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Big Bully

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

To make a real change in the school yard, we need to stop rewarding bullying in the business world.

If you want to gauge how "hot" a particular topic is these days, what do you do? Google it of course. Noticing that there have been a number of books released of late about bullies, particular female ones, and about aggressive bosses (defined recently in Fast Company magazine as sociopaths), I went to my favorite search engine and lo and behold, on the first page alone I found,,,, and, as well as articles entitled "Don't Suffer in Silence," "Anti-Bullying Activities," and "Bulling Online -- Helping Children and Their Parents with Bullying." And this is not an exhaustive list.

The statistics suggest a constant problem, and many unhappy children. On the one hand, although I believe you can't rescue your children from every unpleasant situation in life, I did agree with the writers who suggested parental and school intervention particularly in egregious situations. And of course in the Berenstain Bears and the Bully, the overly aggressive young bear has to visit the school psychologist "twice a week for quite a while."

I also think it's important to teach children ways of coping with bullies and non-violent responses, including the idea that it is not shameful to walk away from a fight. (Although since very few adults or even countries do, I'm not sure that argument will be very successful).

Only recently has society begun to deal with female bullying, perhaps more insidious because it rarely involves fists. Rather pointed barbs and cruel remarks are used, frequently leaving much more lasting damage.

Although these are serious playground problems and children can be traumatized and wounded by schoolyard bullying, I don't think it's the place to begin to solve this issue.

I think in this case we need to begin at the top and work our way down. Corporate America (this is not a diatribe against Big Business) rewards bullies. My father-in-law worked for ITT for a boss nationally if not world-renowned for abusing and humiliating his employees. He was not above embarrassing his subordinates even in front of their children, so deep-rooted was his unpleasant behavior. Everyone knew about it, but it didn't affect his job, his position, his power.

Studio heads, directors, people with any slight power in Hollywood often behave the same way. They are known for their abusive tirades, for treating their employees like slaves.

We have friends who are business managers and agents for people in "the industry" (as the locals call it). Their clients expect them to drop everything if they call. In the midst of a father's day barbecue, our friend was once called away to purchase a new car for his client. It had to done now. The client clearly communicated that his needs were all that mattered. No one else was very real or significant to him.

As long as we pander to this (if you don't, there's always another agent who will!), as long as corporate big wigs get multi-million dollar salaries no matter their interpersonal behavior, it's hard to tell our children that bullying is bad, that it doesn't pay.

Bullies get a taste of power in the school yard and it's a heady experience. But it we want it truly stopped, we have to stop rewarding it in the business world. We definitely have to stop exerting power in inappropriate or demanding ways ourselves.

Nothing teaches children like example. Unless "adult" society demonstrates real change, I don't think all the sensitivity training and thoughtful intervention on the play ground will make any difference.


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