A little intimidation before breakfast

It was about 9:30 in the morning in the Phoenix area, and my wife and I were headed to one of our favorite breakfast places. Driving south on a major surface street, we were puttering along at about 40 mph in the innermost of three lanes. There were cars in every lane, and in about 1/4 of a mile every car was going to have to stop at a red light that was clearly visible.

Which is why I was a little surprised to notice an older model luxury car (a Lincoln) very close to my rear bumper. There were two men in the car, with the passenger wearing a hoodie, and they were apparently in a hurry.

I’d have been happy to help them, but there was no place for me to go. The lane to my right was going slower than I was, and the lane to my left was oncoming traffic. I could have sped up, but there was a car in front of me, and that red light was not moving or changing.

So the guy behind me put on his brakes, changed quickly to the lane to the right, and was now farther behind than when he was riding my bumper.

He’s not happy

My wife turned and got a look at the driver, who, in her considered opinion, was not happy. He pulled back into my lane, back on my bumper, and about then we all had to stop.

A slightly animated conversation seemed to be taking place in that car, and it continued even after the light turned green. I took off down the road and the Lincoln sat still. Within a few hundred feet, I was able to move over to the right, and I did.

About that time the Lincoln occupants stopped talking and started driving, and with an open lane they made good time, catching up to us quickly.

When they were just a little ahead of us they slowed down to our speed and rolled down their windows. I didn’t turn to look at them, but even with my peripheral vision I could see that the passenger had pulled down his hoodie and had his face turned toward us. What I was looking for, though, and what part of me expected to see, was a gun. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

Was I being bullied?

After about five seconds of staring, the passenger rolled up his window, the Lincoln pulled forward and at the next intersection pulled into the left-turn lane. By the time we arrived the car had turned and was gone. I breathed a sigh of relief.

What was the point? Logic would say they should have known there was nothing I could do to allow them to go faster. Better time, as it turned out, apparently wasn’t their only goal. If it had been, they wouldn’t have waited at the green light for as long as they did.

But the driver and passenger had obviously tried to intimidate us into doing something. Speed up. Move over. Get out of the way. Maybe all they wanted was to exercise a little personal authority. Do what I want or I’m going to make you uncomfortable. It’s a kind of bullying.

In the world of doing good, bullying is definitely not on the list or recommended actions. In fact in most of America, bullying is decried and something we work hard at eradicating. The Arizona Department of Health Services lists Bullying Prevention as one of their most popular pages.

In today’s society, however, and especially on the news and on social media, bullying is absolutely the thing to do. I will shame you, I will say bad things about you online, I will stop supporting you. If you’re really annoying me, I will cancel you. Bullying statements, every one.


Burn down the system

In an interview on Fox News with Martha MacCallum, Hawk Newsome, the leader of Black Lives Matter in New York, said, “If this country doesn’t give us what we want then we will burn down the system and replace it.”

To me that sounds a lot like, “Give me your lunch money or I’m gonna punch you in the face.”

Newsome went on to say that he might be speaking literally or he might be speaking figuratively, “It’s a matter of interpretation.” Either way it’s bullying.

When did that become OK?

I pulled up Twitter recently and noticed that J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, was trending on Twitter in America. I wondered why, so I clicked on the link and found out.

Rowling had decided to “unfollow” author Stephen King for a statement he had made, and she did that publicly, using the opportunity to restate and reinforce her position on the issue.

The vast majority of the tweets that followed were a diatribe against Rowling, with very few supportive tweets and almost no reasonable voices in dissent. Many were trying hard to persuade the author to recant her position. The “cancellation” threats were numerous and vitriolic. They were using bullying techniques, because that’s what we do when someone says something we disagree with. Discussion apparently takes too long, so I’ll be a bully.

When did that become OK?

There have always been bullies

I haven’t read the entire history of civilization, but I’ve read some books that report with authority the activities of people going back thousands of years. Based on what I have learned from those books, there have always been bullies.

Sometimes those bullies are in roles of actual authority, and they use their political power to bully people into doing all kinds of things they shouldn’t have to do. In ancient Egypt, a Pharaoh enslaved the Hebrew people who had been living freely in their midst for a long time.

When, after 400 years of slavery, a leader rose up and went to Pharaoh with talk of setting the Hebrew people free, Pharaoh became a bully. He was already the most powerful man in the land, but he thought bullying would make him seem even stronger.

Just as those Hebrews were bullied—not just by the Pharaoh, I’m sure, but by a number of their Egyptian “masters”—so people in servitude have been bullied around the world.

I know that kind of bullying was carried out by many white people on many black people in America, and I have no doubt that it still happens. I’ve also seen it happen in the workplace, with people of high position considering themselves superior to people of low position and bullying them just because they can.

No matter the year, no matter the country, no matter the race, no matter the ethnicity, no matter the circumstances, no matter the age, bullying is not OK.

There are things wrong in America

The reality of life is that there are injustices, there are prejudices, there are bad actors, and there are inequalities that need to be addressed in America.

There always have been, and there always will be. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work on them, because we should, and we are.

One way not to solve these problems, though, is by adding a penchant for bullying to the mix. And a way not to solve a bullying problem is to negotiate with the bully.

Would you advise your child who received a threat like the one above to respond with, “How about if I give you half of my lunch money and you hit me in the arm?”

Yes, but he’s my bully

Manuel Noriega, who was the de facto leader in Panama for about six years in the 1980’s, was tight with several United States government agencies. He was also a criminal, a bully of the first class, and made a fortune selling drugs. But he was an asset to the CIA, and they used him for their own purposes.

The story goes that when the U.S. finally invaded Panama and took Noriega captive, a news reporter asked a cabinet member in the U.S. how they could have let that “monster” go for so long, the secretary replied. “Yes, he was a monster. But he was our monster.”

Sometimes people in power are smart enough not to do the bullying themselves. Instead they support those who are willing to act that way to get what they themselves want. Like Noriega, the bullies might get a little time in the spotlight, but eventually they’ll be gone as well.

My first point is…

We don’t always know exactly where the bad behavior is coming from. It may look like it’s coming from a particular person, but the puppet master may be someone completely different. The only way to find out is to stand up to the apparent bully and see who defends the bully and the bullying tactics.

My second point is…

Bullying is not OK. I don’t care if you have an anonymous Twitter account or if you have millions of followers, using it to bully someone is bad. The same goes for Facebook and Instagram and your next appearance on a national news show.

To get past this, simply choose to do good. Between good and evil, the good choice is almost always obvious, but it is not always easy. I get that.

If you think J. K. Rowling is wrong in her beliefs and you want to use social media to say so, that’s just fine. But do good in doing that. If you think she’s right and want to support her, use your social media accounts to say so. But do good when you do it.

Teddy Roosevelt said this, and it goes to the heart of the matter:

Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.

If we want to make America better, let’s start with us. Let’s do good.

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