Gary E. Miller Canadian County Children’s Justice Center
Sales Tax Reduction Election – March 1, 2016
Bullying has become a major social cause in recent years. Seminars to help prevent it are held for teachers and school administrators. They, in turn, hold assemblies for students, striving to provide education that will help stem the rising tides of the behavior.
The problem is bullies aren’t just students and they aren’t always easy to spot. In a world where respect and caring seem to be fading, bullying can only be stopped if we are willing to wage a battle against it.
When I was a kid, it was easy to see who the bullies were. The phrase “playground bully” was really accurate – some of the bigger kids would pick on the smaller, the weaker while we were on recess. They were pretty one-dimensional characters, in a sense. They wanted something you had – lunch money, maybe some new supplies you brought to school. There were the bullies who were simply cruel, who loved to taunt the special ed students or the kids with thick glasses but, again, we knew who they were. We knew what they wanted.
Today’s bullies are much more complex, sometimes much more difficult to spot. As computer and internet reach has expanded, so too have the opportunities for bullies, many – maybe most – those who say and do things online they would never attempt in person. Online anonymity is like a mask, allowing people to hide from the consequences of their actions and statements. It’s so much easier to hurt if you don’t have to see the person you’re hurting.
And, bullies aren’t just kids either. They are parents, business men and women, athletes, just every people who express their opinions online, who speak to others in ways they’d never want to be treated themselves.
I don’t know a lot of Bible verses, and I’m not one to quote them, but there are a few. And, one is a verse my mom always taught me as a way to live my life, something I’ve tried to follow in good times and bad – Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Bullies either don’t know or don’t care about this verse. They don’t care about others, not really. It is all about them.
But, while it’s easy to see how cyber bullying has exploded in recent years, we have to open our minds and hearts to recognize how our actions, the way we treat each other overall has changed. I’m not trying to promote some politically correct message – to me, that has gone way overboard to the point of ridiculousness. That said, we have to do something, we must recognize that what we’re doing is not working.
And, that’s what I hope to do, in part, with this blog. Together, we can shine a light on bullying in all of its forms, and I hope we can begin a dialogue about how we can make a difference. At the very least, I can hopefully present some points that might make a difference to someone, somewhere.
And, that’s a good place to start.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about journalistic integrity and I’ve been thinking a lot about our role – and the fact that sometimes I seem to be among very few people in my profession who seem to take seriously our responsibility.
Being a reporter can be really fun – covering events, meeting cute kids, seeing people in happy situations, telling the stories of those who do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do. I even enjoy (most of the time anyway) covering meetings and the like.
But, it is in investigative, in-depth pieces that I’ve felt I’ve always excelled. I love research (partially because my legal assistant background really helps with that); my mom used to tell me I should be a private detective. Finding the truth is a compelling process and I – perhaps naively – believe that’s one of the sacred responsibilities of a journalist.
But, those kinds of stories – well, all kinds of stories, depending on how you approach it – can mean a lot of work and time. It’s not always easy, particularly for someone on deadline, to spare what can be an hour (sometimes many more) on research; that can be compounded for those who work at a small paper and are tasked with a multitude of responsibilities – covering several beats, writing numerous stories each week, laying out the paper, taking and toning your own (and submitted) photos, editing copy. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less important to make sure you are correct in your facts.
I’m not talking about those mistakes we can all make – errors on a cutline or even a story. Those can happen, no matter how careful or how much you proof. We’re human, after all. I’m talking about those people who circumvent the truth, who either purposefully or through laziness mislead their readers. That not only does a disservice to those readers, but it makes all of us who put in the time, the effort and care about what we do look bad – it tarnishes a profession that, at it’s core, is important to the freedom of us all.
Unfortunately, there are lots of examples of this kind of practice, recent illustrations. From well-known, well-paid television reporters to the recent Rolling Stone debacle, these individuals pay lip service to these “mistakes.” And it’s insulting. As a writer who is serious about their product, one of the basics, perhaps the basic is corroboration. If it’s a news story and it’s not a known fact, the most junior reporter knows you’re supposed to check with independent sources. People lie, they misunderstand, they state things as fact when they’re speculating. It’s the writer’s job to cull through that and make sure they are presenting objective, truthful facts. Only then can the reader make a truly informed decision.
Real reporters don’t drop that standard because they have a “sympathetic” source. It’s like “off the record” – that means you don’t use it (unless you learn it from someone else on the record). Period. That’s why I won’t report something from an anonymous source unless i can corroborate it with an on the record source.
Maybe I’m just living in a fairytale land that’s not realistic, but journalistic ethics are important. And if you can’t truthfully say you have them you are not an asset – and any publication (yes, I mean you, Rolling Stone) that keeps employing you, knowing you would take those shortcuts doesn’t have credibility.
And that matters. At least to me.
