I’ve been reading a lot about bullying. If you live in Northwest Iowa you might be tempted to think of specific, recent news stories. Don’t. I’m writing generally about the bullying stuff. When what I write is specific to a certain person or situation, I promise I’ll tell you. This is going to be at least a 3 part series: The problem, the alternative and then practical solutions.
I hate the word “bully.” Every teenager I work with is a bully. Every single child I work with is a bully. Every single kid has gossiped maliciously about another person. Every single kid did what they could to exclude another kid they didn’t like from being part of an activity or part of their group. And every single kid feels picked on by their peers and judged by other people in the world.
These are kids and teenagers who have had the anti-bullying talks and lessons. They joke about cyber bullies. They can all be mean and unbelievably cruel to each other. And every single one of them, at some point, has felt like a victim of bullying. Why can’t they realize they cause others pain just like others cause them pain?
I’m going to admit I’m still thinking through things and it’s quite possible I’m wrong. Here’s what I think: we are both the bullies and the bullied. Let’s lose this idea that certain people are bullies. We’re neither the instigators or the victims. We are both.
Our culture is made up of narcissists. We are self-aware to a fault. We are overly concerned with the impression others have of us and we try to manipulate that perception by only sharing the good parts of our life. Our use and love of social media can quickly become a tool to control how others see us. We share just the parts of us that we want used to define us. And then it backfires.
Suddenly others are uploading pictures of us– sometimes literal pictures, sometimes using words to describe us. Maybe we see this more frequently in passive-aggressive status updates. My oh my, do we love general statuses posted by others– obviously they are written about us and for us. We are quick forget the actual person and instead attack the perception of a person or maybe the stereotype of a person. We are harsher online than we’d ever dare to be face to face. This is a problem for middle schoolers, teenagers, college students and yes, adults.
I don’t think bullying is the issue. I think the problem is that we don’t remember how to respond to being bullied.
We have failed to show kids how to deal with unmerited or misplaced criticism. Instead, we have succeeded at showing them how to pile judgement on another person. We tend to take this approach: if someone is mean to you, be mean back or just avoid them. I don’t think that works.
Here’s what I want kids and teens to see: the world is big and full of diverse people. You’re not going to like everyone. Not everyone will like you. That hurts. People who are hurt will hurt other people. The people who pick on you are doing it because they’ve been picked on by other people. And if you bully them back or bully someone else, you’re just part of the cycle. It’s not like we can just have a “we hate bullies” campaign. We are the bullies. We shouldn’t hate ourselves.
It’s easy to get trapped in this idea that it’s all about me. To you, it might be all about you. It’s not. Life wasn’t intended to be just about you or just about me. If we dwell on bullying (either receiving it or doing it), we’re going to shut down and quit connecting with people. That’s when those irrational thoughts creep in about one’s lack of worth. Those thoughts can kill you. We need each other. We even need the people who don’t like us or who we don’t like.
We are better together than alone.