Sunday, October 17, 2010


Man Up: Thoughts on Bullying

Newsweek published an article on bullying that seemed to touch an emotional spot in the hearts and minds of many parents. They also asked whether should school bullying be a crime? Of course I have my own opinion on this topic that I couldn't resist sharing...

This weekend, I took my two sons to Chuck E. Cheeses to have some fun. My older son (currently nine years old) who currently studies both traditional Japanese Jujutsu and Uechi-Ryu Karate was pushed by a bigger kid. Most parents would have intervened, but I decided to observe how my kids would react. My older son loves to spar and has been fortunate to not only spar with kids larger than himself (actually he has never sparred anyone his size nor smaller) but also has never lost. So, I really wasn't worried about whether he could handle himself, but something interesting happened. His younger brother (currently six years old) ran up to the bigger kid and put him in his place. This made me think very deeply about what values did I instill in them either intentionally or accidentally that other parents are not doing. There is a sense of serenity as a parent in knowing that my kids will never be bullied.

The funny thing is that this type of attitude isn't just something in the McGovern blood. For example, there was a scenario where a young girl I knew in Trinidad was raped (name intentionally withheld) where her rapist was attempting to elude police and made the mistake of running into the garage of a relative by marriage. The police sat idle while watching my relative beat the piss out this person. Imagine the thought process of a criminal when they victimized someone else go from being elusive to thinking that being in the hands of police is their best alternative.

So, is being a bully a societal problem? I think so, but not quite in the way current media is portraying things. In India, the police carry canes and can carry out justice in ways that American police can only dream off. We can label this practice barbaric through the American eyes, but one has to ask oneself, do other countries have a bullying problem and are these two things correlated?

My older son, is literally the second smallest kid in both height and weight in the entire fourth grade class yet he has also made friends with the kids who are also probably the toughest kids in the class through stereotypical lens (football players). What prevents parents of kids who are being bullied from seeing the benefit of encouraging their children to hang out with a different set of kids?

When I was in high school, I vividly remembered a fool who thought he could threaten me in front of the football team. At the time, I at some level had a little fear of starting something and loosing in front of my classmates and could have succumbed to being a mental loser, but something happened. This kid (Eric) decided he would throw the first blow. At the end of the day, Eric ended up having to have emergency eye surgery and nurse both a cracked jaw and rib. I did get suspended for a week and my parents had to come to school to meet with the principal along with Eric's parents but was this a valuable lesson for the both of us?

Many of the scenarios in the media surrounding bullying are highly correlated to the gender confusion of being gay. Independent of your thoughts on being gay and whether it is OK or just wrong, the challenge isn't to just teach people to become tolerant of another belief system but for people to stand for whatever it is they believe.

As a believer in martial arts, charity, open source and being a good parent, I have decided to create a mashup of these four concepts and am announcing the Man Up Project. Collectively, we all like to believe problems of bullying are for someone else and usually won't take a stand unless it affects us. I want to change the game, not by words on paper, but by taking deliberate action. So, if there is a kid in Bloomfield (where I live) or Windsor (where I work) that has been the victim of a bully and cannot afford to take martial arts training, I will pay for them to learn either traditional Japanese Jujutsu or Uechi-Ryu Karate...

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