Emotional Health

Mobs, Bullying, and American Values

Most of us have had an experience like this: A group of kids starts picking on another child, perceived as weaker, and the situation escalates. Not only does no one intervene, some of the kids not originally involved join in, often with enthusiasm. Others hang back, but say nothing, fearing they could be next.

Last week, a reader wrote and asked what causes hate, and while the answers are varied, one common denominator is fear. Bullies are usually insecure and scared. By targeting others who are perceived weaker than they are, they imagine themselves stronger and tougher, able to fend off feelings of insecurity.

Racial tensions, shown to have escalated in recent months until reaching a deadly crescendo in Charlottesville just days ago, have been shown to be central to the agenda of the crowd, self-proclaimed White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis. Like the original Nazis, they attribute their misfortunes to the rise of racial minorities and feel their position as dominant in American society is threatened. Their chant during the march, “Jews will not replace us,” said it all.

But Jews were not their only target. Trying to live the “American Dream,” people of all races and religions have prospered in recent years, not by a wish to be dominant but by their yearning to be included in the mainstream of progress in this country.

In fact, immigrants in particular are well prepared for success because they are focused on striving. They are usually a self-selected group who have overcome significant obstacles to emigrate and establish themselves here. African-Americans are a sad exception to this: kidnapped, forced into slavery, and subjected to centuries of oppression, they have seen their progress fought at every turn since they arrived here. Stripped of identity, culture, and even family bonds, they were denied all the things that usually serve as bulwarks to insecure newcomers. Physical and psychological abuse was the norm, and any progress has been met with violent opposition.

That is some of what may be happening now. Reacting to the landmark election of Barack Obama, the ascendency of women, and the arrival of immigrants from all over the world, white men are on the verge of losing their precious hold on hegemony.

For some of them, they have little else to feel good about. As health, financial success, and social dominance is diminishing in this group, it has been steadily rising in all others for decades. They are scared that the dominant position they see as their birthright is disappearing, and with reason. Standing still or reverting to past glory has never been a strategy for success, as successful strivers all know.

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  • Mary F August 31, 2017 at 10:00 am

    Yes, our kids are watching. And the takeaway from the past presidential election and the current administration so far: bullies win.