During one of my periods of procrastination, I came across a weekly blog post created by one of my favorite authors, Jenny Lawson. Lawson tells the story of how her daughter had participated in an anti-bullying program that schools are currently offering young children. Lawson continues to say that while her daughter learned some very valuable things, no one told her that everyone would be a bully at one point. I, being the very face of literal perfection, was shooketh. Everyone is a bully? To that, many will respond “not me, of course not, I could never be a bully.”
No tween self-help book or Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul has ever prepared ourselves to question if “we” were (are) the bully; people are convinced they are the victims. But if everyone is getting bullied, then who is doing the tormenting? At some point, everyone will leave the title of victim to take on the label of bully. What we need to understand is what bullying is, what bullies looks like, and if there is ever a good excuse to “bully.”
In the many sitcoms presented to children during their “sponge” years, bullies are portrayed as the enormous, scary guy a grade older than the protagonist, or the rich, blonde cheerleader, always in her uniform, spitting out her snarky comments. These images are presented to impressionable, young children and they absorb all these stereotypes and cookie-cutter portrayals of what a “bully” should be. The shows depict a variety of people who can be bullied, but there isn’t a vast amount of diversity in those bullying.
Dictionary defines a “bully” as a blustering, quarrelsome overbearing person who habitually badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people. It is never said that a bully is richer, or cooler, or more even less intelligent than the victim. It is easy to picture someone with some sort of superiority constantly taunting and aggravating others who can’t necessarily defend themself. However, we never think to picture people such as our favorite celebrities on social media bullying others.
The appearance of a bully is moving away from what we are used to seeing in high school sitcoms from the 90’s to the well-hidden, 2010 “twitter thug.” With arguing becoming a hobby, bully is present within anything you can think of. Given the wide access to social media and anonymity, we can easily find at least one person in every online discussion with a surprisingly negative opinion, just like how there are always “problematic faves” in every series, constantly plotting against or harming other characters. Without the ever-changing face of bullying, many shows wouldn’t have the ability to create such drama in TV shows. With reality shows such as “Bad Girls Club,” which focuses on people who purposely bully each other, it is not at all surprising that people have forgotten the importance of anti-bullying movements.
“Mean Girls” (so fetch) is a movie that showed its audience that “mean girls” are not always who they stereotypically should be. Our protagonist, Cady, a math geek and an international transfer student, ultimately morphs into the same “mean girls” that she is trying to tear down. For the millennial generation who are so aggressively passionate, those who mean well have a tendency to stoop down to the level of their opponent in trying to achieve their goals. We see this in many radical groups, political parties, and people who have a strong opinion about anything. Everyone can become a bully when it involves something they are passionate about. As feelings boil and begin to seep out, people forget to filter their words, and what was meant to defend love ends up sounding more like hate.
But this idea of aggressive caring leads us to wonder if this type of bullying is ever excused, for example, when bully is made in the name of justice or toward the bullies themselves. In so many of the anti-bullying workshops that are presented to young people from elementary school and on, the theme is always acceptance. The idea is to never make fun of someone because of their ideals and beliefs. But, what if someone (genuinely) feels like those beliefs are detrimental to society and a danger to human life?
For example, there are members of the KKK that truly believe they are doing something positive for society. Are those who put them down bullies as well? As controversial as this may seem, people are essentially attacking those KKK members for their beliefs, and in more extreme terms, “habitually badger and intimidate” members of the KKK. So, if members of the KKK are bullied the same way that other peaceful (more logical) groups are, there needs to be a way to differentiate this type of attack from the stereotypical bullying idea that we all have.
With the new wave of glamorizing pettiness, we have seen a rise in the numbers of memes and jokes as well as the popularity of the idea that it is fun to taunt and plot against people in society. This is hard to believe for anyone who really worries about bullying. So many bullying ads are being made fun of, and the dismissal of phenomena such as cyber-bullying only adds fuel to the fire.
With this new wave of humor, it can be hard to tell what is in good fun and what is not. There is such a movement of aggressive progressiveness that many people forget one fact: education and discussion with someone following an opposing view is more helpful than a continuous barrage of low blows, dismissals and antagonistic memes. Everyone will be a bully at some point, just as everyone will get bullied. The idea is to understand when you are a bully and take a step back to reflect. The oppressed are not immune to becoming oppressors. At any moment one can switch sides.
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, and as Michael Jackson would say, it’s time to start with the (wo)man in the mirror. Bullying ultimately doesn’t help anyone and regardless of whether you feel like someone deserves the bully or not, it’s good to remember that you once were in their shoes. When battling bullying, as Jenny Lawson suggested, people need to be taught they will at some points be part of the problem. Teaching kids about the types of bulling and what it means to be a unconventional bully is the first step efficiently stopping the attacks. Tell them, we are all better than this.