LAST YEAR AN R RATING KEPT MOST TEENS FROM seeing the best movie about adolescent bullies to come along in a good while. But even from the distance of middle age, the scenes of school yard aggression in Jacob Estes' Mean Creek were enough to remind adults of the long-forgotten terrors of knuckle-dragging bullies.
Unlike most bully films, Mean Creek isn't a formulaic revenge-fest in which the downtrodden victims of bullydom rise up to crush their tormentor. Instead, Estes' film does what few American movies do: It asks why people become bullies in the first place and warns of the dangers of fighting fire with fire.
In the post-Columbine era, when we know the catastrophic results of teenage revenge fantasies, these seem like good questions. Nobody wants their children terrorized, and nobody wants to see lonely, haunted victims turning into brooding vigilantes who bring automatic weapons to school.
To address and prevent this domestic terror, children are now schooled in conflict mediation and resolution, and dozens of resources help parents and teachers deal with classroom and playground bullies. Bestsellers include The Bully Free Classroom: Over 100 Tips and Strategies for Teachers K-8 by Allan L. Beane (Free Spirit), Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do by Dan Olweus (Blackwell), and The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence by Barbara Coloroso (HarperResource).
BUT BULLIES AREN'T JUST AT SCHOOL; THEY'VE ALSO FOLLOWED us to work. An unsettling number of bosses bully their employees, screaming, intimidating, embarrassing, threatening, harassing, nitpicking, tormenting, and sabotaging those beneath them like some banana republic tyrant.
Five years ago researchers at Wayne State University in Michigan reported that one in six U.S. workers experiences bullying on the job, while business consultant and anti-bullying trainer Richard Wellins believes that "one in 10 leaders across the country cross the line into bullying their employees." Clinical psychologist Jane Middelton-Moz takes a dimmer view of the situation. The author of Bullies: Playground to Boardroom (HCI) believes that about 90 percent of all workers have had dealings with a bully boss and that most of these bosses get away with their offenses for a good while.
The business section at the local bookstore, which usually shelves a host of advice from triumphant CEOs, now includes offerings for those faced with the bully in the corner office. The most popular include Noa Davenport's Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (Civil Society), Gary and Ruth Namie's The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (Sourcebooks), and Susan Futterman's When You Work for a Bully: Assessing Your Options and Taking Action (Croce).
Companies have good reasons to be worried about boardroom bullies. According to surveys conducted by the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute of Bellingham, Washington, nearly 90 percent of those bullied at work end up losing or leaving their jobs, while more than 40 percent of them suffer from clinical depression, and a quarter contemplate violence or suicide. Corporations end up spending millions to treat stressed and depressed employees or train their replacements and have to deal with all sorts of morale and productivity issues.
Still, bully bosses usually continue their workplace reign of terror with impunity. Less than 5 percent of office bullies stop their harassment after being punished or sanctioned, and less than 10 percent are transferred or fired for their bad behavior.
ONE REASON WORKPLACE TYRANTS have free reign is that there are no laws against bullying. …