‘Bully’ pulpit allows intended victims to strike back
Growing up, movies painted a pretty clear picture of bullies. The broad-shouldered jock who pushed around the geek in glasses. The preppy snobs who picked on the girl in hand-me-down clothes. The bullies were mean and easy to spot.
But, just as we discover stories don’t always have happy endings, we find the “mean” people aren’t always so easy to spot. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. They can be young, and they can be old. You’ll never see them coming until the harsh words flow out of their mouth.
I read a story this week about a news anchor in Wisconsin that fell victim to a bully she’d never met and hopefully never will. Jennifer Livingston, a morning anchor at WKBT-TV, is used to getting emails and correspondence from viewers. But a recent letter was unlike any she’d received before. This one called Livingston out for her weight problem, saying “Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain.”
While Livingston tried to ignore the letter, her family and friends couldn’t. Finally, Livingston took to the air to address her critic. She admitted to having a weight problem but also noted she doesn’t need someone to point that out for her. “You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family ... you know nothing about me but what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.”
Last month, a Michigan teen, 16-year-old Whitney Kropp, was nominated to be on her school’s homecoming court. She was excited, surprised and ready to shine. Until she found out she was only elected to the court as a joke. Her fellow students wanted to make fun of her, so they voted her in.
As with Livingston, the story spread. The community rallied around Kropp, determined that she was going to enjoy her special night. She had almost backed out, but the support she received convinced her to stay in. A makeover and pretty red dress were donated by local businesses to make her night extra special.
Initially, Kropp was devastated at the emotional abuse she’d been given. According to some reports, the teen even considered suicide to make it all stop. The world. The bullying. The hurting. She just wanted it to end.
Luckily, Kropp was surrounded by love and support from a lot of people, including those she’d never met. Statements she’s made since indicate she bears no ill will toward her classmates or the school. In fact, it seems she is stronger than ever before.
“The kids that are bullying, do not let them bring you down,” Kropp told reporters. “Stand up for what you believe in, and go with your heart and go with your gut. That’s what I did, and look at me now. I’m just as happy as can be.”
For these two women, bullying gave them strength they’d never known. They both very publicly faced their attackers and showed they would not be terrorized.
Just last week, Maryville College men’s basketball coach Randy Lambert, former University of Tennessee men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and Haven House Chief Executive Officer Valerie Day spoke to more than 60 athletes at William Blount High School on the dangers of domestic violence and overcoming demeaning behavior.
“You might think some things are funny, but they’re always funny at someone else’s expense,” Pearl said. “If your buddies are saying something demeaning or disrespectful about their girlfriends or other girls and you don’t say anything about it, you’re contributing to the behavior.”
Did the viewer who wrote Jennifer Livingston truly think he was doing her a favor by pointing out her weight problem? Or was he just being a jerk who got a cheap thrill out of hurting someone else? The kids who TRIED to victimize Whitney Kropp saw their plan backfire when she had a fantastic time, and I hope each of them enjoyed the taste of crow they were served.
I question this time and time again but I’ll truly never understand how society has progressed so far and yet we’re so backward in the way we treat others. Homophobic people. Racists. Chauvinists. And then there are the people who are just mean for the sake of being mean.
I don’t get it. I’ll say it again, but I truly don’t understand how people can be filled with such hate, stupidity, arrogance and ignorance. I don’t get how people can be so cruel and feed on the pain of others. But honestly, I hope it’s something I never understand.
If I did, I’d be contributing to the problem. Thank God, I’m on the other side of the fence. I’m trying to make a difference. What are you doing?
Amanda Greever is assistant managing editor at The Daily Times. She writes a weekly column in the Sunday Life section. She can be reached at 981-1161 or (firstname.lastname@example.org)