". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I think many people can relate to having been teased or made fun of as children. In my opinion that is not the same thing as being bullied. Bullying is a prolonged form of torment, either physical or mental, that can lead to serious and lasting repercussions in the one who is bullied. I spent about three years of my adolescence (ages 11-13) being regularly bullied by not just one but many people in the junior high I attended, and I have long realized as an adult that in many ways I am still suffering the consequences. That kind of treatment skews a person's perceptions, perverting how he sees himself, others, and the world.

But what I have only recently come to realize is that bullying is not just something that happens to children. It is also unfortunately all too common among adults. Two of the most common environments for adult bullying are cyberspace and workplaces. Yet even though the settings are different, the tactics are the same. Consider these passages on bullying from Wikipedia:

Of bullies and bully accomplices
Research indicates that adults who bully have personalities that are authoritarian, combined with a strong need to control or dominate. . . .

It is often suggested that bullying behavior has its origin in childhood. As a child who is inclined to act as a bully ages, his or her related behavior patterns will often also become more sophisticated. Schoolyard pranks and 'rough-housing' may develop into more subtle, yet equally effective adult-level activities such as administrative end-runs, well-planned and orchestrated attempts at character assassination, or other less obvious, yet equally forceful forms of coercion.

Of typical bystanders
Often bullying takes place in the presence of a large group of relatively uninvolved bystanders. In many cases, it is the bully's ability to create the illusion that he or she has the support of the majority present that instills the fear of 'speaking out' in protestation of the bullying activities being observed by the group. Unless the 'bully mentality' is effectively challenged in any given group in its earlier stages, it often becomes an accepted norm within the group.

In such groups where the 'bully mentality' has been allowed to become a dominant factor in the group environment, a steady stream of injustices and abuses often becomes a regular and predictable group experience. Such a toxic environment often remains as the status-quo of the group for an extended period of time, until somehow the bullying-cycle should eventually come to an end. Bystanders to bullying activities are often unable to recognize the true cost that silence regarding the bullying activities has to both the individual and to the group. A certain inability to fully empathize is also usually present in the typical bystander, but to a lesser degree than in the bully. The reversal of a 'bully mentality' within a group is usually an effort which requires much time, energy, careful planning, coordination with others, and usually the undertaking of a certain 'risk'.

It is the general unwillingness of bystanders to expend these types of energies and to undertake these types of risks that bullies often rely upon in order to maintain their monopolies of power. Until or unless at least one individual who has at least some abilities to work with others, opts to expend whatever energies may be needed to reverse the 'bully mentality' of the group, the 'bully mentality' is often perpetuated within a group for months, years, or even decades.

As I read this I can't help but think about behaviors I have seen--and I'm talking from adults, not children--in online places like Facebook, blogs and email lists as well as in real life locations such as workplaces and churches. I know that opposition to bullying seems to have become the latest politically correct cause and I have seen the backlash against that in the argument that we all need to not take it so seriously because, after all, it's just bullying and those who get bullied should simply learn to buck up and deal with it. I disagree with that. I think bullying is a serious problem in our culture. It happens to people of all ages. It is not limited to those whom society has identified as marginalized by their ethnicity, socio-economic background or sexual preference. Sometimes it happens to people you would never expect, in places you would never imagine. And as long as the majority stand by silent, it will continue.


Becky S. said...

Well said, Cheryl. I just took an online training course in bullying. It was through the Boy Scouts but I had to take it as an American Heritage Girls Leader. I was happy to see that these scouting groups are taking all forms of bullying seriously. I hope leaders follow through with the training that requires action to be taken. I agree with your comment that it happens to unlikely people in unlikely places. The devil is hard at work.

Cheryl said...

Yes. The devil is indeed very hard at work. :-(