I’ve watched somewhat amused, as the typical lifecycle of a viral new story circa 2012 runs its course over a whopping two days. In this case, it’s about Jennifer Livingston of Wisconsin’s WKRB, the now notorious newscaster who took down a rude, fat-shaming letter-writer on air, in a far more eloquent and dignified way than I might have.
Extra points for not calling him a dickwad – often my first instinct. The response has gone from YOU GO, JENNIFER to HOW DARE YOU USE YOUR PULPIT TO ATTACK AN INDIVIDUAL. The latter of which–oy. I’ve seen that one wielded against anyone with any level of fame or notoriety who dares to defend themselves against personal attacks. As if fame somehow makes you impervious to sustained taunting.
But the most pervasive conversation I’ve seen has been about whether it’s in fact “bullying” at all when a gentleman such as this one takes the time to kindly write to a successful working mother of three girls, Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular.
He was just looking out for her, right? He’s so worried! Compassionate! Really…he’s only trying to do what’s best for the young people of the greater La Crosse area.
(And by the way, if their community’s young people are spending their every afternoon watching the local 6PM news, then more power to them.)
But is he a bully?
I’ve seen relevant perspectives on both sides, particularly in a conversation that started with Julie Pippert, Britt Rients and Annie Urban on Twitter that moved to Facebook that now is moving to my blog. (I have that power!) The ideas I disagree with fall into these categories:
-it’s not bullying if it’s not perpetrated by an individual in power, like a boss.
-it’s not bullying if it’s not ongoing and systematic
-it’s not bullying if it’s not accompanied by actual threats or violence.
The ideas I agree with include:
-Not all rudeness, meanness, or name-calling is bullying.
-Often times, public disagreement with one’s ideas, especially if a lot of people disagree, is incorrectly identified as bullying.
-Britt’s comment: “people who court controversy should be the most skilled at handling criticism – and the last to cry bully. “
I also like this definition of bullying via Pacer’s National Bully Prevention Center.
Now while the press has deemed the letter-writer “the bully,” I actually didn’t think that was the essence of Jennifer’s impassioned speech. She main point was that people who show hatred and disdain for others in letters like these, bring that into their homes and teach it to their children. It trickles down and it becomes bullying. Her points echos an implication I made year ago when I first wrote about The Sanctimommy–if you’re a judgmental, sanctimonious person who expresses those views publicly, you’re likely to have kids who behave that way too. Plus, I don’t want to go dancing with you.
If you’re the type who proclaims that you’re better than every other parent in the world because you’ve never been within six blocks of a McDonald’s, or you don’t own a TV, or you breastfed for 37 years, or you’ve never once texted while in the playground, or your BMI is somewhere between Supermodel and Michael Phelps, then…yay for you. And good luck raising children who aren’t unbearable finger-pointers too.
Bullying, shaming, trolling, public humiliation…it’s all really different symptoms of the exact same problem.
So in some ways Jennifer is right and in some way’s she’s wrong. Technically. Yes, this guy is possibly a bully in real life. He’s disdainful of people who are overweight to the point that he took the time to write a letter calling her out for her weight and deeming her unqualified for her job. (As if the 6PM local news anchor is every kid’s greatest role model.) But was the letter on its own a case of “bullying?” Maybe not in the dictionary-sense. Maybe it was more like harassment: behavior meant to disturb or upset. So I take back my original assertion that that letter was an act of bullying.
Does it freaking matter?
Are we going to let a semantic discussion derail the greater issue here?
I understand that calling disagreement or criticism “bullying” diminishes actual bullying. I suffered through it. It was brutal. And it pisses me off to see cries of BULLY any time a parent sees a two year-old who doesn’t know how to share, or a blogger sees a post rebutting their own.
But when I think about the differences between a one-on-one personal attack and bullying–my feeling is that they’re identical cousins separated at birth. And they both just suck.