We’ve traditionally thought of bullies as scowling kids who steal classmates’ lunch money or trip them on the playground. In recent decades, we’ve seen lots of “mean girl” types tormenting others on social media. But Elaine Parke says the face of today’s bully has changed: It is just as likely to have wrinkles, five-o’clock shadows, or bifocals.
“Adult bullies are everywhere,” notes Parke, author of The Habits of Unity: 12 Months to a Stronger America…one citizen at a time. “They’re harassing healthcare workers and screaming at school board meetings. On social media, they’re arguing, name-calling, shaming, and slamming those who think differently.”
Yikes. Shouldn’t we know better by now?
Absolutely, says Parke. Yet the problem has become worse and worse, especially in these politically divisive times. We’ve devolved into a nation of bullies—and it’s creating hurt and strife where we desperately need compromise and healing.
That’s why Parke is leading the charge against incivility, division, and unproductive conflict in America. She says it starts with holding ourselves accountable for our own bad behavior—yes, even you and me.
“No one likes to think of themselves as a bully,” she acknowledges. “But most of us have raised our voices in anger, gossiped about others, or made snarky remarks on Facebook. We all have a civic responsibility to treat others with dignity and respect, even when we don’t agree.”
Parke worries that social media has played a role in normalizing hurtful and even abusive behaviors. It’s a shame because it was meant to be a source of connection and information (and used the right way, it still is that). Unfortunately, behind a screen, we’ll say things we’d hesitate to say in person. Plus, we’re steeped in a global echo chamber that tells us we’re right, while the other side is ignorant, ill-intentioned, immoral, or worse.
“We’ve all heard the saying that we are what we eat, but I say we are the messages we consistently consume,” Parke says. “It’s time we moved to a mental diet that nourishes, encourages, and brings us together.”
Parke’s The Habits of Unity is her attempt to help people take charge of what she calls their “mental nutrition.” Much in the same way that we (hopefully) approach the food we eat, we need to develop the discipline to make more nutritious mental choices every day. Her book’s 365 “one-magic-minute-a-day” motivationals make it easy to hardwire these choices into habits.