The Rise (and fall) of Bully Culture

The last few years the national discussion about bullying has heated up.   After Columbine, the media pounced on the idea that the two shooters were bullied and that their attack on the school was motivated by revenge.  This, of course, is a myth that was shattered in Dave Cullen’s meticulously researched Columbine.  But the conversation about bullies had already begun.  What started as a movement to prevent future shootings morphed into a suicide prevention strategy as the news media reported story after story of young people who killed themselves after enduring bullying at the hands of their peers.  Recently the conversation has broached the topic of bullying in sports after the Rutgers basketball coach was fired and the departure of Jonathon Martin from the Miami Dolphins after his claims of being bullied by fellow teammate, Richie Incognito.

There is an anti-bullying movement that is being put forth in schools across the country with varying degrees of success and 49 states have passed anti-bullying legislation.  There have been academic and governmental studies undertaken  There have been movies (feature films and documentaries) and novels for both adults and children created addressing the topic of bullying.  But what is really changing?  Books about bullies in the workplace have been a staple of business books for quite a few years; but, mostly we think bullying is a youth problem.

Is it really a youth problem?  I don’t think so.  This is a case of adults acting poorly and children following in their footsteps.  Bullying is learned behavior.

This is how I see it.  It is like when I see adults riding bikes with their kids.  The kids have helmets on; but, the adults do not.  Basically, the lesson here is that you have to wear a helmet until you are old enough to ride without one.  How is this related to bullying?  Look at our culture.  We love bullies.  We adore them.  We root for them.  We think they are funny and we support them in ways that make them a lot of money.  We elevate their social status and make it very clear that bullying is rewarding.  Yet, our rhetoric is that bullying is bad and should be stopped.

Chris Christie reeks of bully.  The way he conducts himself and the way he carries himself clearly spell out: bully.  He has been floated as a presidential candidate and he is (or was) very popular among NJ voters and beyond.  People frequently smile or even chuckle and say things like:  He just says it like it is.  Really, that’s what he does?  The New York Times has published an article chronicling some of his finer moments as bully.  He once told journalists to “take a bat” to one of his political opponents who happens to be an older woman, Loretta Weinberg.  Did you know that Chris Christie got one of the toughest anti-bullying law passed in the country?  I find that curious.  I find that a case of “do as I say, not as I do.”  While “apologizing” for the recent bridge scandal, he stated,  “This is not the tone I have set over the last four years in this building,” he said. “I am who I am. But I am not a bully.”  Really?  Because if he had set a different tone in his office, this most likely would have never happened.  I think that is exactly the tone he set, despite his anti-bullying rhetoric and legislative successes (NJ has some of the toughest anti-bullying legislation.)

And then there is problem when masculinity and bullying get confused.  When the recent NFL bullying scandal broke, there seemed to be two camps.  One thought that Martin should just toughen up and take it like a man and the other seemed to think that things had gotten out of hand.  The whole notion that any sort of harassment is acceptable because it is sports is absurd.  Professional football players may be sports figures entrenched in a sport known for violence; but, they are also employees.  If you took Incognito’s behavior out of the locker room and put it in an office, we would all be collectively appalled.

We are sending contradicting messages to young people.  We are telling them that bullying is bad and then we are creating bullies into heroes.  Reality television tops the charts not because everyone is nice to each other.  We watch to see the predators and their prey.  It really is that simple.  We tell them that bullying is bad; but, then create exceptions to that rule (bullying in the context of athletic training or fraternity hazing is character building).

Bullies are not tough.  And that is what children should be taught.  There is no exception to that rule and there is no bully behavior that should be celebrated.  Bullies are not tough; they are cruel.

There is a vast difference between toughness and cruelty.

We need to begin a national dialogue, not on bullying; but, on how to cultivate kindness and compassion in our young people.  Children learn from us.  They watch us and they mimic us.  If we bad mouth coworkers in front of our children, they hear us.  If we make fun of a weird neighbor in front of our children, they hear us.  If you gossip about an other adult, while children can hear you (in the library or classroom), they are learning something about how adults act.

We need to begin by cultivating compassion and kindness in ourselves.  The best way to get someone to understand the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet is by wearing one yourself.  Chris Christie is the highest leader of the State of New Jersey and a nationally recognized figure.  He has a history of bullying and retaliating against those who disagree or fail to do what he wants.  I personally do not believe that he didn’t know about the toll closures on George Washington Bridge.  It’s a Christie move to do something like that.  He spent his press conference talking about how betrayed he feels, as if he is the victim.  He can declare all he wants; but, he will continue to be judged by his behaviors.  He needs to do some major soul searching if he wishes to change that perception.  We need to stop supporting politicians that are bullies.  Stop supporting television shows and entertainment that glorifies bullies.  What do you think young people are learning from the bridge fiasco?

It is past time to end this madness.  What is to become of our society if we don’t begin to change?  You can start the movement right now.  You can cultivate your own compassionate life and practice it everywhere you go.  What will your impact be in this world?  Are you spreading goodness?  I’m going to let you in on a secret:  it feels better to experience moments of compassion and generosity than it does to one up, gloat or even cheer for the bully.

Let’s make a commitment to try a little bit harder to soften our hearts.  Our world really does depend on it.

Best of 2013 and the Anti-resolution Resolution

I am a total Best Books junkie.  If you wait all year for the “Best of” lists, have you seen Largehearted Boy’s giant list?  If not, you should totally check it out.  It’s a bit of a time suck; but, well worth it.

One of my personal favorite best list is the annual Powell’s Bookstore Staff Top 5s.  When I worked there, a few years ago, I participated and one of the things I really enjoyed was how seriously the staff who participated took it.  We had so much fun talking about each book and debating before finally handing in our personal 5.  I always come away with a couple of titles I want to read.

I haven’t posted in quite awhile because I took the summer off and then I had surgery on my right hand/wrist again; I really wanted to get another post in before the end of 2013 but it just didn’t happen.  So, I thought I’d start the new year with a little look back to 2013.

5 favorite reads (books) of 2013 (not in order)

  1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  2. Theory of Everything by Kari Luna {If i had to choose one favorite this one would be it.  Marching band pandas!}
  3. Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran
  4. Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley
  5. Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni

Honorable Mention:  I really loved Reality Boy by A.S. King but I think 2013 was a more whimsical year for me; so,  I had a hard time including it in my fave 5.  But, read it.  It’s one of those brutally beautiful books.

Some Favorite reads (not books) of 2013 (not in order)

  1. Senseless by Bruce Barcott (June 2013 Bicycling Magazine) Fascinating article about concussions and helmet design.
  2. The Case Against High School Sports by Amanda Ripley (September, Atlantic Monthly)
  3. Home is Where the Hockey is (Grantland, December 3rd.)  Katie Baker is one of my favorite sports writers.
  4. A Life Too Long (Fall 2013 Tricycle Magazine, paywall) A different Katy Baker writes about how we deal with death and dying and palliative care.
  5. Kindness Changes Everything (Shambhala Sun, September 2010 but I just read it this year) by one of my favorite Buddhist teachers, Noah Levine.
  6. And really there are just too many New York Times Magazine articles that I loved like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one about Stephen King’s Family business,  and finally this one about the oil boom in North Dakota.

Apparently I really like sports writing.

I don’t believe in resolutions; so, I won’t be giving one here.  I think most resolutions are made with a hidden intention.  I think most resolutions are secretly a desire to be happier but are couched in resolutions like: I’m going to lose 20lbs or I’m going to start jogging or I’m going finish my novel or learn a foreign language.  Why not just resolve to be a little bit happier and a little less stressed in 2014?

I wish you all a joyful 2014.

 

Summer Break

 

Hello, loyal readers.  I haven’t posted in 2 months and really have no intention of posting until the Fall; so, I thought I would make it official.  I have always wanted the Summer off and this is probably as close as I will ever get!

I wish you all a Summer filled with fun, relaxation and good company.  I’m going to Linda Barry’s Writing the Unthinkable workshop at the Omega Institute.  This is a workshop I have dreamed about taking since she first started teaching it and this year, Anya gave me a generous and unexpected Christmas surprise.  I’m super excited to absorb anything Linda Barry has to say about anything.

I’m also headed to Cape Cod for the first time in 30 years.  We are meeting up with friends and accidentally timed our trip the same time Anya’s cousin will be there; so, it should be a week of sun and excellent company.

And Anya and I are moving to a different neighborhood in Brooklyn; so, my calendar feels full and I know I won’t be in the right place to offer up any thought provoking posts.  So, I’m taking the Summer off.

I hope to see you all in September.

 

 

Google Reader, RIP and Maintaining an Information Diet

The Google Reader logo. —Photo courtesy of Google.

Oh how I love Google Reader.  Upon the news of Google Reader’s soon to be death, I immediately started looking for an alternative.  In my effort to maintain sanity and energy in an information saturated world, Google Reader has been the second most used web resource in my life, behind GMail.  In the morning, I check my email and then check Reader.

Yes, yes, some folks think this is the end of RSS; I tend not to believe it.  Since the announcement, other readers have been scrambling to shore up servers after several of them crashed due to the overwhelming traffic of people like me searching for my Google reader alternative.

No one will argue when I say that the internet is a huge time suck and I’d add, energy suck too.  There is so much “stuff ” out there trying to capture our attention that even when we go on looking for one thing, we end up surfing around until we can’t believe how much times has passed.

The awesomeness of using a reader is that you control what you read.  I rarely go off my reader unless I click through to a website linked in the article.  This almost only happens with art blogs.  I click through to see more of a person’s art.  A single artist’s website rarely entices me to click further away from the original article.  The NYT is the only other website I go to daily to read.  Almost all of my internet reading is done on just two sites: Google Reader and NYT.  I have 128 feeds.  8 are just event feeds that are sporadic.  I’d say 30% update less than once a week and only 7 of them update multiple times a day.  I add and delete feeds every month as I tire of certain feeds or hear of something else I want to try.

I also practice what I call inbox 10.  I always edit my inbox to less than 10 (usually it hovers around 5) and I recently went through and unsubscribed to advertising emails I didn’t want or need anymore.

For me this is about being attentive to what I want to spend my energy on.  Anyone who has lost an afternoon to random internet surfing knows what I’m talking about.  I feel like I get to keep up on the topics that interest me: library stuff, technology, art, local happenings without exhausting myself with stuff that doesn’t matter.

I’ve mentioned on here that I don’t have a television.  This is not some highbrow, better than you decision.  This is completely a decision about attention and being mindful about what gets mine.  I was recently in a hotel for 2 nights and without event trying I spent 2.5 hours watching a reality show about folks buying the contents of storage units.  I will never retrieve that 2.5 hours and I would have been better off spending it reading a book or even better: sleeping.

The author of the Information Diet calls it consuming empty calories.  I don’t know how people watch the local news before they go to bed every night.  It doesn’t matter where you live, I’m guessing the first 10 minutes is all the negative news: the deaths, corruption, violence, war, etc.  This effects you.

It might not always seem like it; but, you get to choose what information and how much you consume.  Clay Johnson’s The Information Diet is a great starting place for anyone contemplating a change in the way they deal with information overload.

After spending a month with Feedly and The Old Reader, I have chosen Feedly as my Reader replacement.  I think this is a highly personal taste kind of thing.  I really liked The Old Reader which is actually fashioned after the original version of Google Reader; but, ultimately, the clean aesthetics of Feedly won me over.  Much of my reader is filled with art blogs and Feedly’s easily changed option of the various sizes of viewing really help me decide which entries I actually want to read.  I literally scroll down until something catches my eye, stop and click through.  I was a devoted and loyal Reader fan; but, I gotta tell ya, Feedly is dreamy and I probably never would have given it a chance if it were not for the demise of Reader.

In case you were wondering, two of my favorite art blogs:  Brown Paper Bag  and The Jealous Curator.

Meditation

I have talked about the benefits of meditation.  If it has you interested but unsure where to start, meditation teacher Susan Piver is hosting a free, limited participant webinar.

The date and time :

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

Click here to register

I have found Susan’s instructions to be very accessible.  Here’s your chance to talk to a meditation instructor and get your questions answered.

I have admitted to be an on again off again meditator, more off since my accident.  But, I recently found a trick that has kept me going for 2 weeks straight.  Maybe this trick will work for you too.

I used to set the coffee pot up at night and the timer would brew the coffee 2 minutes before my alarm went off.  But, now, my alarm goes off, I get up, make the coffee and then meditate until the coffee maker buzzes.  This takes 9 minutes.  Once the coffee maker buzzes I add on a round or a few of loving kindness meditation and call it done.  I have found this to be (so far) an easy way to avoid all the excuses.  Yes, its only 10 minutes or so; but, that is 70 minutes a week that I wasn’t doing before.

Meditation is training your mind in attention.  The benefits of that are numerous: stress reduction, self awareness, impulse control, cultivates compassion, patience, lowers blood pressure, supports immune function, calming, and on and on.  There is no downside.

I encourage you all to take advantage, if you can, of this awesome opportunity.

 

Librarian as Superhero

I recently had to go to urgent care for a stomach virus that had gone on too long. I like my regular doctor. She never seems to be in a rush and we’ve talked enough times that I’m completely comfortable with her. But, she wasn’t in the office; so, I headed off to the urgent care center near my workplace. It’s outfitted with zen doo dads, fresh water in a glass jug with lemon slices, a bowl of fresh fruit and a friendly staff.

The doctor who examined me was young. If I had to guess, I would say early thirties. When she asked me my occupation and I replied, “librarian,” she looked surprised. We talked some more about my stomach and then she said, offhandedly, “I guess your work has changed a lot, kind of disappearing.” I tried to explain modern librarianship in 60 seconds.  And took another 30 seconds to plug public libraries for all that they do beyond checking out books and one sentence about how librarians don’t just work in libraries.  But, I left feeling weird about it.

Mostly, I was so disappointed. Here is this young (and I might add, hip) physician who is so far removed from current methods of research and library service that she thought libraries would be disappearing with “everything online.”  And as if libraries were just  places where people went to get books.

It got me thinking. What are we doing wrong? Why doesn’t this highly educated, young woman understand the value of libraries and librarianship? Is it arrogance? Does she think that if she needs to research something for her job, even using a medical database, that she wouldn’t need a librarian’s help to execute a great search? If she seeks out a journal article, who curates those journal titles for the library?  Does she not understand that her public library is not only used by people  looking for a book to read; but, also by people who can’t afford to buy books.  Her library is serving people who don’t have internet access at home.  Her library is serving people who are looking for jobs, looking for group activities, looking for story time for their kids, looking to read magazines for free, looking for some new music to listen to or a movie to bring home, looking for a class that teaches them how to download books to their new e-reader, or just looking for a free lecture on an interesting topic?

I think maybe we just need to be better at sharing articles about all that libraries are doing for their communities.  We need to have a sweet or funny 3 minute spiel on the awesomeness of libraries, ready for just these moments.  Someone (was it Jessamyn West?),  said we need to have our “elevator speech” ready and I agree.  I tend to end by urging them to go visit their library and see what is happening there.  At the very least, they can sign up for a library card and borrow e-books!

Stuff like this either drives you crazy or invigorates you to go out and spread the word.  I hope you choose to take a deep breath, shake off the disappointment and go spread the word!!

When the Answer is Silence, Look Within.

Anya recently told me a story about work.  Her boss, at the start of the school year, had committed to a co-teaching approach for one of the senior level Social Studies classes.  Last week, she sprung it on the two teachers (Anya being one of them) that she was removing one teacher from the classroom in order to use them somewhere else.  Anya expressed disagreement with the plan.  The boss cut her off  and accused her of not being a team player, not having the students’ needs ahead of her own and using a “tone.”  When I asked her how she replied to this outburst, Anya said, “I didn’t.  What’s the point?”

I asked Anya to tell me word for word how the conversation went down.  I know Anya fairly well and had never witnessed her taking a “tone” with anyone even in disagreeable situations.  The more Anya recounted the experience, the more clear it became.  The principal by cutting her off and accusing her had effectively ended the conversation which is exactly what she wanted.  She wanted to shut Anya up and put her in her place.

The problem with using this manipulative tactic is that the island you are on becomes smaller and smaller.  True, fewer and fewer of your staff will disagree with you, but, that only creates an organization that is stagnate and inflexible.  If you are not open to the ideas and opinions of your staff, even when some of those opinions may be critical, your organization will never grow.  So now, the principal has not only effectively shut down a differing opinion; but, she has also damaged a relationship, discouraged future discussion and created a situation where the two teachers feel unsupported and undervalued.

Do you do this?  Are you listening and responding without defensiveness?

I can assure you of one thing.  If you tell your staff something and there is only silence in reply, you need to take a good look at yourself and the way you communicate.