The Rise of Bullies

02020-10-15 | Health, Musings, World | 7 comments

It’s been very interesting to watch how people react to the pandemic in general and to mask-wearing in particular. This year has shown us a lot about people. There is the amazing and selfless care that so many nurses and doctors continue to give. Too many of them pay for that with their lives. There is also the careless and egotistical behavior of those who endanger others on purpose.

We don’t wear a mask only to protect ourselves; we also wear it to protect others, in case we are unaware of being infected. People in Asia have been doing this for decades. If you’ve ever visited Japan or Hong Kong, you will have noticed people wearing masks in public, especially on crowded trains. Most of these mask-wearers either have a cold or another infection and wear the mask so that they don’t spread their illness.

Somehow we have allowed people to hold the belief that wearing a mask is equivalent to being afraid. Wearing a mask whenever I go outside does not mean I fear the virus; it means that I want to protect you as much as myself. I also want to protect some of the people closest to me, one of whom has diabetes and another, asthma. If I myself get the virus don’t bother with ventilation…just give me morphine until I die and then throw me in a dumpster. It’s not me that I am worried about.

Experts continue to tell us that if everyone were to wear a mask in public the virus would be gone within five to eight weeks. Just imagine… the pandemic could have been over months ago if everyone had actually done this!

The other day, I was grocery shopping when I saw a young man approach the store without a mask. A person working for the store, counting the people entering the store and checking for masks, asked the guy whether he had a mask. He pulled a bandana over his mouth and nose and was let into the store. Immediately upon entering he removed the bandana and started walking up and down the aisles of the store at a fast pace, mumbling to himself. The young man appeared to be homeless. He continued to run-walk around the store mumbling threats. Eventually, I saw him escorted from the store by a security guard.

I realized that what I was witnessing was an act of bullying. This person, most likely homeless, probably feeling powerless, entered a store that required the wearing of masks and proceeded to run around without a mask, talking and spreading potentially infectious droplets of his saliva.

This pandemic is offering bullies a golden opportunity through which they can flaunt their disdain for masks and watch people shy away from them. The sense of power! I am fearless! No, perhaps you are stupid, you act like a bully, and you are endangering yourself and others… all in order to give yourself a little jolt of power.

I think bullies have always been around, but they didn’t have the massive opportunities they have right now. Yelling at people who speak a different language, beating up a Japanese musician in the subway in Manhattan because he looked Chinese, marching around with weapons, not wearing masks… it’s a golden age for bullies.

My thoughts return to the homeless man in the grocery store. Bullies tend to be people who feel powerless. One aspect of bullying is called Radfahren in German. I don’t know whether the expression is used all over the country but I have often heard it used in Köln. The word literally means bicycling. This particular meaning derives from the position of the cyclist in the saddle kicking down into the pedals. Radfahrer bend their backs to receive the kicks from people or institutions above them and in turn they kick down to someone they perceive as less powerful than themselves. And perhaps this is what we are really learning now. Too many people feel helpless, powerless, uncertain, and not in control of their lives, and some of them derive a false sense of power from bullying others.

Our world is evolving rapidly and not everyone can keep up with the changes. People feel left behind, excluded and ignored. Inclusivity also means including the bullies and, perhaps in time, they will cease to be bullies. Bullies, like racists, aren’t born; they are created by society.


  1. JaneParhamKatz

    I’m in this world, but I am not required to partake of the bullying and lies, though right now the most brutish behavior is encouraged by our supposed leader. Quite a study about how and who elected him. [I VOTED YESTERDAY!]

    Enter art and music training in kindergarten through high school. I read an article ages ago explaining that early music training on an instrument develops many brain and spiritual activities – concentration span, hand eye coordination, sense of harmony and emotional expression. And exposure to beautiful paintings and sculpture refines the sensibilities. For example, a crude or embarrassed reaction to a nude sculpture is softened by the beauty of the art displayed openly – no shame. You then get a society of people able to express themselves and relish life without the crudities of violence, rock music without melody so loud that eardrums break, or porn without feeling.

    Too bad this training has been missing from American public education for a number of generations. It is even considered irrelevant, when it is actually crucial. I don’t think time itself will affect bullies and racists, but I think music and art could. Remember, people used to understand this:

    “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast. Music has the power to enchant even the roughest of people. This proverb comes from the play The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve, an English author of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.”

    • JaneParhamKatz

      I wanted to add….Ottmar, if you got the virus I insist you get the finest treatments. Don’t break my heart into a million pieces!

  2. y

    maybe the homeless/young man had mental health issues?

    Also much has been researched and written on adult development – stage development ie wilber/beck/torbet/others. If this research is accurate – earlier stage development may trigger people – rebel against rules/ authority which may override commonsense re safety concerns.

    re bullies – nobody likes them. There is a great Zen video on this (can’t find it )…but basically this zen monk goes around hugging bullies and/or angry people…and eventually they release all their negative emotion. v.cute video. good lesson re our own projections. Yes, idealistic and requires great skill to work with difficult types. And sometimes to our surprise these difficult people turn out to be ..a rare diamond !

  3. Denise

    Ottmar, God bless you and keep you safe!, also your loved ones

  4. Nancy

    I saw something similar today at a market where they had security at the door. They told a young man to put on his mask. We do have a mask ordinance in this town. He flat out told the security person he refused and went in the store coughing. Ugh!

    And I agree with Jane -Ottmar, if you get sick get treated and you will get better. My heart would break too. :) Life is a gift.

  5. Carolynn

    Bullies suck rocks! I can’t stand the bullies hiding behind their electronic devices who troll every post by a public figure. I despise the bully who looks for ways to embolden him/herself by knocking down someone else. I hate the debate over the science of wearing masks by people who buy into or make up lies to support going mask-less. These are things that make me ponder why people are mean to each other instead of working cooperatively and learning from each other.

  6. Richard Holbrook

    excellent essay. as you write, “careless and egotistical behavior”, seems to be at the root of so many of our problems in this country. there seem to be a lot of americans that confuse this with “liberty” and “freedom”, recklessly exercising selfish “rights” at the potential or actual expense to others. of course, we all do this to some extent – consuming more than we need, polluting, etc., but the willful carelessness seems amplified right now and is literally toxic. thanks for thoughtfully pointing this out my friend.


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