Random thoughts about bullying

(*Okay, every time I re-read this post to edit it seems to get longer and longer as I add things to try and clarify and no cause a misunderstanding. I give up. I am just going to accept that I can avoid the fact that someone will probably take this the wrong way. But they are my thoughts, so cest la vive! I am posting.)

This topic, spurred on by recent press, has done the blog circuit. And as per usual, I am late to the party. But that has never stopped me before, why should it stop me now?

Let me be clear, first off, that no one, no child, adolescent or adult, deserves to be tormented based on their sexual orientation, race, religious beliefs, political beliefs, moral beliefs, age, family situation, abilities or lack of ability, color of their skin, money in their bank account or location of their home. Not cool.

That being said, there are a couple things that bother me about this whole discussion that I have seen surrounding this issue. The solutions I have been hearing and the way we paint the picture about what is happening says something, I think, about what our expectations are for social interaction and what we value as good. First off:

1) What is wrong with being alone?

Remember how I have said that I think our experiences deeply impact how we view life? Well, I can tell you that during my childhood I experienced pretty much the same thing over and over again when it came to social interaction. I would join a ‘group’, said group would love me, then one person would decide they don’t like me and I was ousted from the group. Wash, rinse and repeat throughout elementary, junior high and high school. Now I am sure I wasn’t not totally innocent in this cycle- I had/have a tendency to be bossy (just ask my poor husband) among other personality faults that I am sure contributed to this, but none the less… This continued until the last year of high school where I said ‘screw em’ and spent most lunch hours in the library reading, as books didn’t tend to turn on you after a couple of months. Now that sounds like sour grapes, but I can tell you that experience did a lot to help me become the person I am– a person I quite like.

My point is that it bothers me that every time we talk about a kid alone on the playground we assume that that is a bad thing. What I can tell you is that as much as it sucked to teased and ousted as I was sometimes, there is a certain strength that comes from realizing you are okay on your own. You don’t need someone else to make you happy. You can enjoy your time by yourself. I truly believe it is one of lives great lessons that we all have to realize that happiness comes from within, not from validation from the people around you.

Don’t get me wrong, we all still need friends. It is not like I want to trivialize the pain of being cast out socially or to suggest everyone should sign themselves up for such an experience. But I guess I wish we didn’t stereotype and label the ‘loners’. I have always been the type to have a small handful of close friends rather then a long laundry list. There is nothing wrong with this. There is nothing wrong with being alone. I think this tendency to portray those with fewer friends negatively makes the situation worse. You don’t need to have 250 friends on facebook to prove that you are worthwhile as a person. You are worthwhile as a person because you are. And you like yourself because you have good qualities. Period. There is nothing wrong with being the kid with just a few friends.

2) Growing Pains

While I agree with the frustration I have read from some who have experienced quite sever forms of bullying in their childhood that they don’t want the experience to be brushed off as ‘just a part of growing up’ or ‘character building’, I do think we need to accept as a society that we all go through crap throughout our lives. Life is not meant to be easy. In fact, I would argue that when it comes to emotional trauma, most of us are very lucky living in North America and not in some war zone somewhere. Imagine the trauma those kids go through. This doesn’t make bullying okay. I REPEAT: that doesn’t make bullying okay or something we should just grin and bare. I am not saying that meaning to put experiences on a scale from bad to worse and therefore down play the pain of being bullied. But it does mean that we are who we are today because of our experiences. I am always so inspired by people who have been able to use very painful and horrible experiences to give them strength and purpose, rather then continuing to let themselves be victimized by the experience.

I do think we need to change our expectations about life– bad things, upsetting things, hard things and heartbreaking things will happen to all of us. It is what we do with them that matters. I think we spend too much time trying to avoid pain and not enough time dealing, facing and making the best out of pain.

3) Not everyone likes me and a I willing to bet that not everyone likes you.

Let’s be really honest here. There are people that don’t like me. And there are people I don’t like. I am willing to bet there are people that don’t like you. That is life. Sometimes our reasons for not liking someone are reasonable ones; someone who is unkind, not genuine, not interested in the same things, self involved, ect. And sometimes our reasons are not reasonable; we don’t like how they dress, we don’t understand them because they are different from us, we have made an incorrect assumption about them, or we are threatened or jealous or whatever. As much as I wish this weren’t the case, some people don’t like people because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, mental health or ethnicity. And, to be quite honest there are also people who are just plain jerks. I believe every human being has good within them, but people writ large- well there are a lot of not nice people out there.

But none of those things justify bullying. What they do speak to, however, the reality of life. Humans are social creatures. And by social, I don’t mean just pleasant socializing. I mean we work to establish social structure. And part of social structure is hierarchy, rules, control and authority. I know that many social movements try to fight against this, and I am all for changing up the rules of society so that authority and power is not concentrated among one gender, race, age, religious group, ect. But to deny that power, authority and control are not fundamental features of social interaction, that aren’t going away, is naive in my opinion.

No one knows this more then a teenage girl. The typically stereotype of a bully is the boy who threatens and steals everyone’s lunch money. But when it comes to threats, intimidation and manipulation, teenage girls wrote the book.

4) Solutions.

My point in sharing my thoughts on all of the above has to do with what I think the solutions are to the problem of bullying. A lot of what I have seen talked about seem to want to create a world where everyone likes everyone, no one is teased, ever. Where all the kids hold hands and sing kumbiaya. But to me, this is so not the solution, because it goes against behaviours that are totally natural. Kids, teenagers and adults alike work within a complex system of social structure. Trying to get humans to all be nice to each other- well it just isn’t going to happen. Call me a cynic. So, do we just throw our hands up and give up when it comes to bullying?

