In his article in the New York Times, Erik Eckholm, points out that, “Alarmed by evidence that gay and lesbian students are common victims of schoolyard bullies, many school districts are bolstering their antiharassment rules with early lessons in tolerance.”

The article continues, “Rick DeMato, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, [who] opposes the curriculum changes in the school district in Helena, Mont. [has led] angry parents and religious critics…[to] charge that liberals and gay rights groups are using the antibullying banner to pursue a hidden ‘homosexual agenda,’ implicitly endorsing, for example, same sex marriage.”

What does this have to do with the devious tactics of sneaky, stealth bullies?

Stealth bullies win when they can change the subject to fit their agendas; when they can distract you from your subject and make the focus of discussion be something they want to discuss and over which they think they can win.

For example, suppose you complain about your date or spouse’s public or private sarcasm, put-downs and nasty, mocking humor.  If he’s a stealthy, manipulative bully, he might change the subject by saying that you’re hypersensitive and you over-react, or that you hurt his feelings by complaining.  If he can get you to focus on whether you’re hypersensitive or have no sense of humor or on making him feel better, then he wins and you lose.  You’ll never get him to stop making those remarks.

Or suppose you’re angry that he hit you.  If he’s a stealthy predator, he might complain that you didn’t communicate that in a supportive way or that you over-reacted or that you started it and you provoked him or that he felt put-down by your anger, which reminded him of his childhood.  And that’s the only thing he wants to talk about.  If he can get you to focus on your poor communication or his hurt feelings and past trauma, he wins and you lose.  He’ll never have to talk about your pain when he hit you and, since he has a good excuse for hitting you (his past trauma), he doesn’t have to change.

Notice the general rule: whoever controls the focus of the discussion will win.  Teenagers are also adept at doing this to their parents.

Therefore, you must take charge of the agenda.  Make him focus first on his sarcastic put-downs or on his hitting you.  And you have to be satisfied by the result before you’ll discuss his agenda.  If he doesn’t satisfy you, don’t go on to his agenda.  Go as far away as you can.

What does this have to do with the anti-bullying policies and programs we started with?

The initial agenda in those schools is stopping harassment, bullying and abuse of kids or adults.  The reason given by the bullies to justify their verbal, emotional and physical attacks was that their targets were gay or lesbian.  I pay more attention to the actions than to the excuses and justifications.  The agenda is stopping the bullying and violence.  The agenda is stopping the negativity, pain, anxiety and depression bullying causes.  The agenda is stopping the targets’ loss of self-confidence and self-esteem, and the increasing number of bullying-caused suicides.

Some people want to make the agenda be a torturous and emotionally-charged discussion of whether schools can be allowed to promote a pro-gay and pro-lesbian agenda.  And whether parents or educators control what’s taught in schools.

If those stealthy bullies can get you into those discussions, you’ll never stop school bullying.  They won’t have to stop their children from bullying and abusing other kids.  They feel that bullying and violence should be condoned or at least tolerated because the bullies have good reasons to torment their targets.  Since, they think, being gay or lesbian is a sin, if one of the targets becomes a victim and commits suicide, the world is a better place.

So keep the focus where it should be: anti-bullying programs that stop bullies.  When I’m called in to help schools develop effective programs, I always challenge dissenters to come up with a better program to stop bullies before we talk about areas that would distract us from the main agenda.

And in your personal and work life, take charge of the agenda and keep the focus on the subject that matters; stopping bullies in their tracks – whatever their reasons, excuses or justifications.

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Resources Cited: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/07/us/07bully.html?scp=1&sq=bullying%20gay&st=cse

Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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