This morning I watched a clip of the President of the United States bullying his way through another public diatribe. A crowd of his supporters was jeering, chanting, and risking their health during the COVID pandemic just to be a part of his blood sport.
It’s one thing to be a bully. We have all been exposed to bullies in our lives. They are damaged souls who feel the need to damage others. It’s quite another thing to observe all the folks that support bullying behaviour. That is highly disturbing.
Watching people laugh and chant in support of the bully-in-chief is revolting but not shocking to me. Some would put this group expression of hatred and derision down to the ignorance of a few. My observations are quite different.
I have repeatedly observed situations where the majority of people choose to support a bully. The rise of Hitler in Nazi Germany is one of the best examples of this. He exuded power and played to his populations’ worst fears, deepest prejudices. Film footage shows thousands of Germans chanting at his rallies.
On a more personal level, every bully I have encountered has had a substantial following.
Bullying begins early, starting with that girl in your third-grade friend group that decides to pit all the others against you. They follow her without question. The next week someone else will be the target of her ‘shame campaign’.
Or how about the older boy on the school bus who mocks you every time you climb aboard. The entire busload of kids laughs with him. You begin to feel ‘less than’.
Or what about your senior year of high school when your entire class gangs up against you because you stood by your values and made a tough decision to do the right thing. Two ring leaders encourage them to hiss and call you names whenever a teacher leaves the room. Those that stay silent are complicit.
Many years later a work colleague decides she needs to have your job. She stands in the privacy of your office to berate you, whispers poison into strategic ears, and starts small rumours which expand like the concentric circles on a pond. You learn that you can trust no one. Some turn their backs on you. Those that stay silent are complicit.
All of this (and more) has happened to me throughout my life. But then, we all have crosses to bear. The major lesson here is that bullies and tyrants will always have a following. Many humans are easily seduced by those that seek to have power over others.
Social media has made this crystal clear in recent years. Suicide rates are up, especially for young people who are bullied online. Politics are meaner and dirtier than ever. Self-serving greed is destroying the ecosystem that has long supported us.
It’s time for humanity to connect with its moral compass and confront all the bullies attempting to suck the air out of the room. If we blindly support corporations, billionaires, would-be dictators, or even our fellow citizens who flout programs and practices designed to protect us, then we are part of the problem. If we stay silent we are complicit.
Surrendering to the seduction of bullies that seek to hook into our base desires and fears has the potential to destroy our lives and our planet. We must cast off our blinders and take stock of who and what we are following. Can we do it?