Bullying, a universal concern of parents of children with autism, isn’t new and will persist until there’s a near-universal change in thinking. In the meantime, hateful memes like this proliferate on the internet: “Bullying is always going to be a thing. Stop wrapping your kids in cotton wool, teach them to stand up and defend themselves and stop raising a society of victims.”

Bullies raise bullies. Bullies choose to see that the playing field is not only not level, but cratered, often by the likes of themselves, and that the onus is on the victim to stop the violence and intimation. Here is what “NO” to that looks like, and here is what we must do:

Bullying is not a “thing,” it’s a willfully chosen act meant to incite fear and cause harm. Bullying will indeed always be with us as long as the adults in a child’s life aren’t curious about and take action to heal the feelings of powerlessness and hurt drive bullies to attack those they perceive as weaker. Hey, “thing”-ers! Stop wrapping your heads in cotton wool. Teach all children to respect all members of their community whether perceived as greater or lesser, because there will always be both. That’s a “thing” too. Teach all children to stand up and defend the weak, whether it’s in the moment or in life in general, whether the perceived weakness is physical, emotional, cognitive, psychological. Stop raising a society of thugs and responsibility-deniers. Even to them will come moments of weakness and need. And be prepared to discover that those perceived as weak are often toweringly strong in ways their tormenters never imagined—and the consequences thereof.

A piercing line in the movie Silverado is Linda Hunt telling Kevin Kline, “Some people think because they’re stronger or meaner, that they can push you around. I’ve seen a lot of that. But it’s only true if you let it be.” Hunt, as a dwarf and a lesbian born in the 1940s, probably knows a thing or two about bullying, and I like to imagine she took great pleasure in a line that embodies her courageous and successful life. We can’t do less than refusing to answer violence with violence, but rather insisting that the problem be attacked and resolved at the root, and owning that the root is us.

© 2016 Ellen Notbohm www.ellennotbohm.com


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