Barbara Coloros’s timeless book ‘The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander’ inspired this piece. A lot of the book’s excerpts are being used as a guide to pass this important message across.
Throughout history, we have watched, read, and sometimes seen first-hand the final act of violence carried out by a person who could no longer take the pain and humiliation of being bullied. In that instance, we tacitly agree that such a person is no longer a victim, but a monster. We become outraged by their aggressive behavior. Alice Miller said it is very difficult for people to believe the simple fact that every perpetrator was once a victim. Yet, it should be very obvious that someone who is allowed to feel free, and strong from childhood does not need to humiliate another person. I am in no way calling it a form of moral injury or excusing aggressive behaviors. The idea that we need to lash out violently against those who bully is in itself an ill-conceived notion that must be met with the truth – violence is not the answer, either against oneself or others. But I think we can all agree that the prevalence of bullying is quite disturbing, the consequences are terrifying, and the violence that comes, as a result, is a recipe for disaster.
Bullying is a conscious, willful, deliberate, and hostile activity. It is intended to harm, induce fear through the threats of further aggression, and create terror. There is an imbalance of power, intent to harm, and the threat of further aggression. Terror is the bottom line for why a bully carries out heinous acts. It is systematic violence used to intimidate and maintain dominance. To simply put, bullying is doing mean things all the time for no reason. It can be verbal, physical, or relational. People get ostracized, harassed, or have ill-conceived rumors spread rumors about them all the time. Sometimes, the bully tells the bullied to do certain things as a way to humiliate them. If that person can not do it, he/she is shunned publicly.
Bullying is a learned behavior. If it can be learned it can be examined, and it can be changed. I wonder if we can look at people who bully as playing a role, as opposed to typecasting them in a way that makes it difficult for us to look at them as anything but what we’ve confined them to. You can’t always identify bullies by what they look like, but you can pick them out by what they act like. If you’re playing a role, even as a villain, you can learn a different role, and change your perspective about how you treat others. The role of bullies is not necessary. Think of it this way, if a child doesn’t bully, then there’s no reason for anyone to report an incident of bullying, and there would be no one standing and looking, not doing anything to combat that learned behavior. When some parents learn that their children are bullies, they condemn those children in a way that makes it difficult for them to learn from their mistakes. It is important to know that it is the roles that must be abandoned, not the children.
We have all become so desensitized to violence that we now minimize the effects of bullying. One of the ways we do that is by thinking that taunting and teasing are the same things. That is incorrect, there’s an imbalance of power in bullying, but with teasing, power is shared equally. There is no good-natured give & take in taunting. Also, just to put it out there, sexual bullying is not flirting, it is an act of aggression. Robert Meyers said America’s obsession with ‘fun’ apparently gives us a license to justify almost any type of behavior, no matter how abusive. Bullies, especially in this generation where people take no responsibility or accountability for their actions are often excused.
James Garbarino said nothing can equal insults to the soul. The tremendous shame brought on by rejection and humiliation can drive people to implode or explode. Bullying destroys a person’s sense of self. We watch shows where the school culture or even the society typecasts certain people as bullies, some as the bullied, and others as bystanders. In reality, a school culture or society that nurtures cliques and elevates some groups above others also fosters discrimination and bullying.
Targeted people can not often stand alone to fend off a bully or bunch of bullies. They need help from people who know and see that this is happening. Cynthia Ozick said the act of turning away, however, empty-handed and harmlessly, remains nevertheless an act. Contempt grows best in the climate of indifference when people feel that the bullied is outside their limited circle of caring. There becomes that decreased sense of individual responsibility, which emphasizes the immorality of silence in the face of malice. I have heard people say they only bullied or made fun of one person. It is important to note that any number is a high number. Regardless of how low that number is, those are people still being bullied. The justifications for the attacks are spurious at best, contemptuous excuses at worst. No one deserves to be bullied.
I have had the opportunity to discuss with people the difference between positive and maladaptive behaviors. My job is not to accept bad behaviors, but to reflect on the feelings of the person who exhibits it. Sometimes, the reason for their outburst is because they do not feel valued, safe, or loved in their relationships. The reason for the act of violence is as complex as the people who carry it out. This is why it is important to spread the word about bullying because it lays the foundation for who we all turn out to be. We should discourage the culture of bullying—while the smallest teasing may seem harmless to one, it does not seem harmless to another. I have said this before, and I’ll say it again, let’s not make a fetish out of violence. It is our collective duty to be alert on both the accumulation and combination of behaviors that make people bully others. James Thurber said let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.
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