Bullying the Role of the Target the Role of the Bystander

I’ve just browsed through a few of the top articles on this topic, and I think if I read any more of them I will go mad.

I mean no offense to the other people who have written these articles. You are all intelligent, witty, insightful authors, and I think you all have something valuable to say about the topic of bullying. So please don’t take this the wrong way, but when it comes to defining the “role of the target” in a bullying situation… get real!

I have been the target of bullies for most of my life. Through grade school, middle school, high school, university and out into the world of work I have been beaten, abused, harassed, intimidated, humiliated, immasculated, discrimintated against, persecuted, marginalized, excluded, degraded, de-humanized, stereotyped, insulted, infantilized, and subjected to pretty much every other form of physical and emotional torture short of water-boarding that you can imagine.

I know what it means to be the target of a single bully, a gang of bullies, an entire school of bullies. I know what it means to be the target of a bullying boss, co-worker, or even a faceless institution. I know that a bully (and a target) can come from any age, gender, financial situation or family background. I know that standing up to a bully doesn’t always work, isn’t always possible, and sometimes can be very dangerous.

I take great offense to the notion that the target of a bully must fight back. To do so validates the bully’s actions as acceptable, and thus implicitly condones his or her violence or abuse. A target must report the abuse, of course, but if the powers that be (a school principal, a senior manager or even the police) simply hand out a pre-defined discipline (like a suspension) they are, in effect, simply bullying the bully, and again demonstrating to him or her the power of a stronger force over a weaker being. If nothing else, (and again, I’m speaking from experience here) bullying the bully does little more than inflame his or her rage towards the target, and gives them yet another excuse to continue their campaign of terror.

In a bullying-victim relationship, the role of the target must be simply to survive. They are already being harmed, from the moment the relationship forms, and they cannot break out of that relationship on their own. If they could, they would never have become a victim in the first place.

Bullies cannot be dealt with by “fixing” the victims, trying to teach them to “stand up for themselves” and fight back. Nor can bullies be dealt with through suspension, incarceration or any other punishment. No matter how well intended, it simply “bullies the bully” and renews the circle of violence once again.

Bullying can only be dealt with by us, the bystanders. Here’s how I think we should do it:

We must stop bullying the moment we see it. We must stop bullying by instantly removing the bully from the situation (not the target), and treating their behaviour not with attentive discipline but rather with conscious isolation.

Do not talk to a bully. Do not look at them. Do not allow them to participate in a conversation, activity, or acknowledge them in any way whatsoever. Eventually they will fall silent, and stop trying to draw attention to themselves. Do not talk to them, just leave them alone with their thoughts. They will have no choice but to think about what they have done. I assume this resembles the “timeout” technique used with young children, but since bullies aren’t children (they are often adults) you will have to go one step further to be effective.

Once the bully has had time to cool off, you must talk to them. Make them do most of the talking. Through questions, observation, and examples (ideally of people they admire) you must allow them to understand the value of positive relationships, and the integral role socially acceptable behaviour plays in making our world a live-able place.

Encourage them to learn about the school massacres at Virgina Tech, Columbine, Jonesboro, and the many other examples of what can happen when bullying gets so extreme it pushes the victims to insanity. Encourage them also to learn about the far less spectacular but far more numerous instances where bullies simply pushed their victims to commit suicide.

Most importantly, make sure they understand that their bullying differs little, if any, from the bullying that led to these tragedies.

I am no longer a victim of bullying. After many years of slow, gradual, painful discovery, I have at last found enough people who do not hate me to live life relatively free of bullies. I can go most of the places I need to go and do most of the things I need to do and be met with friendly, personable human beings who wish to do me no harm. Of course, there are still a few bullies that, out of necessity, I must cross paths with once in a while, and I do not enjoy those days. But with the love and support of family, community, and an ever-expanding circle of friends I have broken free. I hope that by sharing my experiences it will help, in some small way, to show the bystanders of bullying that they are the ones who have the most important role to play in ending the violence, and that it will help to hasten the day when bully is a word no one ever again needs to fear.