Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Modern Bully

Welcome to my new blog, where I will try to comment rationally on issues which have caught my attention as of late. Unlike my other blog The 'Dark Room, this blog will concern itself with issues connected to current events, general rants about others' ignorance, and the like. Hence the title.

Bullying has been on my mind a lot as of late for many reasons, the least of which is that bullying seems to be all over the media. It seems that every week or so, either some poor soul ends his or her own life because of bullying, or some foundation is formed by a celebrity to combat bullying. As a person who has experienced bullying firsthand in many forms (though thankfully not cyber-bullying; I would hope that I'm way too old for that now), I have taken some serious thought as to the causes of bullying and whether or not they have changed over the years, and whether it is possible to "outgrow" bullying, either for the victim or the perpetrator.

One theory of bullying that dates back to shortly after dinosaurs roamed the earth, is that bullies are quite frequently bullied themselves, either by abusive parents, siblings, or other bullies. I am not a big fan of this particular theory, as it suggests two things: (1) bullying is cyclical in nature, much like alcoholism and sexual abuse; and (2) the far more frightening prospect: there is no real cure for bullying. From my own experience, bullies tended to belong to one of several social cliques, most of which were related to sports, and bullying was seen as rite of passage; a hazing ritual if you will. You simply did not belong to the clique unless you took the opportunity to pick on a particular person, most frequently outside of the sporting group. This puts the lie to this particular theory of bullying, which I believe was formed to create Christian empathy for the bully. Bluntly put, some kids are just plain evil, and there is no underlying reason for their behaviour, however reassuring this may be for some. Granted, self-hatred figured into Hitler's reasoning, but most bullies sleep just fine at night and don't wrestle with their feelings.

The second theory of bullying is that bullying is caused either by a failure or unwillingness to understand those who are different. This is one I consider to be closer to the truth. It seems that as soon as someone is labeled as "different" that any difference becomes a lightning rod for persecution. Most of the bullying stories we see as of late relate to sexual orientation. Whether or not this is simply because GLBT rights are dominating the media does not really matter; what matters is that bullied children are "different", and are tormented for their differences. It may be because of religious beliefs, a disability, colour of skin, an accent, anything. While the media focus may be on gay teens committing suicide because of bullying, this is but one face of the bullying behemoth; equal attention should be paid to those bullied for other reasons, and they should be able to benefit from the attention given to bullying.

By subscribing to the second theory of bullying, am I suggesting that the causes of bullying have changed? No; the causes have not changed, but the avenues available to bullies have. Where the realms of bullying were once (and may still be) the schoolyard, the school washroom and the locker room, technology has expanded bullying into realms both more intimate and more public: text messaging and social networking. I can't imagine anything being more painful than either a supposed "friend" sending a threatening or belittling text message, or doing the same on Facebook for all your friends to see. It would almost be preferable to get beaten up after school, because at least those wounds would heal. Emotional scars are reflected in our personalities and are far more difficult to hide from the world at large, hence the suicides motivated by Facebook posts and the like. How do you face your friends and enemies, not knowing how many of them may have read what was said about you? Granted, cyber-bullying has its antecedents in scrawlings on public washroom walls, but even those were limited to one gender or the other, and what is said now on public websites is often more brutal and explicit than what was once scribbled in Sharpie in a bathroom stall. How do you combat it?

The fortunate thing about the advance of technology is that the same tools that are available to bullies to perpetrate their hatred and ignorance can also work in favour of the bullied. Even the least web-savvy youngster can delete posts on his or her Facebook wall that are deemed offensive. The same youth can report such posts to Facebook and get the bully kicked off, but as parents, it is up to us to support our children in taking such actions.

And now, the rant: do we ever outgrow bullying? I don't know if we do. We hear about workplace bullying, but we don't know enough about it to answer the question, but one example gives me food for thought: the current Republican primaries and debates. Don't get me wrong; I think debating is a useful tool, but when it degenerates into catcalls on religious belief and other topics, where is the use? It just turns into a spitting match. I've never wanted to be involved in politics, and after several years watching the political arena, I finally know why, but I'm not going to tell you. My blog. My rules.