Thursday, June 23, 2011

Changing Bully Behavior, One Bully at a Time

ullies are everywhere: the classroom, the workplace, the Internet, your neighborhood. They come in a complete spectrum of shape, size, age, and species.

Bullies targeted me as a child—called me names, flung me to the ground by lassoing my legs, commanded a dog to attack me, lit a match and threatened to set my new dress on fire. I took it and didn’t snitch on anyone. (With the exception of the dog incident, which required a trip to the ER for stitches.) I never harbored any ill feelings toward my abusers, but I never forgot what their abuse felt like.

However, I’ve recently observed bullying and I can tell you that watching it happen is entirely different than being on the receiving end. I angered quickly and felt compelled to take action.

The bully on my short list is a house sparrow.

Remember the feeder we purchased? It’s been a successful diner for tree sparrows, wrens, song sparrows, vireos, cardinals, chipmunks, purple finches, and one bad-to-the-bone house sparrow.

If he’s perched on the feeder, he screams or bats his wings at other birds trying to get a place at the table. If other birds are already on the feeder when he stops by, he grabs their tail feathers in his beak and pulls them off, or he hovers above them and punches their backs with his tiny feet.

I tried a Pollyanna-ish reprimand to no effect. I clapped my hands, which scared all the birds. Then, finally, I tried what turned out to be the Holy Grail of Weapons: a fake cardinal.

It’s a small stuffed animal that my pooch saw in a shop window years ago. She liked it even more when the shopkeeper showed her how it “sang” when squeezed. It’s one of the few toys we kept after the pooch’s passing.

When Mr. Bad-to-the-Bone cranked up his scare tactics one afternoon to have the feeder all to himself, I squeezed the plush cardinal. Mr. B took off, and has hardly stirred since.

Bullying serves no useful function in our lives or our environment. Let’s stand up to bullies and help them be their better selves—no matter the species.

[Drop cap by Jessica Hische.]

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