It's been more than 18 months since my professional life changed in a way I never expected. There are days and weeks that I don't think of that or the people involved. I guess this could be called a failing on my part, and sometimes I'd like to be able to let it go - but, it's not really as it might seem on the surface.
I suppose there are legitimate reasons for this still impacting my life - the fact I never knew why (at least for certain, confirmed by those who did it); perhaps because it had never happened before; but, most likely, because I have frequent interaction with these people and these companies.
But, recent events have actually shed a new light on how life works and how we are all responsible for what we do and how we treat others. The last few weeks have been an illustration of how lucky I am to have gone through what I did in 2014 and how far I've come since then.
When I was fired in August 2014, it was without notice or reason - my employers did not even give me the courtesy to tell me themselves, after working for them for seven years, and they refused to tell me why. I've had suspicions about that why since then, and I think I'm probably right, but of course I can't say that with 100 percent conviction. They paid me severance, they didn't dispute unemployment (which I only collected for a couple of months and never without earning some freelance income at the same time) and only a the week before I heard from both of the owners I regularly dealt with what a great job I was doing. So, it was a blow - it was the first time I'd ever been fired, I was embarrassed, I was hurt, I was taken completely off-guard. The fact that some of the employees, people I'd considered friends (and who I had gone to bat for, gotten raises for and kept their secrets), have taken several opportunities to bad mouth me in the community hasn't helped, I suppose.
It took time but I've come a long way from those initial feelings. The hurt is gone, the sadness only extend to two newspapers I put my soul into that have been systematically dismantled until they are shells of what they were. I'm not saying that's all because I'm gone, but it's clear that no one involved has the love or dedication to what journalism is supposed to be (of course, in my opinion - and I'm sure they would disagree).
The fact I allow the past to enter my thoughts at all at this point is a source of irritation with myself - come on now, the past is past. But, our pasts are part of who we are, and in a way remembering that time - all of it - has helped me to actually get past it and, in fact, to stay in journalism when many others who have left there have gotten out.
That is in great part due to my absolute good fortune in becoming aligned with another local newspaper (ironically the main, and deeply hated, competitor of my former bosses). You could say the bad blood between these two entities has been a positive thing to me, but surprisingly, I've found it doesn't really matter. When I was employed at the "old place" I didn't buy into the whole "XYZ is a bad place with bad people;" getting to know them and work for them I've found I was right all along - and, in fact, they are better people than those I left behind. It turned out what I thought was the most awful professional thing that could happen to me turned out to be an amazing gift - a freelance career that has been inspiring, fun, busy and at the same time allowing me the flexibility I needed at this time in my life.
So, why am I writing all of this now? Am I just obsessing on the whole thing again? Not really, although sometimes I wonder if I'll always obsess about this, just a little bit. But, karma is a real thing - and karma has come around again, just to remind me that there is a force out there that helps balance things out from time to time. That karma came in the form of these employers "dumping" many of the very people who I suspect engineered what happened to me. I learned shortly after I left that the company was looking for a buyer for its second newspaper (the one I editing and, of course, none of us had known that); they approached many people but had no success; I had an inkling when a new player entered the local market the move might finally come to pass - and it did.
Now, these people still have a job (albeit with a new employer who has struggles of its own and, I hear, some negative side effects), but what they thought was safe and secure, the gravy train they've ridden as they've run these papers into the ground has abruptly stopped. And, from all accounts, they feel angry, upset, sad, betrayed. They should - I know I did. But, perhaps, even for an instant, they'll have a tiny idea of what they did to someone who did nothing but care for them, try to help them.
I won't say I'm happy about what's happened to them because, strangely, I'm not. When all is said and done, I feel sorry for all of them. The one thing I had when all of this happened to me was the knowledge I had always given my most, done my best and my integrity was intact. They don't have that, not if they're honest. Hopefully, they will learn from this so next time they hit a bump in their particular journey they will.
For me, all I can say is "thank you" - to the great people I freelance for, to my family and friends and even to those I left behind. Because the better person I am today is because of you and what you did to me - no, what I allowed you to do to me. And I am so grateful for all of it.
April is mandatory testing time in Oklahoma and it’s become an issue that’s stirred up a lot of emotion as districts move ever-closer to that time.
For teachers and administrators, high-stakes testing is a big deal. Districts and teachers are judged based on students’ test scores; this time of year has become so focused on these assessments it’s become known as “testing season.”
While I feel for school district employees and sympathize with an area that is as depressed in teacher pay and benefits as is Oklahoma, it are the students who most concern me in this scenario. With Oklahoma coming up 48 out of 50 states in term of educational quality, what does that mean for someone like my son and his future?