No. But I think we need to change our expectations and focus on the real issue. First off, our expectations should not be that everyone will get along and no one will get left out, teased, or pushed aside. We have a tendency in North America to try and shield our children from all possible forms of pain or hurt– and it just isn’t a realistic expectation– those emotions and experiences are part of life. I would argue, in fact, that experiencing bad things makes you appreciate the good things in life.

That being said, what we can expect, both of our kids and ourselves, that we learn to communicate and interact with each other in a way that is respectful. You can dislike someone without being cruel. I believe the real issue here is all about confidence and maturity. What bully’s, their victims and the silent bystandards have in common is a lack of confidence. Bully’s bully to build themselves up and try to gain power. Victims have a hard time standing up to bully’s because they feel powerless. And bystandards are afraid to say anything because they don’t want to bully to turn on them. And let’s be really honest here- the victims and the bullies both need help and support. Happy, confident, well adjusted people don’t tend to bully. My issue is that our societies reaction to bullying- to try and get everyone to like each other and play with each other and to pepper our kids with ‘good work’ and ‘you are awesome’ to build them up only makes the situation worse. Because it takes away the opportunity for our kids to develop true self-esteem. The kind of self-esteem that can only come from within. The kind of self-esteem that lets you, well not avoid the hurt that can come from someone not liking you or saying an unkind word, not let that shake your confidence in the value of yourself.

The more people who have inner strength and true self confidence, the less bullying there will be. There will still be teasing, unkind words, feeling left out, and all the other feelings that come with social interaction. But there will be less crossing the line. The question is, how do we get there?

Advertisements

5 responses to “Random thoughts about bullying

  1. kelly @kellynaturally November 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

    >>It is what we do with them that matters. I think we spend too much time trying to avoid pain and not enough time dealing, facing and making the best out of pain.

    I don’t believe anyone needs to make room in this life for MORE time spent on pain, accepting it or making the best out of it or whatever. Our message to our children should be one of positivity, kindness, generosity, love, acceptance, always. Not avoiding pain, not dealing with pain, but rather, NOT PRODUCING PAIN, nor tolerating pain being given or taken.

    >> But it does mean that we are who we are today because of our experiences. I am always so inspired by people who have been able to use very painful and horrible experiences to give them streng th and purpose, rather then continuing to let themselves be victimized by the experience.

    Pain isn’t necessary to growth or becoming a well rounded or inspiring person. I disagree that bullying is a necessary component to childhood.

    >> Let’s be really honest here. There are people that don’t like me. And there are people I don’t like. I am willing to bet there are people that don’t like you. That is life.

    You can be alone, you can be different, you can choose not get along with people, but you cannot bully, you can not inflict pain, you cannot tolerate people doing it to others, nor to yourself.

    I recently wrote about this too (late as well, apparently, ha!) I’d be interested in your thoughts.
    http://www.kellynaturally.com/post/Bullying-and-Messages-We-Send-Our-Children.aspx

    • amoment2think November 2, 2010 at 12:21 pm

      Kelly,

      I certainly agree that bullying is not a necessary component of childhood. I did my best to make clear that that was not what I was saying. But I do think life is full of challenges and accepting that reality is important. Certainly sharing the messages of positivity, kindness, generosity, love and acceptance with our children is SO IMPORTANT. And yes, we need to make clear to our children that causing some one else pain is not acceptable. I am all for teaching and encouraging consideration and empathy.

      But sometimes even if we try not to hurt others feelings we do. We are human, we make mistakes. Sometimes we don’t think before we speak or we don’t realize how our actions can impact others. Should we strive towards thinking before we speak and being aware of the impact of our actions?Yes of course. But should we accept that we aren’t always going to be perfect and sometimes people get hurt? And should we be upfront and honest with our children that not everyone is going to treat them with kindness, positivity and love? Yes. I don’t want my child going out into the world thinking everything is rosy and then getting hit with the realization that that just isn’t the case.

      I appreciate your thoughts. I think this is an important discussion. Bullying is not okay. But I do feel very passionately about the life expectations we set for our kids matter and impact this issue. I will certainly read your post when I have a minute (right now I need to get back to work 😉 ) and share my thoughts there as well.

  2. Sophie November 2, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Kathleen, your post made me think of the It Gets Better project and inspired me to blog about it… If you haven’t heard about the project, check it out, it’s worth it!

  3. clara November 3, 2010 at 8:06 am

    I don’t know that I’ve seen the same anti-bullying stuff that you have, because I don’t get the same over-protective vibe… Or maybe I’m just ignoring it in favour of my own personal philosophy, which is: all people deserve respect. All people. You don’t have to like them or what they do but that doesn’t mean they are less than you.

    With a 4 year old and a 2.5 year old in the house, I have to keep it simple. And with a 5.5 year old bully-in-training neighbour, I have a few extra simple statements that i keep on hand. “Stop when people say stop.” “Sometimes people don’t listen when you say stop. Those people need to listen better.” and “Sometimes it makes people feel good when you cry. If you stop crying, he’ll stop chasing you.” It sucks to have to explain that some people suck. However, forewarned is forearmed, I figure.

    My goal for my kids is for them not to grow up to be assholes. Seriously.

%d bloggers like this: