Legislated courtesy

It was a very welcome treat to find home-made cookies on our desk at work. There was no note, so we asked around.

The cookies were a way for our office manager to participate in Random Act of Kindness Day earlier this week. Truth be told, she shows kindness every day, which makes her such a valued part of our team.

We can only wish the efforts of bullying awareness and prevention week participants were as easy to quantify. But they are not, and despite the province plunging into this fight back in 2004, results are mixed at best.

Trying to sanitize the school yard and the classroom and the workplace and the household are noble objectives, but we have to wonder if the situation has gotten worse rather than better. It’s a pretty tough thing to legislate – courtesy and decency.

Like many people getting on in years, we find ourselves looking back to the good old days.

In fact we were chatting with a childhood school mate the other day about this exact topic. One of the neighbour’s boys was a few grades ahead and loved picking on the younger students. Every day, the little guys would take a thumping of sorts in the playground until little Johnny and the other boys decided to fix up the bully. In short order, the bully had a bloody nose and unlike the lads he bullied, he ended up going to the principal for some justice after being picked on.

While an unlikely outcome in today’s politically correct environment, the principal knew what was up and suggested that he learn a lesson – don’t pick on people. That was the end of it, and to our knowledge his days of plunder ceased.

Since those times (a short 30 or so years ago), the schools have changed, parents’ attitudes have changed – even the average person’s take on authority figures has changed.

Some of that backlash and disdain is deserved, but like most things, it would appear the pendulum has swung too far.

Looking back those many years ago, people tended to look out for one another. Misbehaving kids engaged in bullying or taunting would be taken to task by a peer, perhaps a neighbour or another parent,  a teacher or in tougher cases, an officer. Now most people choose to ignore such occasions rather than risk potentially offending the sensibilities of a parent whose child is obviously astray. With an enabling parent and lack of accountability, a bully learns very soon what the boundaries are in their sphere of influence. They also know they are in the driver’s seat, as long as they keep their hands in their pocket and hold their tongue while authority figures are around.

Although roughhousing and so on of yesteryear has been stymied in many ways today, it has been replaced by a far more insidious form of bullying. It is the emotional torment of others where mind games and the constant eroding of a person’s self esteem ultimately takes the happiest of souls and turns them into a heart-aching shadow of their former self. And this continues without correction because too many have given up on standing up for others.

We find the whole thing so very tragic, specifically for the people who cut their lives short because the pain of facing bullies is too much. That should never happen, and despite all the legislation governments want to throw at the problem, it’s going to take everyday people stepping up and doing what is right to bring about change.

Even though schools have taken up this challenge, bullies need to be confronted elsewhere too.

Workplaces, community centres, families, neighbourhoods – anywhere somebody goes out of their way to make other people miserable, the little Johnnies need to say “Enough is enough.”