This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post, December 3, 2012
Imagine Rachel Crow’s Mean Girls meeting the political bullies of American politics. The corrosive polarization and resulting disengagement that exists in America begs for leadership that rebuilds a civil civic conversation. Mean Girls offers some pointers for a path through the existing morass of the bully culture.
Bullies employ a variety of techniques to achieve their objective of getting what they want with scant regard for others. Spreading rumors or innuendo, diminishing another person or excluding another person are as common techniques of bullies as the more publicized physical and cyber-attacks on another.
Many reality shows create a psycho-social context in which bullying thrives. These bully shows that are part of our cultural landscape elevate bullying to an acceptable norm of behavior. When political, religious or other leaders engage in bully tactics the expected outcry is muted because bullying has become, according to experts, the most common form of violence in the United States.
Rachel Crow’s video Mean Girls has gone viral with 5 million views on YouTube for a reason. The video names the bullying culture experienced and promoted by young girls and offers some advice to end it. Our political leaders might each watch it for inspiration. It offers the wisdom that any hope of ending the bully culture lies in our hands through the choices that we make.
These lyrics from “Mean Girls” are a basic primer for anyone who wants political discourse and decision making to be elevated to a state of higher regard than it is now.
Do you want to know what I think? Our political discourse has scant regard for differing perspectives other than trying to eviscerate them. The aggressive bullying behavior of achieving your own ends for short term gain might win pyrrhic victories but it is no way to sustain a civil society.
Dignifying difference and attentive listening are useful counterpoints. The unprecedented levels of polarization in American life will shift only to the degree that we embrace the reality that a policy position we disagree with is not heinous because it is at odds with our own. It is in the bazaar of ideas that robust, opinionated discussion improves your thinking and argument.
Curiosity — whether intellectual, emotional or spiritual — and the capacity to listen attentively convey something at odds with the bully’s scant regard of another person. It is the awareness that we need one another in order to be human. When we are genuinely curious to know what others think the capacity for civil engagement expands exponentially.
I can’t believe I let it go so far. The girls in Rachel Crow’s video have a moment of realization. Instead of remaining silent, averting their eyes, ignoring the bullying or being passive they have a choice. Not unlike those who have been in an abusive or co-dependent relationship they have a realization that bullying is not and never should be the acceptable norm.
They choose a different normal. Embracing a new normal dethrones the bully from her or his self-created seat of power. The bully culture in our politics survives because we have chosen to allow their idolatrous thrones of shimmering glass to delude us. We have the choice to admit that we have let the bullies go too far.
Be Kind. Pairing political discourse with kindness might be an oxymoron to many. In Mean Girls young women hold their palms up into the air with the words “Be Kind” written on them as if offering a prayerful intention.
While many yearn for the political culture of bullying to be replaced with constructive engagement and legislative policy achievements surely it is not unrealistic to expect that a civility of kindness or goodness permeate the work? Beyond the demonizing, most leaders in public service entered their work with a desire to do good. Creating such a norm of behavior would be an exercise in leadership.
“Mean Girls” you no longer run my world. It is a declaration of taking responsibility and not ceding power to the bullies. Those who make their living by fomenting a culture of bullying may not appreciate this claiming of personal power and expectations about our civic life. The girls in the video do not care about ruffling the feathers of bullies. They have imagined a new normal and chosen a different path. We could do much worse than try to emulate them.
Mean Girls has gone viral because it identifies and names the bullying that we have allowed to upend our discourse and view of one another as Americans. A different future is possible in which leaders lead and the common good is celebrated in the midst of vibrant, fulsome debate. Mean Girls offers some pointers. The choice is in our hands.
How do you respond to bullying? Post your thoughts, comments and ideas below or directly on the Huffington Post link to this blog!