Weatherford News

Bullying affects youth and adults

Special to the Weatherford Star-Telegram

Selma Johnson address a group of young people about bullying.
Selma Johnson address a group of young people about bullying. Photo courtesy

Sally doesn't know what to do or who to turn to. Each day is a new challenge emotionally.

She wants to speak to management, but it's one of the managers who are the problem. Instead, she listens to daily derogative remarks, feeling less and less self-confident.

And she cries when no one is looking. It's a momentary escape that won't put her job in danger or have others laugh at her.

Meanwhile, Billy wants to join the playground baseball game. He doesn't, though, because his bully nemesis is on one of the teams and Billy doesn't want to put himself forth for more ridicule.

Somewhere, there is a real Sally and Billy, or someone with different names, in these situations - or worse - even now.

The word "bully" still applies to some child on a school yard taking another’s lunch money, or perhaps it involves the kid who "doesn't quite fit in" getting picked on. However, bullying and being bullied doesn't always stop once children reach adulthood, according to bullying expert and Weatherford resident Selma Johnson.

"That's often why people hate their jobs," Johnson said. "I was bullied at work once."

Johnson said such behavior in adults often began during childhood. This is a reason that, in her early 70s, she still spends much of her time working with young students, teaching them to deal with bullies, and to learn how to not be bullies themselves.

For example, Johnson visits Weatherford's Curtis Elementary monthly during the school year to present her bullying program for children. At a typical visit, youngsters share experiences of being bullied and even doing some bullying.

Among the names bullies use, one youngster said "fat," another said "idiot," and a third said "Four Eyes."

"Be glad you've got those four eyes," Johnson said with a smile of encouragement.

And sometimes the names are too awful to mention.

"A worthless piece of, I can't say it," said one student.

"Stupid," "jerk" and "worthless" are also common forms of insults, judging from what the students were telling Johnson.

And, there are also physical forms of bullying. In the adult world, these might even be referred to as assault, Johnson said.

The lessons for youths and adults concerning bullying are very similar, she said. After all, bullying, whether young or old, is still being mean to someone, and age is irrelevant.

"Like kids, it's learned behavior, and many times there's no accountability," she said.

"The bully bosses will often just say 'more, more,' and not look at the people or the feelings. The best bosses, in any business, understand that there is a difference between pressuring and encouraging.

"And it is okay to push if done in a positive and encouraging way, but there's never a reason to be mean in the process. Good team building does not allow bullies on the team."

When Johnson talks to youngsters about coping with bullying, she is often accompanied by members of the motorcycle gang Guardians of the Children (GOC). She is a member herself, and the group's goal is to end bullying, especially before a child becomes an adult.

"It's just a cycle, and we've got to stop the cycle," said Trevor Bartlett, vice president of the Big Sandy Chapter of GOC.

"Until somebody cuts the head of that snake off, it keeps going," added Mark Trussell, president of the group.

Johnson said the effort is working. Citing Curtis as an example, she said bullying numbers have dropped drastically from the approximately 300 cases reported n 2013-14. She said, for example, this past September, Curtis reported zero bullying.

"I am so happy to see that," she said. "If we can get to them young, it makes their adult years so much better."

Johnson tells the group of youngsters that if they don't stop the bullying immediately, there will be consequences now and later in life.

"It can cost you friends. It can cost you a job," she said as the students listened intently. "I know someone who lost a job because of bullying. Someone from corporate was in and fired them on the spot."

Johnson said bullying among adults can be more difficult to deal with than one might think. It's not always as easy as going to a supervisor, or at least employees sometimes adopt that mindset.

In many cases, the person being bullied will simply keep it bottled inside, which can lead to even more problems, such as depression, and even suicide.

"One young lady was at one point considering suicide because she just did not know what to do," Johnson said. "Women at work were making fun of her, and it put a lot of pressure on her."

Others, Johnson said, turn to alcohol and/or drugs to deal with being bullied. But there is no pill or drink that is a quick fix, she said.

"That's why so many places have happy hour," Johnson said. "People see it as a way to escape, but you're not solving the problem."

And, Johnson said, never take the frustration out on those closest to you.

"Your family should always come first, and there is no job worth putting that in jeopardy," she said.

Marie is a young adult who recently experienced bullying in her workplace. It started as sarcasm, she said, and progressively got worse until she was forced to change jobs.

"I would just go into the bathroom and cry," Marie said. "I had to transfer, and that was the best thing I ever did, but I don't think they took care of the problem after I left.

"I also experienced bullying as I was growing up, and the combination gave me a lot of problems. I've been in counseling for about six months, and it's made a difference."

Marie said she has since learned that a good manager doesn't bully. Erica is such a manager, and she said she wastes no time in dealing with bullies.

"Once an employee comes forward and lets me know, or if I see it myself, I make it clear that I will not put up with it," Erica said. "Normal human beings don't treat each other like that, and I have let some people go."

And, simply put, if reporting bullying puts your job on the line, get another job.

To the students, Johnson encouraged them to watch adults and learn.

"Sometimes adults do let things come out of their mouths before thinking. Every time you open your mouth and you start to say something bad, think," she said.

Bullying among adults isn't limited to employees and their co-workers. Sometimes it can be the people being served. For example, when a server is berated by a customer.

"I taught geriatrics for four years, and if they (the senior citizens) didn't like who you brought in, the residents (of the nursing home) would run the employee off," Misty Bartlett, also a GOC member, said.

In some cases, people may not realize they are being bullied. Some signs to look for, she suggested, are being talked down to, snide remarks, and constant negative comments.

"Bullies have to be number one in everything they do, and if they can't accomplish that on their skills, hard work and talent, they try to accomplish it by tearing down others," Johnson said.

Among the ways to deal with a bully, Johnson said, are walking away and, of course, finding someone who will listen to you about the problem. Sometimes, befriending and/or being nice the bully can help diffuse a situation, or at least confuse them so they stop - even if for the moment.

"I tell kids and adults to say, 'Thank you.' It turns the tables on the bully," Johnson said.

She said many times bullies are people who need true friendship.

"Sometimes they are just calling for help, for someone to show them what friendship is," Johnson said. "It's hard to show them friendship because of what they are doing, but if you can break down that wall, sometimes that's all it takes."

And, of course, some people are just plain mean.

"Sadly, yes, that is true," she said. "But that doesn't mean you have to let them ruin your life."

Sometimes people even volunteer to be bullied, as strange as that might seem. Johnson points to the current presidential race as an example.

"They're bullying each other," she said of the candidates. "They're calling names, digging up dirt, doing whatever they can to make each others life worse.

"And yet one of them is going to lead our country."

But whether child or adult, Johnson said no one should allow themselves to be bullied. There is always an avenue to escape, and perhaps even help the bully change their ways.

"No good comes from allowing it to continue," she said. "It's wrong, no matter a person's age, and it should be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible.

"It will make everyone's life better."

Contact Kaleidoscope Paths

Selma Johnson, Founder

Phone: 702-5904296