Certain topics seem to wax and wane. Bullying is one. It has come around again, which is fine with me since it is a topic I care a lot about. But what I have noticed is that it is rare to come across a balanced handling of the issue. There are two extremes: those who see bullying where it is not, and those who refuse to see it where it is.
Let me explain. The first category consists of people who use the allegation of bullying to silence freedom of thought and expression. Another name for it is political correctness, and it consists of commandeering the means of discourse so as to mold the way people think. With this strategy, certain words or points of view become synonymous with hate so that the mere expression of them is seen as proof of guilt. Thus, if you disapprove of homosexuality it must follow that you hate homosexuals. There is no acknowledgement of the distinction between an opinion regarding a certain type of behavior and the people who engage in that behavior.
The second category consists of those who deny that there is such a thing as bullying or who broadly dismiss its significance. The attitude here may be that one who alleges bullying is a wimp or crybaby who just needs to buck up and learn how to handle the bully. Or it may even be said that people who level the charge of bullying are bullies themselves, falsely accusing as a means of attacking their opponents or avoiding a substantive discussion. I find this argument to be amusingly circular since it denies the reality of bullying by labeling those who allege bullying as bullies. Huh? With this argument also comes a different kind of political correctness wherein the very use of the word "bully" is pointed to as proof that whoever used the word ought not be taken seriously.
I think the truth of the matter is somewhere between these two extremes. In the same way that I believe there is such a thing as a hate crime, I think there is such a thing as a bully. But in the same way that the concept of "hate crime" can be misapplied and abused, so can the charge of bullying. A hate crime is a crime that is motivated purely out of animosity for a specific group. So if someone targets a black person because he or she is black, that is a crime motivated by hate. It does not follow that every time a black person is targeted it is necessarily a hate crime. Similarly, there are marks of bullying that, in isolation, may not mean bullying is happening. Bullies may call people names; it doesn't mean that everyone who gets called a name is being bullied. But the fact that some allege bullying where it has not occurred does not mean therefore that every charge of bullying is spurious.
I have met a few bullies in my day, both in my youth and in my adulthood. I have personally been the target of bullies, and I have seen people I love be bullied. I have researched the topic rather thoroughly and think I know a bully when I see one, especially if it is one I have known and watched for a very long time. Here, for those interested, is a list of behaviors that in my opinion are highly indicative of bullying behavior. The more these behaviors are repeated by the same person in a continuing, systematic way, the more likely it is that you have a bully on your hands.
Bullies . . .
. . . engage in serial name-calling. Sometimes the names may not be obvious insults but may masquerade as lighthearted nicknames or teasing. But the ongoing refusal to use a person's proper name and to replace it with a carefully selected nickname is a means of dehumanizing and objectifying the person whose name is not being used and of elevating the nickname user.
. . . intentionally keep people off balance. They run hot and cold. Think of how an abusive husband treats a battered wife. Some days he makes her feel like dirt. Other days he showers her with affection and gifts. This is done to make her feel insecure and to maintain the abuser's position of power in determining the state of the relationship. This may happen in the workplace or in personal relationships, but the common denominator is that the relationship is always on the bully's terms and never on the other person's.
. . . run in gangs. If you're in the gang you are made to feel as though you are special, part of the bully's inner circle. To maintain that favored status, absolute loyalty is required. If you question the bully or do anything that he deems a threat to his power, you become the object of a whispering campaign whereby you are marked and marginalized and eventually thrust out of the inner circle. You are then one who must be avoided, and those who are still on the "inside" will be threatened and intimidated into not associating with you for fear that they, too, will be punished.
. . . like witnesses. Bullying can happen in private. But bullies thrive on an audience because it significantly enlarges the scope and effect of the bullying. The target of the bully feels embarrassed and ashamed; the bully's assistants feel empowered; and onlookers or bystanders are terrorized: "That's what will happen to me if I cross this person." So bullying often happens in public or in a situation that has been previously determined and set up to achieve the maximum levels of shock and awe.
. . . are great judges of character, and they will analyze yours to see how best you will serve their purpose. Will you be more useful as a target or as a member of the gang? A bully may test the waters by name-calling or making fun of others in your presence; if you tolerate the behavior, you have proven that you may serve well as an accomplice. Object to the behavior, and you may suddenly find that you have become a target.
. . . are often people who were bullied themselves. Formerly victims, they have decided that the best defense is a powerful offense. In the same way that victims of child abuse may themselves become abusers, victims of bullies may grow up to themselves become the bullies or, at the very least, to align themselves with the bully. Better to be on his side than to become the target. This strategy is not only psychologically unhealthy and morally wrong, but it usually has a limited period of success. One who lives by the bully usually ends up dying by the bully.
You can expect future posts. I have more to say on this topic.