Bullies are out there, and they pop up when you least expect them to. Their appearance at first glance might appear kind, but upon closer approach, the toothy grin and bright eyes turn into a hateful snarl, and you find yourself abused just because you’re different.
When I was growing up, bullies were easy to find. They were the ones who tripped you on the playground, snuck up behind you and stuffed you in your locker, or waited for you on the street just so they could kick your butt, just so they could feel superior. They use their words, they use their fists, and they do it to hide their own inadequacies.
The bullies are not as easy to find anymore. With the Internet, there is camouflage for abusers and sociopaths to take swipes at the sweet and innocent, and you don’t know you’ve been broadsided until you open that email or click on that website.
October is National Bullying Awareness Month, and there is a tale in Wisconsin that drives the point home why we need observances like this. Journalists are constantly in the public eye because they are tasked with informing the public what is going on in the community, the county, the state, the nation and even the world. Jennifer Livingston, an anchor for a CBS affiliate in La Crosse, got an unpleasant email from someone who admittedly did not watch her morning show on a regular basis but was quick to point out she was a poor role model because she wasn’t tiny, skinny and cute.
Here’s what the guy had to say:
“Hi Jennifer, It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.”
I love how this man, identified in multiple media outlets as Kenneth Krause, is under the erroneous misconception that people make a choice to be fat. I’m sure there are many young people out there looking at themselves in the mirror and saying, “You know what? Someday I’m going to be bigger than Shamu. I’m going to make the circus tent fashionable, baby!”
The common thread of bullies is that they want you to conform to what they think is proper. Forget free will. Forget being unique. You need to be what they want, when they want, or they’re going to come after you.
The rub is that—sometimes—the bullied strike back.
Mrs. Livingston decided that the e-mail was a perfect tool for letting her viewers, probably some of them young people, know that it is okay to be an individual, and that you don’t have to take the taunts and hits and kicks, be they physical or emotional.
Here’s some of what Mrs. Livingston had to say during a segment of her morning show this week:
“The truth is: I am overweight. You could call me fat and, yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart, but to the person who wrote me that letter—do you think I don’t know that? That your cruel words are pointing out something that I don’t see? You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you have admitted that you don’t watch this show. So you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside, and I am much more than a number on the scale.”
She pointed out that bullying is not just something that people are born with. Bullying, unlike obesity, is a choice. It is learned. Mrs. Livingston said later in the segment that if you’re commenting around your kids about the fat news lady on the television, chances are they will go to school and call someone fat. Only by teaching that people are different, and that’s all right unless they have a penchant for killing other human beings, will we be able to reduce the ever-growing wave of bullies washing across the country.
The sad thing is that the bully did not get the point. Here’s what Mr. Krause had to say in a written statement to the media:
“Given this country’s present epidemic of obesity and the many truly horrible diseases related thereto, and considering Jennifer Livingston’s fortuitous position in the community, I hope she will finally take advantage of a rare and golden opportunity to influence the health and psychological well-being of Coulee Region children by transforming herself for all of her viewers to see over the next year. I would be absolutely pleased to offer Jennifer any advice or support she would be willing to accept.”
Gee, that’s mighty nice of him, kicking her in the gut and then offering to make that gut a harder target. God bless the ignorant. They surely need it!
However, my piece on bullying does not end here. Oh, no. The other day, I logged on to Facebook and found one of my writer friends had posted a story about a gay couple in Texas who found a rather unpleasant gay slur painted on their front porch. “Leave or die fags.”
Another common thread of bullies is they tend not to be very creative. Why couldn’t the hateful bugger have written something more literary like “Vacate our community or suffer immeasurably prior to your untimely death, you homosexual scum”? It’s just the same simple message—Leave or die, fags.
For Joshua Jeffers and Jeremy Harrison, the rude early morning message was the culmination of two weeks of rudeness and unpleasantness. They had enjoyed relatively peaceful coexistence with the townspeople until an advertisement from a local church talked about the homosexual agenda and how we’re going to corrupt the world.
Chris Moore, the minister at the Clarendon Church of Christ, said that these seven agenda items are what gay people are in favor of:
∙ Repealing all laws prohibiting private sexual acts involving consenting persons.
∙ Repealing all laws prohibiting prostitution, both male and female.
∙ Repealing all laws governing the age of consent.
∙ Repealing all legislative provisions that restrict the sex or number of persons entering into marriage and the extension of legal benefits to all who cohabit regardless of sex or marital status.
∙ Enacting legislation so that adoption, foster parenting, child custody, visitation rights, etc., shall not be denied due to sexual orientation or marital status.
∙ Encouraging and sex education courses, prepared and taught by gay men and women, presenting homosexuality as a valid, healthy preference and lifestyle as a viable alternative to a heterosexual lifestyle.
Oh, dear. The man of the cloth has figured out our wicked, wicked plan. Whatever shall we do?
I could break down each bullet point and tell you why it’s utter hogwash, but since I’m writing about bullying, I think I’ll stay on topic.
Sadly, some of the people who read Mr. Moore’s words could not see the error in his logic and figured those two boys holding hands in the supermarket will bring about the ruination of society. Therefore, they proceeded to ostracize Jeremy and Joshua, whose only perceived crime is they love a man instead of a woman, and one ignorant soul decided to proceed from nastiness to a full blown threat.
The good news is that the minister did not condone the vandalism and the threat of physical harm. The bad news is that the threat worked, as Joshua and Jeremy plan to move from the community.
Is the minister ignorant? Yes. Are his words constitutionally protected, albeit hateful? Yes. Do people have the right to use those words as weapons to torment others? Not even on your birthday, bucko.
So you don’t like the fat chick on television. So you think those two guys kissing in the park are gross. Too bad. You don’t want anyone infringing on your rights and the way you live, so you don’t get to do it to others. We need to let the bullies out there know they don’t get our lunch money anymore. If they want it, they’re going to have to deal with us—and our friends.
Let freedom ring—and let those bells hit the bullies in the heads so the common sense can be jarred loose.