A post inspired by the #WritersAgainstBullying campaign.
Bullying is repeated, unwanted behaviour that harms a person, whether mentally or physically.
Almost everyone has an experience of being bullied. There was that one girl who used to taunt you because your lunch smelled funny, or the boy who coined an embarrassing nickname for you. Or the kid who would wait for you after school every day to try to shove a stick into the spokes of your bike and make you fall off. Or the girls who pranked you by pretending to be a guy from school, text messaging to ask you to the senior ball, and then telling everyone when you accepted. Or even the kids who told you that you could play, but then sent you to get the ball and ran away while you were gone.
The emotions are what we tend to remember. Humiliation. Anger. Fear. Self-loathing. Anxiety. Resentment. Frustration. Hurt. Powerlessness. Isolation.
We can aspire to a world without bullying but the sad fact is there will probably always be bullies. There will always be the kid whose dad is a scornful jerk and teaches her to be scornful too. Or the guy who was a poor achiever at school and now feels the need to criticise everything you do at work. We don’t live in a perfect world so we won’t have perfect people – people will always be damaged, unhappy, or have a point to prove. At certain ages (think: 10 year old girls) people also feel the need to experiment with emotional manipulation, so the bullying can be worse, and all but unavoidable, during those times.
So what can we do?
The only thing we can do is develop bullying workarounds.
In an adult situation – like in the workplace – the first thing experts advise someone being bullied to do is to speak to the person doing the bullying. Sometimes a bully simply doesn’t get that you don’t like what they’re doing. They think it’s normal to speak in a shouty tone of voice, or they think it’s funny to call you by a horrible nickname. If you tell them in a clear way how it makes you feel and ask them to stop, they just might do it.
If that’s out of the question (and sometimes it is), then unfortunately the only way to make it change is to report it. You might have to report it to a parent, or a teacher, or your boss (or your boss’ boss). It’s an unhappy fact that reporting can feel like tattling, and it can feel like you’re not facing up to it on your own. But believe me, when it comes down to living with bullying or living with having told, telling is the lesser of two evils.
Where does finding bravery come into it?
This is the bit I’m really interested in. There’s one way we can make effective change in a world where bullying will probably always be around. What I want people to do is start to stand up and intervene when they see bullying happen.
Most of us will willingly share a post on social media about human rights, or to encourage people to notice and help for a cause. If someone’s being bullied on social media, there are usually just as many people willing to jump in and defend them as there are people ready to join in the bullying! But there are only a few people willing to stand up for someone else’s right not to be bullied – I mean, stand up and intervene when something bad is going down in the real world.
It’s because we are taught all our lives to mind our own business and not get involved. There’s also a fear that if we do get involved, we align ourselves with the person being bullied, which might make us a target as well. That can be true, and that’s where being brave comes into it.
Imagine a world where, any time someone got bullied, someone else would speak up and shame the bully. “Hey, that’s not cool. Don’t do that to him!” or “Can’t you give her instructions without shouting? It’s very degrading for her.” All it usually takes is one person to speak on behalf of the person being bullied and then a couple of other people will step up and add their voices.
How much bullying would stop or be prevented if the bullies were shamed and questioned every time they did something to hurt a person?
I know there were situations in my childhood and even my adult life when, if someone had just been willing to stick up for me, the bully would have backed off and left me alone. THIS is where we can make a difference.
There may be situations where this strategy won’t work, but I’d just like to put this out there: I believe that in many situations, if not most, sticking up for someone being bullied will help them. Even if it doesn’t stop the bullying, it lets the person being bullied know that they are not the jerk in this situation. They have an ally, even a temporary one. You could even help save a life just by showing that person you don’t think it’s cool that they are being bullied.
Don’t watch it happen.