-bullying’ policy,” I said. Although privately I thought that was pretty much the same thing as saying “we have no children at this school.” Out loud, I continued, “But this kid is textbook. Why is that allowed to go on?”
“It’s not that simple,” she countered. “He’s a very lonely boy. And I’ve observed situations in which he was being bullied.” The idea that big tough kid was being bullied seemed unlikely. By whom? I thought. His parents? The CIA?

I suspect that she didn’t really know what to do with this kid and probably didn’t have the heart to kick him out if she even had the right to. In this day and age, and in that school, who knows what legal tightropes you’d have to tiptoe over to get rid of a kid. In the end, she and I both heaved a sigh of relief when the boy graduated sixth grade and moved on to another school to become someone else’s problem.

Even adult bullies are tolerated. Bosses who bully are often allowed to roam free because no one can control them, or everyone is afraid to try. They may bully in private, and their victims are afraid to speak up. Or public bullying is a source of general amusement, at the victim’s expense. Bullies can flourish in environments where cruelty is considered funny.

In my observation, in the corporate world, bullying is sometimes even encouraged. Some executives find bullies useful, to do their dirty work. They might bring in a bully to crack some heads, if they think a department is full of insubordinates. Some like to hire a meanie when they go into labor negotiations (which is a big mistake, and counter-productive). Aggressive litigators are admired for their willingness to go after a victim in court. Not all meanness is bullying, but for all our alleged political correctness, bullying is still alive and well.

 

© 2016 Jennifer K. Crittenden

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