We live in an era of bullying awareness. Anti-bullying campaigns are common with students and neighborhoods doing everything from wearing pink shirts to launching full-scale media campaigns. Celebrities, psychiatrists and educators alike have supported and launched anti-bullying campaigns…..but.
And that is a very big “but.” Suicide, social ostracization, and other long-term negative effects are associated with bullying, and there’s a common trend among bullies: they never think they’re responsible.
It can be uncomfortable to think of bullies as people, not monsters. As ourselves, not someone way over there who did an awful thing (shame on them).
A bully is not a person: rather, bullying is a series of traits. Recognizing those traits within ourselves can help us to understand them. The best way to stop bullying is not for the victims to use strategies against it, but for all of us to recognize bullying behaviors and end them.
Goal 1: Put down the pitchforks and torches. A rumor is started, and without allowing both parties to say their piece, we automatically condemn one of them. Something is taken out of context online and we add fuel to the fire by posting angry comments. Someone gives us a monster, and we are all too happy to spread stories and perpetuate the mythology. We don’t even consider that we’re talking about a real person whose entire life may be effected, not a “man with a hook”. Often, entire crowds of us go with the flow because saying “Im not sure that’s true” or “I’d like to check with the person you’re talking about” can paint a target on our backs for the person spreading the rumor, and they are often more than happy to display anger to make sure no-one else defies them either.
Goal 2: Power Check. Many bullying situations occur when someone in a position of power views a disempowered person as an equal. A teacher might make a lighthearted joke thinking it won’t affect a student, and this will snowball into a pattern of bullying on the part of other students. In most situations, people will follow the leader. There is a difference between playful banter between two men and the same banter between a man and a woman, an ethnic minority, or between a boss and an employee. Making jokes about someone from a power position isn’t cute, or fun. It is bullying.
Goal 3: Redefine strength. To some of us, being strong means getting what we want, at any cost. Adult bullies are most often guilty of this form of bullying: they want a promotion, relationship, or access to a social group and just KNOW they deserve it. When that (RIGHTFULLY THEIRS darnit!!!) thing is taken away, they strike out the way any of us would at someone who robbed our home or stole our car.
They become focused on removing the person in their way in order to get what they want. The standard advice given to victims won’t work in this case. Walking away and avoiding the bully can cost the victim their relationship, job, or social connections and only reinforce the bully’s idea that being rude to people will get rid of them.
Practicing positive self talk and setting goals can combat this form of jealousy-based bullying. We need to focus on our own achievements, not over someone else, but over the person we were yesterday.
Goal 4: Stop Making Assumptions. Sometime after the 8th grade ended, we must have forgotten that assumptions make an ass out of “u” and “me”. Many incidents of bullying occur because the bully assumes what the other person is thinking or typing online based on their own personal feedback loop. This can be dangerous when interacting with different cultures or even different groups within the same culture. One person can be very sincerely using the same words another person uses sarcastically. When in doubt, ask for clarification. Assuming malice is intended can lead to directing anger at someone who has no idea what they did to upset you, and that is a recipe for a bullying situation.
Goal 5: Anger is not a joystick. Using anger to control others can seem convenient. They’re too frightened to express an opinion and it feels really good to yell “shaddup” and finally hear the sound of silence. Maybe it’s time to start hearing eachother out and opening up conversations rather than shitting them down.
Goal 6: That thing you should have said? Don’t look for ways to say it. Wéve all walked away from an argument feeling unfulfilled because that really amazing comeback showed up when we’d already walked away. We look for reasons to attack or annoy the person who yelled at us, disciplined us, or otherwise expressed an unpleasant emotion before we had a chance to respond. Getting back at the person is not a solution.
Goal 7: Commit to honesty. Most of us have lied at some point: to get out of work, to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, or to make ourselves seem cooler than we are. When we lie to hurt others it crosses over into bullying territory even if we didn’t consider the effect at the time. There is no excuse for claiming someone hurt or threatened you if they didnt, not any excuse for claiming that you have dated or slept with someone when you haven’t.
Goal 8: Admitting you’re a jerk. It’s easy to couch our discriminatory attitudes in false terms. Saying “the silhouette of your outfit is wrong” instead of “I have a problem with people whose BMI is higher than mine and want to hurt your feelings” doesn’t make it okay. The person understands what you mean, and the impact is the same, regardless of the words you use.
Goal 9: Admit that hurting someone does not help them. A number of bullies take action because they think they’re helping: shame this person enough, and they will learn to fit in. Call someone fat and they will lose weight (often at any cost); call someone ugly and they will find a way to get plastic surgery. We believe that being hurtful is a form of therapy because it’s easier than admitting that people who are bullied are LESS likely to be social.
Goal 10. Let go of fear. Bullying happens when we are afraid. Afraid that someone else is more attractive, successful, or having more fun than we are. Afraid that if we don’t put the focus on someone else, we will end up being the butt of the joke. Or even afraid of losing what we already have.
Goal 11: Working together. Why is it that three people can’t get along in a conversation but a dozen people can get along on a basketball team? Because teams are focused on the same goal. Rather than backing down from a bully, remind the group of the goal you all share and help them to understand that negative behavior works against it. “I understand that you find my nose really funny, Megan, but we’re all here for a meeting and I don’t see how it’s relevant”
Goal 12: We don’t have to love everyone. We don’t even have to like or tolerate them. None of those things give us the right to irritate, stalk, assault, start rumors and lies about, or harass another person.