Concerned that he was being perceived as a bully, TV Host David Letterman recently volunteered to stop his persistent fat jokes about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Letterman’s biting humor is nothing new, but when the charge of bullying was raised he backed off.
To be fair, Letterman has not been alone in targeting Christie. Other comedians, political pundits, and average Americans have also derided Christie’s size.
Politicians are accustomed to being the butt of jokes – Christie even mentioned it when he announced Tuesday his decision not to run for president — but did the Christie fat bashing cross the line?
The criticism has nothing to do with whether you are or are not a supporter of Gov. Christie. And let’s be real, Chris Christie is a tough, centered guy, who can withstand whatever is dished out. But what do these fat jokes say about us – about our tastes, our values, our society?
As we observe National Bullying Awareness Month, and we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too. Are we promoting bullying by repeating and laughing at fat jokes? Are we encouraging bullying by scornful and sarcastic remarks that we make about gays and others? Are we a party to bullying when we don’t step in and say something when we observe it? Are we allowing bullying to fester when we don’t report it to the school?
We know that youngsters learn what they live, and that children, even at a very young age, hear much more than we think they do. They are also very adept at picking up non-verbal cues. What messages are we sending our children? Are we tacitly encouraging them to be bullies?
Most children who are bullied are not as resilient as Chris Christie. When asked about his weight, his standard answer is: “I eat too much.” And few doubt that he is fully capable of destroying the bullies – if he wanted to. Youngsters who are bullied may develop anxiety about seeing the perpetrators at school and elsewhere. Their school performance may be affected and they may shun other activities. They may become depressed, and sadly some even take their own lives as 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer recently did.
Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be vigilant about bullying. We need to talk to children about both being bullied and about being bullies. But first and foremost, we should be role models for kindness, caring, and understanding.
Current and prospective laws against bullying may be too simplistic to solve the problem. Aren’t we as adults essentially responsible for bullying? The prevention of bullying begins with all of us examining our words and our behavior.