This has been in the media a lot lately, so I’ve taken to (over the course of the past couple of weeks) jotting down my thoughts on it. What follows is the sort of things I thought about.
Bullying: the continued victimization of one person by another person or many persons, to the point where their self-worth is being permanently damaged.
I can speak to this, because I was given a lot of grief when I was in elementary school and (partly) highschool. Looking back, I’m not really sure WHY I was targeted so much. I was a very shy, timid kid who was extremely socially awkward and didn’t always say the right thing. Did they think I was stuck up? Did they think I was a brown-noser? (I wasn’t- my grades were good, but never great) Too stand-offish? It’s ironic that as an ADULT, I still look for what *I* did wrong- but it’s because I badly want to know what it was that they saw that annoyed them so much.
I guess it’s a testament to how much my opinion of myself has improved, because I’m still baffled.
Because of that, I take the term VERY seriously.
A bully is not some otherworldly, evil person who exists in a pocket universe.
NOBODY is going to identify themselves as a bully. Ever. Why? Is it pride? Shame? Delusion?
You cannot identify yourself as “bully” or “not a bully”. Bullying is defined by the victim. So if someone feels victimized, but they’re among people who just think the victimization is harmless pranking or jokes? What then?
Is it bullying?
If somebody does something, ONE THING to a group of people then they turn around and start terrorizing that person until that person hasn’t got a shred of dignity left, is THAT bullying? Probably not to the people doing it- they probably think it’s justified.
And that’s what it really comes down to: justification.
For the sake of making a point. For the sake of revenge. For the sake of a good joke. For the sake of inflicting pain on others to deal with your own. For the sake of getting someone annoying to shut up.
Bullying stops when WE recognize, in our OWN BEHAVIOUR, what it is that we’re doing wrong. When we recognize when we’re victimizing someone. When we’re making them feel like a waste of human life and that the whole world is against them.
I’ve been there- it really doesn’t take much to tip the scales. If a person is REALLY sensitive, it’s a choice between valuing their feelings and thinking they should just “get over it”. On the other hand, you can help a person “get over it” WITHOUT torturing them. Did you know that?
Is it worth somebody’s self worth just to crack a joke?
We are surrounded by media that glorifies humour at the humiliation of others, that uses shock humour far too often, and which makes people think it’s morally superior to go against the grain in absolutely every situation possible. (Hipsters, I’m looking at you)
So to that end: if something like, say, a teen’s tragic suicide due to bullying is considered a big deal; but you might think you stand out if you say “Pfft. It’s not a big deal.” You might want to take a step back and consider if what you are saying makes rational sense, or if you’re just being different for the sake of being different.
If you watch really good comedians carefully, you’ll notice that they DO walk a fine line when cracking a joke at someone else’s expense. They do it carefully. And they’re the most merciless with people they care about and have a trust with.
There is a big difference between shaming someone who trusts you enough to know where you’re coming from, and shaming somebody who barely knows you. If you think it’s a joke, and they don’t see it that way, congratulations: the joke failed. (Or in the case of making fun of large groups of people, if the majority of them don’t find it funny, you’ve still failed.)
Chances are, EVERY person has done or said something in their lifetime to make someone else feel really bad about themselves. Whether it was intentional or not. I consider myself a very careful person, but even I’m willing to admit that I’m human- that I’ve slipped up somewhere.
Bullying stops when we, as a society, take responsibility for our own mean behaviour and understand where it stops. We’re human, we make mistakes, but we have to understand when we’ve crossed the line.
Stop it before we have children who think our actions give them implicit permission to do what we do.
Stop putting ourselves in situations where we allow the group to take over.
Internet Bullying – Mob Mentality?
In psychology, there’s a term called deindividuation. It’s a fancy name for mob mentality. It’s what happens when cops fail to keep onlookers away from a building where somebody is threatening to jump- and a crowd gathers and eggs them on (and it HAS happened before). It’s what happens during riots, lynch mobs, and looting. There are times when a person’s moral compass and individuality disappears the minute they’re in a large, anonymous group.
(There’s an interesting article about it here.)
I’m not talking about trying to impress your friends, I’m talking about completely forgetting how you’ve defined yourself.
And nowhere is this more relevant than on the Internet. The place where we can become tragically disconnected from our own words. Like the broken window effect, all it takes is one negative comment to bring down a shit-storm of disgusting remarks on a Toronto Star article or a YouTube video.
The Internet is often our own personal emotional toilet. It’s often a resting place of the thoughts and feelings we don’t want. We take things out on people we don’t know (or can remain conveniently detached from) in a context where things are unreal and we don’t have to take responsibility for who we are. We like to think harsh words don’t hurt as much on the Internet.
Well, that’s not true. We know it’s not.