We often hear that a child or young person is bullied ‘because…’
“He’s bullied because he’s overweight.”
“She’s bullied because she’s deaf.”
“They’re bullied because they don’t speak English.”
No-one gets bullied because of something about their own identity. When we use the because word, we are, effectively, agreeing that someone experiences abuse for reasons that can be attributed to themselves. By this, we’re adding weight to the notion that if only a child were slender, if only she weren’t hearing impaired, or if only they could better understand English, then these young people wouldn’t be the objects of bullying. Instead, we must be adamant that people get bullied for one reason only: the bully has a problem. It’s the bully who has a skewed and unhealthy attitude to others and it’s the bully who seeks out perceived differences, sometimes in the hope that they can focus attention away from themselves.
Of course, there are circumstances in which we understand that having some compassion for a bully is right, and useful. Often, those who bully have been made to feel inadequate, or far worse. However, bullies can change and may even become very caring people, but this is unlikely to happen if we hold onto the idea that particular others are somehow ripe for being maltreated. This not only reinforces a subtle justification of bullying, it also prevents the bully from seeing that they have a limited perception of their own identity. Bullying can happen in many ways, and “I didn’t mean anything by it” is never acceptable; something is always meant when we make reference to another person’s being.
I would urge any parent or carer who believes their young person is being bullied at school to be as courageous as possible in asserting the right of that young person to have a safe and inclusive (if not life enhancing) experience of the school environment. Perhaps the starting point could be a determination to erase the ‘because’ word when it comes to the scourge of bullying.
A note on the bullying of adults by adults and its relevance to young people
We know that in most instances an adult bully is in a position of some power – often a supervisory position. They want to be seen as having influence in the workplace, and having authority over others. Their bullying commonly takes the forms of consistent and aggressive bossiness, unfair distribution of tasks and fickleness of mood. This person often believes that their own contribution in the workplace is not valued enough, so being able to manipulate others might make them appear more efficient.
Sometimes, bullying by a senior at work is just the result of an unsympathetic person having received poor management training. A person in a managerial role might have forgotten – or not know – what the work of their staff really involves on a moment-to-moment basis. Making an effort to imagine the task-related needs and feelings of those we instruct and advise is very important. That means devoting a moment to stopping and thinking before giving orders simply out of habit, or because of rigid views about how things should get done. (Surely a good manager leads others by example and mentors them well enough to trust their actions. Staff feel safe with this manager’s honesty and are comfortable about asking them for guidance.)
The way that adults conduct themselves in the adult world is often observed by children and young people. It gives the example and sets the tone for human relationships. Unfortunately, we cannot always prevent those in power from exploiting us, but, providing we don’t endanger our security it is in our best interests and in the interests of our children to challenge behaviours that abuse, reduce or undermine. This way, our children may grow up with the confidence to speak out when they see or experience unfairness or injustice.