That concern appears to be well-founded. From all accounts, high-stakes testing, like that used in Oklahoma, does not work. Instead of providing a diagnostic tool that gives educators an idea what a student’s possible educational gaps might be or a head’s up about students who might need extra time and attention, it instead is a system that piles on pressure, while appearing to lend no educational value at all. Teachers are pushed to “teach to the test,” and students are encouraged to – at least in their minds (and I’ve spoken to several of them about this) – memorize rote facts and figures in order to do well.
After all, there’s a lot riding on the outcome. Districts are graded down when their students do poorly; teacher assessments are highly dependent on test scores. There is no provision for taking into account special needs students (who must take the same test as their peers), there’s no allowance that a particular child just might not test well and all of the pressure, stress and upset can be for naught – there have been numerous instances in the last few years of technical issues invalidating tests. In our own personal experience, a recent test covered many topics our son’s class never covered – he did well (in fact, extremely well), but only because we as a family had been discussing some historical issues recently at home and those were on the exam.
Should testing be completely thrown out? Of course not. But, it’s ludicrous to believe that one single test should be so instrumental in the assessment of students, teachers and districts alike. How can this process be seen to encourage a love of learning – something that these kids could draw on for the rest of their lives?
There is so much of the educational process that is important. Think of all of the classes you’ve taken, the extracurricular activities you’ve been involved with and how they changed your life. I look at band, in the case of my son, and how that has helped guide what he wants to do in life, something he is dedicated to and loves at 17 years of age. That is pretty significant, and it has nothing to do with testing.
As parents, as citizens, we need to start speaking out about this painful, dangerous process. Our kids deserve to get an education that’s better than “48 out of 50.” Oklahoma politicians – not our students, not their teachers – are the ones who have failed the test. They need to improve, and quickly.
Dealing with chronic pain is something that’s difficult to write about because sometimes words can’t describe what you’re feeling – not just the pain itself, but also the hopelessness, the loneliness, the frustration, the feelings of loss, the impact it can have on your ego and your morale on a daily basis.
First and foremost, there is the pain. Whether it’s migraines, arthritis, shingles, or – in my case – fibromyalgia, this kind of pain changes your life in every way imaginable. And, after a time it can seem your whole life is dictated by, wrapped around, impacted by that pain. It becomes who you are – the limitations it causes, the way you feel every day.
Experts say people with chronic pain are more likely to end their lives and are more susceptible to depression, and I believe it. For me, my journey went on for years. At its worst, I could barely work or function – even having someone touch my arm could trigger unimaginable pain. And, it wasn’t like I was just overly sensitive (as some people suggested) or looking for attention. It got to the point where I couldn’t imagine wanting to live through a life that began and ended each day with that kind of pain.
But, chronic pain goes beyond physical issues. There are the side effects – the weight gain, the depression. Those are bad enough. What’s worse are the people who look at you and believe you are faking it or just a hypochondriac – and these can include doctors, which makes a bad situation so much worse. That’s when the isolation sets in. You already can’t do what you did before, you feel that you are losing out on so much of what your life was all about (including with your children, if you have them) and it’s compounded by many people who are dismissive of your situation.
When it’s doctors, it is not just frustrating, it’s dangerous. While I certainly understand that many people abuse painkillers and other drugs, there are many of us who have benefited by drugs and have never over-used them. But, we are hurt by those who are guilty – and there is a never-ending push to end treatment. In that case, someone who sees the light at the end of the tunnel can live in a world with even more stress, worried about going backward. But, that’s a post for another time…
What I would like to convey with this post is twofold – for those who don’t know what a life of chronic pain is like, I would like you to understand what people you love might be dealing with. To be so isolated and face a situation where all you can see for yourself is a future of pain is a terrible thing. That’s where the love of friends and family can be very powerful and positive. The full support of someone who loves you – even if they might not fully understand what you’re going through – is a huge benefit to someone who otherwise can feel terribly alone.
For anyone confronting this kind of situation, please know it can change and it can get better. Two years ago, I had many days I could barely work – I was considering filing for disability and I didn’t always feel confident I really wanted to move on. But, with the help of my doctor (the right one, after years of searching) and a change in myself – the biggest single factor, I believe, to the transformation in my life – today I have many, many more good days than bad. And, the “bad” days I do have are better than the best days I had before. Your life can improve and you can be happy again.
Don’t let yourself be alone. If you need to talk, to vent, to share – you can always comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Just remember – hope is real.
Mustang has come a long way since the days of a dusty four-way stop at the corner of Mustang Road and state Highway 152.
A relatively small community completely surrounded by our much larger capitol city, city officials could be content with sitting back and letting those resources satisfy the entertainment needs of its residents. After all, Mustang has become so much more than its 12 square miles. With the school district enrollment topping 10,000 last year and subdivisions cropping up in what is technically part of Oklahoma City, many people who actually are not “residents” of the city consider it their home. It’s not just because we’re part of the same zip code or have kids who attend Mustang schools – it’s the atmosphere, the essence of what Mustang really is.
