October 29, 2013
NEW YORK — Was a losing team bullied? Is your angry boyfriend a bully? How about that coworker who's always criticizing you?
Bullies aren't just for middle-schoolers. These days, they're everywhere.
Malcolm Smith, a professor in the University of New Hampshire's education department who founded an anti-bullying program called "The Courage to Care," says what constitutes bullying is measurable: Is the behavior so damaging that it interferes with the target's ability to go to school or do their job or otherwise conduct themselves safely? And secondly, does the behavior involve an imbalance of power?
BULLYING IN SPORTS
In Texas last week, the football coach at Aledo High School was accused of bullying after his team won 91-0. With no mercy rule in place to stem lopsided victories, the coach even tried to minimize the blowout by benching his starters and letting the clock run uninterrupted after halftime.
A parent from the losing team accused the coach of "bullying" — an accusation that requires the school district to investigate under state law. However, the school district administrators found no grounds for the complaint, and many observers agreed.
But that’s not to say that bullying or other types of personal intimidation don't happen in sports. We saw it for ourselves, when, for example, Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice was fired for screaming at his players, calling them names and kicking and shoving them. BULLYING ON THE JOB
Dr. Harold Pass chairs a committee that evaluates allegations of disruptive behavior at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York. He says "bullying" accurately describes workplace situations where someone is targeted by a fellow employee — whether it's a doctor trying to make another one look bad or a nurse targeted by a superior.
"Bullying means intentionality," Pass said. "If a football team happens to win by a large score, it doesn't mean the players intended to denigrate, hurt, humiliate, damage or diminish the other team. But that does occur in workplace situations all the time — in hospitals, in factories and corporations, as well as in schools. Any place there's a power differential, where someone puts other people down, where it's done willfully, not randomly or unconsciously, that could be bullying."
Some conflicts in the workplace are more easily defined as harassment rather than bullying, though.
"Bullying is a lot more volitional," Pass said. "People can make offhanded comments that are disrespectful," but unless an individual is repeatedly targeted, it may not constitute bullying.BULLYING ELDERS
No one denies that bullying among kids is a serious problem. Just look at the many tragic cases of adolescents committing suicide after being tormented by peers in school or online.
But in some situations, it's the adults who feel they're being bullied by kids — sometimes even their own. Social worker Sean Grover gives workshops in schools around New York City on the topic "The Bullied Parent," where parents can be seen weeping in recognition as he describes families in which kids are in charge, mocking their parents, criticizing them and making demands.
And let's not forget the bus monitor in upstate New York. After a video was posted online showing kids cursing Karen Klein out, threatening and insulting her, a campaign to send her on vacation raised more than $700,000.BULLYING IN RELATIONSHIPS
Ben Leichtling, founder of BulliesBeGone, says "bullying is not only about kids. It happens all the time, in every culture, with people at every age, in every situation, and always has."
When he coaches adults coping with bullies on the job or in bad marriages, he offers the same advice used to curb bullying in schools.
"You have to say, this behavior is not allowed," he said. "And you may have to get in the bully's face."
For years before he became a psychotherapist, Leichtling had a career running research labs. He says it was good training for the anti-bullying work he does now.
"Boy, I saw bullying in science," he said. "It's not an ivory tower. Academia is vicious!"