Bullying isn’t just for kids. Do you do it?

I well remember being bullied on the school bus. On many cold, wet mornings (a large portion of the year in West Virginia, by the way), I found my junior-high self sitting in front of high school juniors and seniors who turned their class rings upside down, then used them to hit lesser life forms on the top of the head in a whipping motion. Turning around in pain and trying to find my assailant was pointless. “What are you looking at?” they asked. It was a very long ride to school.

Kids are still assaulted and treated badly by other kids. Those who have more things or more opportunities call children and adolescents cruel names. They’re told that if they wear these clothes, listen to that music, engage in some sexual act or take that drug, they’ll be accepted. Bullying comes in many forms and now we have the added joy of the internet. A large number of young people have been mortified, emotionally traumatized, considered suicide or actually committed it in response to online slurs and cruelty or embarrassing photos and videos posted online.

These days, adults are supposed to understand and teach their kids that no one should be mistreated, harassed, harangued, belittled or besmirched in our hallowed school hallways. But something happens after we leave school. Suddenly, adults believe that bullying is OK as long as it’s something that’s really important and the people they bully are different from them. Adults are the worst bullies around, it seems.

In order to find bullying, one needs to look no further than any discussion about politics (or frankly, culture, religion, science or almost anything else). I’m simply stunned at the way purported “grown-ups” with differing opinions can treat one another. Online forums and media comment sections drip with disdain. Those who believe “the wrong way” are instantly labeled ignorant or irrelevant and often called names. Sometimes, people even wish death on others.

In fact, that’s one of the clearest forms of adult bullying I see. “If you weren’t so ignorant, you’d understand the truth.” Even those with no particular knowledge of a topic consider those who disagree to be stupid. It’s a strange kind of pseudo-intellectualism in which the enlightened get to wear the mantle of truth — a truth largely determined by the crowd. It’s not surprising in an era when truth is considered a personal choice like food on a buffet.

This sort of argument is everywhere, not just in the Wild West of the internet. Even noted political figures accuse their detractors by saying that they’re uneducated and backward or they’d see the truth.

Adults love to bully no matter how much they pretend to hate the idea. We see it in its soft form in the recent videos of celebrities reminding everyone else to vote and who to vote for. They’re the cool kids. They may not be the smartest, but they’re the richest and best. They’re sexy and sarcastic. Don’t you want to be like them? Remember, beautiful, rich, famous people are much better (and more insightful) than regular poor people!

Comedians once entertained us with the universal, self-deprecating, slapstick humor of everyday life. Now they, too, are the cool kids yelling their invective at everyone who dares to have an opinion of the mainstream. Biting and cruel towards those they don’t understand, they represent little more than a shinier, richer form of the old-school bully.

Bullies use words to great effect. Disagree with a candidate? You must be a racist or a sexist. Disagree with a law? You must be a bigot or a fascist. Believe your God is real? You must be a fundamentalist nut! You don’t want to be a bigot or fascist or a nut — do you? Just do what everyone else does and you’ll be so cool! There now, doesn’t it feel better to be like the crowd? (Remember, kids, you should always be yourself and follow your own heart … until it takes you outside of the bleating herd.)

Robust dialogue is good for a nation. As in evolution, ideas diverge and produce more good ideas. The future of our freedom demands that we disagree. But bullying is the stuff of brutish children.

Let’s stop it, shall we?

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of the Practice Test and Life in Emergistan.  This article originally appeared in Greenville News.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com 

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