READY: No longer is it “Bully I say”

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
Mary Ready

Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, was fond of using the word “Bully.” As a boy, Teddy Roosevelt was sickly and asthmatic, so he sought a self-cure in pursuing a robust life, full speed ahead. The first U.S. president to win the Nobel Peace Prize, he was also a soldier, an author, an explorer, and an adventurer whose “bully” expressions of amusement and toothy grin made him exceptionally popular. (The Teddy Bear is named for him.) When he roared aloud, “Bully, I say,” he was expressing whole-hearted delight in his surroundings or in something someone had shared with him.

Now, when we hear the word, it has an entirely different meaning, conjuring up images of cruelty, inhumanity, and often, tragedy for its victims.

As a teacher, I often witnessed bullying. The unpopular, the so-called “geeks” and “weirdos,” the physically challenged. The list went on of those who were “different” in some way, drawing the vicious attention of other students who picked on them unmercifully. I tried very hard to stop the behavior in those days before bullying came to national consciousness, but was always told by administrators and advisors to stay out of “normal” kid conflicts. I was told “Boys will be boys,” or “It’s all part of growing up.” Once, I intervened between a bully and a victim and got pushed into a wall. Both students were suspended for three days, but that did nothing to keep the twice-his-size aggressor from continuing to torment his victim.  Eventually, the bully’s target left school, and I felt guilty I wasn’t able to do anything to help him.

Today, we are hearing a great deal about the problem. The media has covered the issue of bullying, and schools have instituted programs to address it as well. But it doesn’t seem to have helped that much.

Cyberbullying, an alternate type of malice, is on the rise, affording the abuser the luxury to inflict pain and suffering on the victim without laying a finger on him. For the uninitiated, “Cyberbullying” means the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (often a student) usually done anonymously and with a fake user name. The term is both a noun and a verb.

The stories of internet cruelty leading to the victim’s suicide are legion.

Megan Taylor Meier was the first reported casualty in 2006 of cyberbullying. An emotionally fragile teen from Dardenne Prairi, Missouri, she committed suicide by hanging three weeks before her 14th birthday. A year later, Meier's parents prompted an investigation into the matter, and her suicide was attributed to cyber-bullying through the social networking website MySpace. Lori Drew, the mother of a classmate of Meier and the ADULT bully behind a cruel hoax on Megan, was indicted on the matter in 2008, but was acquitted.

Sadly, the victim of bullying is often a physically disabled or mentally vulnerable child, teen, or even an adult.

Recently, a story emerged that must serve as the exemplum for all tales of bully brutality.

I’m sharing the story as reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

In Bay Village, Ohio, five high school students tricked their 14-year-old autistic classmate into doing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. But, instead of filling the bucket with ice water as the custom requires, they filled it with feces, urine, spit, and cigarette butts. Then they dumped the bucket from a roof onto the trusting young man. The five participants filmed their victim’s humiliation and posted the video to various social media sites. The lawyers for the perpetrators are espousing that old, familiar “Boys will be boys” cliché.

This cruel prank was an act of degradation and violence. It was harmful and hurtful to the young man, his family, and also to the community. They also damaged a wonderful fundraiser.

I view these bullies as criminals who targeted not only an innocent victim, but broke the heart of all we hold dear. 

These sick, sadistic teens callously set this disabled young man up for something that could have made him physically ill, and, worse, destroyed his trust in human decency.

In broader terms, they — and all bullies — humiliate humanity. 

In a closing word to all bullies everywhere, Lynette Mather has noted, “What if the kid you bullied at school, grew up, and turned out to be the only surgeon who could save your life?”

I’d like to be a fly on that wall.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.