No, not really. Please have no fear of catching anything deadly and do read on …
Remember when we were standing around in a group of friends in the school yard before school began at 9 a.m. or during recess? There was always that one girl or boy we shunned, using the excuse that they had COOTIES and we would all catch cooties, too, if we associated with them in any way.
Now, we knew these kids, our peers and fellow classmates, were not actually carrying a communicable disease, but the thought that they might gave us all an excuse for excluding them from our circle. (And I admit I was also one of those who shivered at the thought of catching cooties, although later I did become friends with at least one of those girls who had been thus named as a Cootie Bearer. And I’m pretty sure I never caught cooties from her.)
I look back on that time now and realize many schoolkids never left that school yard, and the bullying that went on there. Because declaring someone had cooties and shunning them from our little society really was a form of bullying, of excluding someone from the group just because they were different in some way from the rest of us … or, worse, because just one of those kids in the group had decided they didn’t like the kid and got the rest of us to go along with saying it was simply because that kid had cooties.
But, unfortunately, this is still happening every day, but now with the difference being that those school yard bullies have gone on to become influential leaders in our society who continue to call people names, who group their “enemies” into undesirable factions (simply because those perceived enemies disagree with the leaders or voice an opposing opinion), who use “name calling” as a method of demeaning, objectifying, vilifying, and actually ostracizing those people from the mainstream – which ultimately makes the bully look better in the eyes of his/her followers, those “sheeple” who never question, but support and laugh at all the jokes – and the names – the leader comes up with to deflate any opposition. Without any thought as to what they are actually agreeing with or justifying through their compliance.
WITHOUT ACTUALLY THINKING.
I want to emphasize this point because, while the bully or leader has come up with all these “nasty” names and encouraged others to join in on the bullying, it’s those followers who blindly follow, who parrot what they’ve been told to believe, and who never question what is being said or the validity of the names these “others” are being called – names that very conveniently dehumanize entire groups of people, simply because they “think” differently – who ultimately give the bully permission to continue bullying, who make that bully feel as though the name calling and ostracizing is valid and welcome by the majority.
I don’t know when it was during primary school that I stopped following the others and became friends with the cootie-ridden. That decision likely had something to do with my mother. As a young child, she and her parents emigrated from Belgium after the first World War, and my mother always set the example in our house of being accepting of everyone, no matter what their background. Plus, we spent every summer at the cottage north of Toronto, and far away from my classmates. Often, when returning to school in September, my circle of friends would change as families moved away from the neighbourhood or former friends changed allegiances during those summer months I was away. So it was never a conscious decision on my part to stop following the school yard bullies. I wish now I could say it had been, but during the early 60s we didn’t know what bullying was and, while many were victims of bullying at the time, society had not yet put a name to it or realized the problem of it. Bullying was just a part of growing up. At that time.
Now we know though that bullies are a bad influence on a “civilized” society, and that they should be stopped in their tracks. We cannot allow them to dictate – through their damaging words – what the rest of us should think, or that the rest of us may actually be wrong because we don’t think the way the bully thinks. And the best way I know to stop them is to stop repeating verbatim what they say, stop calling others by those names the bullies use, stop grouping people into presumed enemies, and start looking at everyone as individuals who have just as much right to their Considered and Thoughtful opinions as everyone else. (I have written previously about deflating bullies here: Let’s Bully the Bullies!)
After all, bullies are just seeking power and control ( or “ratings”) – but they can’t get all of that without our permission. Even passing legislation or ordering that others give them that power and control can only last as long as we all give them permission to do so. Once people … individuals, see the bullies for what they are, and start calling them by the name of “Bully”, and stop following them, and begin thinking for themselves, we might actually begin to move towards a civilized and inclusive society/world in which everyone feels they play an important part and are welcoming of each other – and are not afraid of catching cooties …
I should mention that it has not gone unnoticed by me that I’m suggesting we use the bullies’ own tactics and call them by a name, group them as a group, and attempt to dehumanize them as they have done to everyone who opposes them. But perhaps fighting fire with fire is the only way they will ever understand that what they’ve been doing all along is wrong.
(I also realize that I’m likely just preaching to the choir here, but my hope is that the choir will sing out loudly and further share my message so that others, those who are not so like-minded, may see my message and at least give it some thought.)
And, finally, I’m going back to the 70s now, to a great speech from a movie of that time that needs to be replayed for everyone to watch and consider. What Peter Finch’s character, Howard Beale, says here still rings remarkably, even chillingly, true today, more than 40 years later …