Our viewpoint: There’s no room for the bully

Part two: Series of editorials on Violence in Society

The issue of bullying should be simple: Don’t do it — and if you see it, report it. A 180-pound eighth-grade boy shouldn’t beat up a 99-pound sixth-grader and steal his lunch money.

It’s wrong. Don’t do it.

However, that seemingly universal premise of right and wrong has morphed into an emotional debate that encompasses gay rights, religious autonomy and violence in society.

Bullying is wrong, everyone seems to agree, but attempting to define improper behavior has proven difficult.

What is bullying? Bullying hurts. Bullies injure others. In worst-case scenarios, teenagers are driven to suicide, or a victimized youth retaliates to repeated harassment and brings a loaded gun into a grocery store or movie theatre.

In a 116-page report, the Center for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services developed a standard definition for bullying among youth:

“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths … that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social or educational harm.”

In 2014, the Minnesota Legislature defined bullying in the Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act: “Bullying” means “intimidating, threatening, abusive or harming conduct that is objectively offensive.”

We are pleased that the Minnesota Legislature did not make changes to the law this session. We also made that recommendation a year ago in an ECM Editorial Board editorial.

We said then, “To some people, name calling, anti-social behavior, belittling and excluding are unavoidable human failings that no law can eradicate whether between adults or children. To others, hurting someone to the point of hurting their concept of self to the detriment of their learning or hindering their safety to the point of their endangerment is simply wrong and has no place in our schools. The Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act is now law. It is an opportunity that can work for the benefit of our children. Give the law a chance to work.”

We reaffirm that position today. Our Minnesota law is working, and the law has posed few problems. By stopping the bully at school, at the playground or along our street, we make the world a bit safer by removing a trigger of violence. We diffuse the time bomb that festers as a bullied person (or the bully himself) moves into adulthood, teaching him coping skills and to trust that those in authority will help when needed.

Nothing in anti-bullying discussion infringes on freedom of speech or faith, which some had feared during last year’s legislative debate. An open discussion of race relations, a debate over what the police did wrong or did right in Ferguson or Baltimore, or stating your opinion on the upcoming Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage should be encouraged. Those are not acts of bullying. Students need to feel free to debate and disagree over 21st Century social topics, whether those regard race, GLBT issues or any number of societal concerns.

However, a group of white teenagers that harass and agitate a black classmate is not to be tolerated. We must not allow a transgender teen to be verbally humiliated. Teenage girls who “cyber-bully” someone because of her appearance need to be stopped. Anyone insulted or demeaned for a learning disability or physical handicap needs assurance and intervention by authorities. Why do these premises of right and wrong belong in an editorial series on violence in our society?

Simple.

Bullying – the repeated mental, emotional or physical abuse of another person – is a precursor to many types of violence.

Curb the hate talk, set standards of civility and help break the cycle of cruelty we see too often.

Stop the bully today, help contain the violence in adulthood.

– An opinion from the ECM Editorial Board. Reactions to this editorial — and to any commentary on these pages – are always welcome. Send to: [email protected]