On Swimming with the Dolphins: Bullies Grow Up

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFace it, with the controversy surrounding Miami Dolphins football players Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito, we all know way too much now about the friendly banter that goes on in the Dolphins locker room. Martin may have been naïve, thinking he could make accusations and not have it blow up in the press, or he may have been really canny about the way the media might latch onto his story.  And Incognito probably did not expect so many people to agree that his past bad behavior, both on and off the playing field, might lead one to believe he was a bully.

You know, it is not surprising to me that Incognito is referred to as a “bully” when that term usually is reserved for aggressive children.  Bullying does not end in childhood.  And bullies don’t stop this fiendish activity when they get older. They just get better at it.

It’s sad to think that most of us either know a bully or someone who has endured their actions, but we do. I remember a beautiful little girl who came to live near us when I was in grade school. She was part Asian and not only did she become the butt of every anti-Asian joke imaginable, she also had to watch her new fellow classmates pull their eyes up at the edges when they spoke to her. There was only one girl who took her side, who stood up to everyone and made her a friend. So the kids made fun of them both.

Walking home from school when I was a kid was a crap shoot. Sometimes you’d get lucky and get home first, safe in your mother’s kitchen. But other times, you would have to cross the street to avoid the constant badgering only to find it worse there when they would shout at you simply for crossing the street. Sometimes there is escape into stand-up comedy, or maybe playing an instrument you can practice all alone.

Imagine you’re an adult now and you think you have left the bullies behind. You are sure you won’t ever see them again or have to cross the street just to get home in peace. Except now, you are in an office or at your job, like these football players, and the bully is still there, mocking everything you do, belittling every success, lurking behind you so he or she can get something to share with friends at a bar after work. You can’t cross the street because, unlike the bullies in grade school, it’s hard to see adult bullies coming.

They are middle managers, or VP wannabes, or just some pushy new guy who needs to feel superior. They will forward your E-mails to an entire listserv just to make you look inept. Or worse, they send you a response to what was clearly just a quick update on some current situation, and copy the boss to make them look like they are cool enough to be friends with the boss and you, lowly worm, are not. These bullies will call senior managers by their first name in front of you, knowing you always use a courtesy title when you talk.

“Do you think Mr. Johnson will come to the event?” and the reply goes something like, “Bob? Oh, just yesterday I was talking to Bob over drinks at that new restaurant.  Let me ask him for you.”

Bullies gossip on the bus to their friends after you have spoken to them in confidence. They say, “You can trust me,” but you can’t. They say, “Let’s have lunch sometime real soon,” when they just want you to lower your guard and say something they can use against you tomorrow.

Haven’t you seen this?

Bullies fear that the world will think they are inadequate, that they are less important, or not as skilled as their colleagues or friends, but I have come to realize that they were bullies as children who never outgrew the need to bully. Sometimes they are micro managers, making sure that you know that every decision you make is the wrong one. Or that you just didn’t know that all the cool kids use a different web browser or gadget.

Bullies never outgrow their need to make everyone else feel small and, when their target is another adult, as is the case with these football players, they actually broadcast the fact that they are just bullies.

Bullies grow up. But I know how to angle the light in such a way that exposes them for what they are. They are inadequate, mean-spirited, small, and I know a bully when I see one. I hope the Dolphins do too.

Anne Born is a New York-based writer who has been writing stories and poetry since childhood.  While her children were enrolled in New York City public schools in the late 1990s, she edited and published The Backpack Press, and the CSDIII News, a monthly newsletter covering all public schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.  She blogs on Open Salon and Red Room and her writing focuses on family and life in a big city after growing up in a small one.  She is also a photographer who specializes in photos of churches, cemeteries, and the Way of St. James in Spain.  Most of her writing is done on the bus.  www.about.me/anneborn. You can follow Anne on Twitter at @nilesite.

Image: By Eddie~S (Bully Free Zone  Uploaded by Doktory) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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