When the Student Becomes the Teacher

Guest blogger, Karen Bilodeau, is an attorney and shareholder at McTeague Higbee. Please note, this post, like some of Governor LePage’s recent comments, contain some words that may be offensive to some.

 As a child, I recall the chant “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  The verse was used to reply to an insult to indicate that although the insult was received, the words had no real effect.

Today, however, we all know that words can be very harmful, and sometimes are more damaging than sticks and stones.

Last year, the high school students at Edward Little High School in Auburn and Lewiston High School recognized the damaging effects of insults thrown around on Twitter and Facebook, where some account holders were engaged in online bullying.  Online accounts under the name of “@LewistonBitches” and “@AuburnBitches” had started posting online comments that included racist and sexist remarks.  Most of the posts were vulgar, included profanity and attacked specific people directly.  Some posts called specific students “’hoe’ of the day,” while others attacked the sexual orientation of other students.

Some students at Edward Little created sites to counteract the bullying.  One student created a Twitter account to attempt to neutralize the bullying by posting comments to those specifically attacked such as “you’re beautiful don’t let bullying get you down” and “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. Don’t let bullies get to you!”  Little did I know, when I read about the bullying in the Lewiston-Sun Journal, that the online site that was known as “@auburnangels3” had been created by my daughter to attack the bullying.

Bullying in school becomes a form of harassment in the workplace – something Governor LePage has become very used to. His recent public comments to State Senator Troy Jackson from Allagash is simply a public form of bullying similar to the high school taunts that appeared on Facebook and Twitter. When Sen. Jackson said he had the votes to override a veto from LePage on the bipartisan state budget, LePage responded with a vulgar, personal attack on the Senator. “People like Troy Jackson, they ought to go back in the woods and cut trees and let someone with a brain come down here and do some work.” He continued by saying “He is bad. He has no brains, and he has a black heart.”

But the most shocking, offensive, and, frankly, juvenile comment was, “Sen. Jackson claims to be for the people, but he’s the first one to give it to the people of Maine without providing Vaseline.”

What? It is disappointing that our “leader” has chosen a public forum to demonstrate his lack of respect of others and most importantly his lack of understanding of the impact of his derogatory comments. 

When people in supervisory and leadership positions such as our “esteemed” Governor make comments of sexual nature that are meant to make people who work for them uncomfortable, that is sexual harassment. This kind of harassment is illegal when it gets to the point that it creates a hostile work environment. That is certainly the case with this administration and the Legislature at this point. Not only is LePage’s M.O. to simply belittle whomever disagrees with him through insults, his comments about Senator Jackson were beyond a minor infraction. It was a sustained, public attack on the man’s intelligence and morals.

As a businessman, LePage should know that this type of action would not be allowed in the business world. There would be consequences to pay. Employees often follow management in how they interact with one another and if the leader has a blatant disregard for sexist and violent comments one wonders to what extent that could contribute to sexual harassment in the work place.  But as Governor, somehow, he has skated off easily with a simple apology for those who were offended.

While adults everywhere are busy crafting anti-bullying programs to teach our children how to handle adversity and how not to create hostile situations, our own governor is setting the wrong example.  There is no room for bullying or harassment. Not on the playground. Not on Facebook. Not by our Governor.

Perhaps Governor LePage needs a high school student to step up and teach him how to act in the adult world as well.

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