Could you be a bully?
If you have to ask whether or not you’re a bully, then you probably are. Then again, if you are, it’s unlikely you’ll even give it a second thought, because the only thing that matters to you is you, and your standing in your social group. It doesn’t, in my view, make you a bad person, but it does mean you might want to take a look at some of your behaviours and decide whether they’re causing someone else distress, because who really wants to be that person, in all honesty? We’ve all made mistakes, and most of us are usually looking for ways to improve, to be a decent friend, partner, neighbour, person. Am I right so far?
What is opinion, and what is bullying?
For national Anti Bullying week I’ve been posting thoughts on my Instagram account about what constitutes bullying, and what I’ve gleaned from the comments is that there are so many more types of bullying in today’s society than the stereotype of physical bullying that we all once knew. The last couple of weeks have been a bit messy in the mummy blogger arena, with a big influencer admitting to targeting others online, and the the rest of the sector having one hell of an opinion on that.
There are claims online that this signals the end of the influencer era, with bubbles burst, and reality finally hitting people who make their livings online right between the eyes. But this is nothing new. Mummy bloggers have bullied each other since the first one put fingernail to keyboard over a decade ago, and it has always been about ego. I stood on the sidelines of one such incident not long after I started my own blog. I watched as a very similar pile-on unfolded, each person taking a side, and rallying others to their point of view, until the real argument was lost in a general craving to be the one that was deemed right. A lot of it has to do with perceived friendship groups (or if you want to brand them, cliques), and the need to be valued by those who ‘matter.’ I wrote this post exactly eight years ago, and re-reading it today, it’s both reassuring and faintly depressing that nothing has changed.
My point is, arguing amongst online influencers is never going away, and this current episode – whilst having the tremendous potential to provoke real change due to its evolution into a bigger discussion around racism – is just another punctuation mark in the essay of social media one-upmanship. Big bloggers come and go – I know, because I wouldn’t be able to track down the people involved in this 2013 mummy blogger fracas if you offered me good money. Today you won’t remember the award winners of 2012; tomorrow you’ll find it easy to forget the headline instagrammers of 2019. Because there will always be someone new to take their place when they move on. And believe me, the bubble isn’t going to burst any time soon.
I find myself compelled to address the above question though, because where I firmly believe that social media is a valuable force for change, and has unprecedented potential to do good, I also know that some people are still using it for their own advancement, at a cost to others.
How to tell if you’re a bully
This week, an incredibly valid discussion has been taking place as a result of the current fallout. Most people who have talked about it have chosen to firmly take a side. As always when sides are taken, there has been passion, anger and judgement. I’ve chosen not to get involved – not because I don’t have a view, but because I don’t feel that my voice would add anything right now, in the midst of a social media circus that is currently out of control. In fact, it might even create even more unnecessary vitriol and upset, given the tendency of personalities involved to misunderstand, and to twist printed words to suit their own aims.
I fully disagree with the contention that “silence speaks volumes.” I said so; and that’s all I’ve said about the matter. No one knows what I’m doing as a result of the current discussions, nor what I’m likely to say in the future about what I’ve learned from all the people I’m now following. Yet those words were thrown back in my face, along with the implication that I’m racist. Worse, my words about something else entirely were misquoted and woven into tweets for others to see.. Tweets that – read in isolation – appeared to support that contention. That’s bullying. In my opinion, the worst kind of bullying is no longer overt; it’s insidious to the point that some people may not even realise they’re doing it. So in the interests of improving things in this world, I think we should all ask these questions of ourselves:
- Have you ever said something negative about another person in a public arena, because they don’t make the same choices as you? That’s bullying.
- Have you ever listened to what someone has to say about their own life, then argued with them that they must be wrong, because it’s not your perception of things? Bullying.
- Have you ever tried to get another person into trouble with a perceived authority because of something they’ve done, rather than discussing it with the person directly. Also bullying.
- Have you ever dismissed another person’s fears or problems as ‘irrelevant,’ because to you they don’t seem that big a deal? That’s bullying too.
Making judgements of any sort on another person, and passing those on to others, for the purposes of being right; trying to make another person feel bad for their choices; or being aggressive towards someone in an attempt to make them do what you want – all of these are the behaviour of a bully. Let’s be clear – if you’ve answered yes to any of these, I don’t judge you. Because I’ve done some of them too. It’s so easily done. It takes being on the receiving end of it to fully appreciate how hurtful it is, and only then can you really appreciate that everyone in this world (for the most part) is trying to do their best, even if it’s misguided. I just hope that you’ll dwell on these honestly for a moment, and ask yourself if you could be doing better. Because the consequences of not doing so are potentially devastating.
I’m not the only one coming to this conclusion. According to this psychologist, bullies like to target insecure people, enjoying the fact that they can make someone else feel uncomfortable. They often twist facts into rhetoric that suits their own agenda, altering meanings with the omission, or switching of a word or two here and there when they ‘quote’ them. The advent of social media has made this form of social bullying the second most common type amongst teenagers, after name-calling. But the lies, rumours and egging on of others to join in that characterises this kind of browbeating doesn’t stop in high school. It plays out amongst grown women too; I actually wonder if the people who perpetrate it were the biggest bullies at school as well. I hope those individuals can learn from our mistakes before they too join the ranks of the big online influencers.
I’m lucky. I’m not phased by people trying to create drama, because I’ve seen enough of it in my life and career to have learned how to uphold the truth without losing my cool. That’s not easy for a lot of people though, and I’d like to see more people call out irresponsible behaviour when they see someone struggling at the hands of a bully. Because one thing is for sure – when all this settles down (which it will) there will be plenty more bullies waiting in line to start all over again.