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Bully Nation — hopefully less so after January 20

Exactly a year ago, I wrote the following column — about how our country had devolved, somehow, over the generations, but most noticeably with the Bush administrations, into one full of outrageous bullies — on a next-door-neighbor level to a global level. I’d like to think that era is coming to an end. That we’ll find our way back to being a true leader and example to the rest of the world in a global sense, but also in a personal sense in how we treat the people near to us every day. Whether they’re strangers we pass and treat cordially … or not, or spouses who deserve our best, but often receive our worst.

Let’s all stop being such awful bullies and let January 20 ring in a more compassionate America.

Bully Nation

When Al Qaeda hijacked planes on 9/11, we called that terrorism – rightly so. But when Americans plot to overthrow or assassinate foreign governments and leaders like we did in the 1960s with Fidel Castro or in the 1970s in Chile, or when we invade and destroy countries like we did in Iraq – um, isn’t all that pretty darn terror-inducing too?

Somehow, though, when the US is the one doing the terrorizing it’s never called terrorism; it’s called making the world safer or spreading democracy or Operation Freedom … yada yada yada.

I call it just plain old-fashioned bullying. Whether we’re doing it or someone else is. And America has become a nation of bullies.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that the US has been a bully from the beginning. I’m sure Native Americans must have a thought or two on that subject.

But since World War II, US reputation has deteriorated from Marshall Plan largesse to post-war Ugly American caricature and in more recent years to a worldwide perception of the US as a self-righteous, resource-gobbling global bully.

We’re bullies on our own turf too, though. American children are scared to go to school because of bullies rampaging through halls and playgrounds; parents cave in – and go broke – in the process of giving their own tantrum-throwing kids everything all the neighbor kids have too. Husbands bully wives with the purse-strings or passive-aggressive “Didn’t hear ya, hons,” and wives bully back by withholding sex or hiding the Neiman Marcus bags in the guest bedroom closet.

Movies like The Devil Wears Prada exaggerate only slightly what it’s like to work for a bully boss in corporate America. I’ve worked for bosses who regularly screamed obscenities, and who thought that anything less than a 60-hour work week meant that an employee was just “doing the minimum.”

Bullies are ubiquitous on our airwaves — Simon Cowell ridicules, Howard Stern debases, Bill O’Reilly blusters; and on our roadways — at every intersection, horns blare, fingers flip, and road rage rules if a driver doesn’t take off the split-second a light changes.

The devil doesn’t wear Prada, it wears power. And power is what bullies are after.

My definition of a bully is anyone who tries to make their own self feel good by making someone else feel badly.

But when you strip away the blustery bravado, bullies are really just big bawling babies, red-faced with fear that they’ll somehow miss out on their fair share of Mama’s milk.

Most of the time, bullies only have as much power as we give them, but dealing with them can be tricky. Sometimes it means walking away, peacefully resisting, or simply ignoring. Other times it means not backing down and being ready to fight for yourself … and others.

Nine times out of ten, the best way to make any bully back away is to simply stand up straight and look them unflinchingly in the eye. That’s one of the things Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., taught us when he challenged this nation to look racism in the eye and stare it down.

“A man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,” King said. And he was right.

Posted on January 15th, 2009Comments RSS Feed

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