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With school starting this week it's a good time to reflect on the behavior of bullies in an attempt to recognize people who bully and, one hopes, to create an environment where bullying is simply not tolerated.  The well-known psychological mayhem bullies wreak upon their victims is well known, but the harm they do goes deeper than that.  It can have economic consequences for schools that receive less aid due to the absences of bullying victims who skip school to avoid being bullied, and to the victims themselves, who, according to a MarketWatch article, are 11% more likely to be in poverty or have other negative financial outcomes as adults.

According to a Wallethub analysis, New York is right in the middle of states with the worst and least bullying problems, ranking 23 out of 48 states analyzed.  But numbers can be deceiving -- low numbers mean more bullying, and high scores represent less bullying.  New York ranked 5 in 'Bullying prevalence', and 13 in 'Bullying Impact and Treatment'.  But its overall score is higher because it ranked 47 in 'Anti-Bullying Laws', second only to Massachusetts, which was ranked 48 (the least bullying) in the analysis.  New York tied with California and Texas for the highest cost of truancy due to bullying.  One has to wonder what good all those laws do if there is no enforcement, or -- better yet -- prevention.

Washington, DC ranked 43rd, giving it the 6th best score for the least bullying problems.  When you consider what happens in the District of Columbia that pretty great ranking is surprising.  DC was in the top five with the highest number of high school students involved in physical fights, as well as ranking 4th in high school students who attempted suicide.  But the surprising part is that you only have to read the national news to conclude that the little district is a hotbed of adult bullying, and where, after all, do kids get their ideas from?

Next month is National Bullying Prevention Month, and the 11th Annual World Day of Bullying Prevention™ is October 1st. May 4th was declared Anti-Bullying Day (aka Pink Shirt Day) by the United Nations, although some countries celebrate it in February.  All nice thoughts, but bullying isn't something that should be thought about once a year.

According to, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, bullies
  • Get into physical or verbal fights
  • Have friends who bully others
  • Are increasingly aggressive
  • Get sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
  • Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
  • Blame others for their problems
  • Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
  • Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
Does that remind you of anyone?  It is a pretty accurate profile of that guy who currently works at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.  You might say that he bullied his way into the principal's office by becoming the principal so he wouldn't keep getting sent to see the principal.  A Princeton University article on bullying defines these traits:
  • Blames others for errors.
  • Makes unreasonable demands
  • Criticizes the work ability of others in front of others
  • Inconsistent enforcement of arbitrary rules
  • Threats of job loss, insults and put downs
  • Downplays or denies accomplishments
  • Social exclusion
  • Yells and screams at target, often in front of others
  • Takes credit for another person's work
The President's opponents argue his behavior has, among other things, encouraged discrimination and a resurgence of hate groups in America.  It really only takes a look at school bullying to see what is going on in Washington.  The President is certainly not the only one, but as the occupant of the ultimate 'Bully Pulpit' (apologies to Mr. Roosevelt) he has certainly used it to become the Bully In Chief.  You don't have to be a genius to see all these traits in his tweets, which are no tweet... er, treat... to read, let alone his public statements and behavior.

Here in Lansing bullying (both at school and in the cyber world, are defined and prohibited in the school code of conduct, and the school district has embraced the New York State Dignity For All Students Act (DASA) that went into effect six years ago.  School personnel are fighting the good fight to eradicate bullying from the bottom up.

Maybe it's a good time for the rest of us adults to reflect on eradicating it from the top down.  One certainly wants strong leaders, especially strong national leaders.  But we want strong leaders who represent the best of the rest of us, who lead with strength and dignity, who find solutions to conflict and who are not afraid to use force only when necessary.  After all we live in the real world where uber-bullies (terrorists) only seem to understand violence and destruction.

Thoughtful voting is how we do that.  Thoughtful voting.  Not just voting.  And not not voting.

To be an effective world leader the United States needs leaders that the rest of the world not only fears, but also respects, who believes in America's core values and promotes them consistently in deeds as well as in words.  Maybe it would help if grownups think more about our own school days.  Robert Fulghum summed up important life lessons pretty well in his famous book, 'All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten':
  1. Share everything.
  2. Play fair.
  3. Don't hit people.
  4. Put things back where you found them.
  5. Clean up your own mess.
  6. Don't take things that aren't yours.
  7. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  8. Wash your hands before you eat.
  9. Flush.
  10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  11. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work everyday some.
  12. Take a nap every afternoon.
  13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  14. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  15. Goldfish and hamster and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup - they all die. So do we.
  16. And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned - the biggest word of all - LOOK.
In case you're thinking of moving, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Idaho, and Alaska were the top five state with the worst bullying problems.  The top five with the fewest bullying problems are Massachusetts, Vermont, Delaware, Virginia, and Colorado.

But to be clear, I grew up in Massachusetts and there was plenty of bullying.  I still cringe when I hear the words 'dodge ball' and I think not at all fondly of our neighborhood bully, Stanley.  So there are miles of room for improvement, even in the states with the best records on bullying.  Even Stanley was a rank amateur when compared to our friends in Washington.

Those 16 things that Fulghum learned in Kindergarten should be emblazoned on brass plaques that are displayed prominently in every office in Washington.  There is a lot of work to do.

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