A big part of that is the city’s transformation. Look around at how busy things are – the stores, the roads, the restaurants. We’re growing and beginning to attract businesses we just recently saw settle north of us along the Interstate 40 corridor. While cities like Yukon and Oklahoma City still have that asset, Mustang has an equally important one – its people.
That is nowhere more apparent than in the city’s iconic Town Center. Once a sleepy locale mostly used by civic and business groups for meetings, everything at Town Center has not only grown, it’s improved by leaps and bounds. From the newly expanded and refurbished library, to senior center and parks and recreation facilities, Mustang has changed even in the last seven years.
Three women have been instrumental in that change, individuals who work behind the scenes and who have made Mustang’s transformation come alive. While there are many who have contributed to the city’s success – most notably Justin Battles, assistant city manager/parks and recreation director – these three women deserve a nod of thanks and a huge pat on the back for working tirelessly to bring the city to life.
Mustang Library has come a long way from a storefront with a few books. Now a premiere library in the state, director Desiree Webber has guided her staff and along the way developed fun, unique programs that have excited and educated residents young and old. Ask Desiree and she gives all of the credit to her staff. There’s no doubt Mustang Library’s staff is an asset to the city; but, as in any organization, a staff is a reflection of its leader.
Look at the library calendar this summer and every day there’s something new. Whether it’s the Oklahoma Children’s Theatre stopping by, an unusual art class or simply ways to keep reading exciting for children and youth, the library’s bustling activity does all of us proud.
“Activity” is a good word for Mustang’s Senior Center, which has also grown into “the” place for seniors to be. In a world where seniors sometimes seem to get left behind, Ashley Wisner has expanded the center’s world, and in the process has shined a light on the area’s lively senior community. With a huge variety of special activities held at the center itself, throw in trips for dining, shopping and shows, gets seniors out and keeps them active. They are not just watching the world go by; they are part of it, and Ashley, whose official title is adult program coordinator, is a big reason for that. She may have that long title, but to area seniors, she’s a friend and an advocate – and that’s all they need to know.
Bringing the world to Mustang is one of Jean Heasley’s greatest strengths. Mustang’s assistant director of Parks and Recreation Department, Jean is everywhere at once – organizing Spooktacular, getting sponsors for Mustang’s Eggstravaganza, working with residents and staff alike at Mustang Aquatic Center. Jean is a whirl of activity, making it look easy to keep 53 balls in the air at one time. She has brought fun and memories that will last a lifetime to generations of area residents. Jean was recently named Mustang city employee of the year, and there’s a good reason why.
Desiree, Ashley and Jean – and their staffs – are big reasons why Mustang has grown and become the kind of city we all want to be a part of, a place to forge memories and someplace we’re proud to call home.
We have a situation where I live, one that most people probably wouldn’t view as bullying. And, that’s why it’s so important to talk about, because it’s so subtle. It’s a reason why this is such a difficult problem to overcome.
This issue is fairly black and white, a case where some people in power want something someone else has. They’ve tried over and over to get it, and each attempt has failed. People have said, through all kinds of means, that they want things to stay as they are. But, “Group A” wants what they want. If anything, each failure has made things worse – concentrated attacks by people in power on an entity that helps people, on people who have done a lot of good in our community. These people don’t care about that, and they’ve waged a series of concentrated, purposeful attacks to try to get what they covet. They are vindictive, they’re unrelenting, they do not care what might happen to anyone else if they get what they want.
Is that bullying? Yes, yes, it is.
Here’s the definition of bullying, perhaps something I should have listed before – “the use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.” That’s exactly what’s going on here, although I believe I can guarantee if you told any one of this group you believed they were bullies, they would be angry and righteously indignant. They are in power, after all, so doesn’t that mean people have given them carte blanche to force others to do what they want?
In my view, politicians are supposed to be representatives, not leaders. They are supposed to listen to their constituents and represent their interests and their wishes. Obviously, that’s not always the case – but it’s pretty clear that from local to federal politics, many of our “representatives” are looking out for their own interests and their own power plays, some with an eye to the next rung on their political ladder.
It’s also clear that some, perhaps many, of these people will do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal – and they don’t care who they hurt to do that. There will always be people who vote for them, whether they are just straight party voters, friends, family or those who have some kind of personal agenda connected to the politician or someone who simply just doesn’t care.
I know in this case, people can believe they are “bulletproof,” that they can move through life without any consequence. In this case, they can do what they want, abusing their power and pushing through their personal agenda and damn the cost. But, this is a situation where a bully can be held accountable and that’s the ballot box. Hopefully, enough people will say enough is enough and vote against this person, giving a clear message – “You are a representative, and we will not tolerate your power grab or personal agendas.”
Only time will tell.