As I sit down to write about bullying and to be part of the collective voice of #1000Speak on ‘Building for Bullying’, I can’t help but ask, “what about the bully?“
Let me say this first up – bullying is unacceptable. It is hurtful, it is harming… it has potential long term effects on those involved, including the bully. It can be traumatic.
What constitutes bullying? It is as much the fear-inducing acts of harassment, violence, coercion, intimidation, as it is about the target’s perception of the acts themselves. It is a two-way street – what is considered bullying by one, may be perceived by another as a mere ‘pain in the butt’ because bullying is about fear. Our individual relationship with fear is different.
‘Bullying’ is a behaviour – when we use THE word, IT gives colour, tone, images of certain actions which cumulatively and subjectively become acts of bullying. The word ‘bully’ also has a certain flavour – when used, IT goes from being a subjective description of a person doing certain acts to an absolute ‘objective’ definition of a person. Isn’t it usually the case, when we refer to a person as a bully, we see an immovable, unchangeable ‘thing’ called a bully, whatever the essence of that ‘thing’ may be in our minds? When someone calls me a control-freak and often enough, I am looked upon, assessed and seen through the lens of ‘control’.
The theory of reflexivity suggests that we are constructed by our being in the world, that is we are changed by the expectations, norms, rules, technologies etc. of the world we live in, and we also construct the world by being in it. Our presence – all that we say and do – contributes to change in our world.
So, as we label someone ‘a bully’, are we as part of his world contributing to a process of solidifying the abhorrent behaviours he has exhibited? Are we somehow creating a certain acceptance that those are the behaviours we expect from her? Are we giving the impression that that is all we can expect of him, that that is all she is capable of? What becomes of the bully? When one is labelled a bully and often enough, what is one to become but the label?
I know there is no simplistic model for the bullying phenomenon – no ‘if i change this bit here, then all will be well’. It is complex. Though perhaps if we begin by refusing to label a person a bully though condemning the actions, our compassion is a step towards a direction of change, and hopefully a positive one.
What I have said so far by no means undermine the person experiencing bullying. This is a look at the other side of the equation, and to show some compassion for the actor who has learnt to express his or her anger, hurt, fear, unworthiness etc. through harming others. To show compassion is not to condone, but seeking to understand and to love.
We can learn the art of fierce compassion – redefining strength, deconstructing isolation and renewing a sense of community, practicing letting go of rigid us-vs.-them thinking – while cultivating power and clarity in response to difficult situations. Sharon Salzberg
As an aside, I cannot resist this video of a 4-year old’s response when she was told she looked ugly. That’s a ‘high-five’ from me! 🙂
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