One of the most important lessons I learned as a kid comes from a very popular read, To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Pretty sure most of us who read the classics during high school read this book, and at some point most of our teachers probably encouraged us to dwell on this quote for a while and consider what it means. But for some, this basic lesson never stuck.
When I began writing about cyber bullying, it was meant to be a reflection on the various ways in which I’ve observed others experiencing it. Being an avid watcher of YouTube vlogs, I’ve seen it in one of its worst forms. People wishing the worst things imaginable upon others for no reason other than the fact that they chose to share a few minutes of their lives or a few details about their experiences on a public forum; the bully, meanwhile, operates behind the luxury of anonymity.
I had my first taste of what that feels like after I published something for the first time in my life.
To the person who told me that the first article I ever published reeks of arrogance: it took me two years after graduating with a degree in English to convince myself that I even had the potential to write anything worth reading.
The truth is that haters don’t have anyone’s life figured out. Yet they continue to publish their assumptions about exactly how the events of another person’s life were and will be in the future. The fact that they are entitled to their freedom of speech is undeniable; but I do think it’s in the best interest of our society to speak out against bullying, given how devastating it can be to anyone who is on the receiving end. It takes a lot more than having a thick skin to withstand the amount of hate that’s spewed over the Internet these days.
If you grew up during or before the 90s like I did, a bully was someone who may have stolen your lunch money and shoved you into lockers. You may have gotten beat up during recess and come home with a bloody nose. Or you may have been teased and taunted everyday about how you look, how you dress, how you talk, how you walk…the list goes on. You probably hated your life and spent hours dwelling on the unfairness of it. I’ll always be grateful that I never had to walk home in these kids’ shoes, dreading the prospect of returning to school only to face the same torment all over again.
That classic version of a bully will unfortunately continue to thrive for eternity, terrorizing the weaker, smaller, less popular kids on the playground. But once we entered the 21st century, a new type of bully emerged on the biggest playground ever created. They can inflict harm upon someone who may not even live on the same continent. Enabled by the Internet, they can be as rotten as they are on the inside without ever having to compromise their identity. This bully is the most dangerous and detestable kind.
I hope to have children someday, yet when I consider what sort of world they will grow up in, at first the biggest fear I face is the prospect that they might be bullied. And then, on second thought, an even bigger fear comes to mind—that they may become bullies.
Since I’ve quoted Atticus, I thought I’d attempt climbing inside the skin of a bully. And these are the reasons I came up with that may explain why someone would choose to be one:
1. The greatest unhappiness in their life is seeing the happiness of others, and this compels them to engage in the business of attempting to eradicate any happiness they see in the lives of people they encounter.
2. They think other people’s decisions and actions are always stupid and their voices are too unworthy to be heard.
3. They don’t think people on the Internet are actually real people, and therefore they believe they aren’t actually hurting anyone’s feelings.
4. They truly do think they’re smarter, better, stronger, and in possession of facts rather than opinions.
5. The world, for them, is black and white, and their personal experiences are an adequate basis for judging other people’s experiences. Either something sucks or it doesn’t.
Maybe I’m wrong in my own assumptions, but I do know that there is one solid reason why one should learn to practice self-restraint when compelled to act out in an incendiary way toward someone who has something they don’t have:
When a person spends so much time being invested in attempting to break another person’s confidence, which may have taken that person years and countless struggles to build, they are spending less time enjoying, appreciating, and working on their own life. And because their assumptions about someone they’ve never met or had a conversation with are probably wrong, that person will move on. But a bully will remain in the same place, endlessly enacting the vicious cycle of hate.