WHY IS BULLYING SO DIFFICULT TO ADDRESS?
- All bullying is supported by normal, every-day social dynamics that include:
It is not the behaviors that are the problem, but how they are used.
There is no oversight by bystanders, no social responsibility for their use and abuse.
- 'MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS' Bystanders often refuse to interfere with aggressive social behaviors because they believe it is none of their business--even when it is clear someone is being abused. What 'right' do any of us have to intercede? (and what if the bully turns on us?)
- Public HUMILIATION and SHAME. What better way to get someone to 'fall into line' than to shame them--publicly or privately? It is important to realize that humiliation and shame are legitimate, even important social forces. They allow a community to effectively enforce acceptable behaviors, but if abused, degrade and isolate victims.
- The SOCIALIZATION of CHILDREN often relies on gentle 're-integrative' shaming. Parents and guardians laugh at a child's mistakes--or parody them--in ways that are inclusive. Laughter signals that a parent or teacher is not upset by the mistake, yet at the same time lets a child know that an error has been made. From this example, children learn that laughter is the correct response to others mistakes! However, when laughter is not with the individual who has committed a trespass, it is at them. This distinction often belies an intent to humiliate, to emphasize difference, to demean.
- "DIFFUSION of RESPONSIBILITY": Too often, no-one interferes with aggressive social behaviors because it is thought that someone else can, will (and probably already has) done something. Research has shown that the more witnesses there are, the less any one of them feels the need to act. (Besides, what are they supposed to do--especially if the victim 'deserves' to be reprimanded?)
- NEW SOCIAL MEANINGS and CONNOTATIONS: Adults and authority figures have difficulty grasping the stylings of youth culture.Young people take ownership of words, symbols, and gestures, applying them in new contexts, changing their usage, their connotations, and their meanings. Because words and gestures may be circulating in unprecedented ways, it is often not clear if the intent is abusive, or if these are phrases that have been reclaimed and recycled with alternate implications.
SO? THIS HAS ALWAYS GONE ON. WHY SHOULD IT MATTER NOW?
- Belonging is only beginning to be recognized as a fundamental human need, like food and water. To be cast-out is to be isolated and bereft of nurturing, supportive social bonds. Today, with so much focus on fostering 'independence,' the need to belong looks--well, 'needy.'
- Belonging involves the ability to admit mistakes, as well as to make amends. Not only is school-yard culture unforgiving, cyberspace Never Forgets.
- Identity: More than ever, young people feel pressured to belong, to be popular, to have many friends and and establish a social identity. In pursuit of these goals, young people can be relentlessly cruel. Socialized by video-games which simply 'start over,' they have not had empathy routinely modeled to them, nor are they convinced of its social merit.
- Narcissism: In a narcissistic culture (such as our own, with it's repeated, even obnoxious chants of 'We're Number One'), being respected and admired is extremely important. In fact, the opinion of others may be the only thing that matters. Those around us orient our behavior. They prioritize our actions and inform our reactions.
- The Social Media are all pervasive, making no-place safe. Degrading, photo-shopped pictures, secrets, and cruel comments can come into your house, 24/7, or can track you down on your phone.
- Entertainment value: Humiliation and rejection are funny--or so reality tv, radio phone-scams, and E-news would have us believe
- Cyberspace has aspects of fantasy-land: an individual can do or say what she or he likes, and someone, somewhere, will endorse her. Actions in cyberspace allow an individual to feel quite powerful. There are no immediate repercussions, and few, if any, checks on postings.
- With several windows open at once, and the ability to cut and paste responses, it is easy to gossip, start rumors, share confidences or creatively edit the content of communications. The potential to embarrass and humiliate is only limited by one’s imagination. Often, the intent is to become popular or be thought cool, and humiliating someone is merely a means to that end. Knowledge is power, and spreading juicy, salacious gossip is one way to be noticed, to bid for social standing.
- Face to face interaction restrains many behaviors–we not only wouldn’t ‘say it to their face,’ but because seeing the impact our words have is often enough to curtail cruelty. Cyberspace removes the checks and balances which moderate social life.
- Face to face interaction allows bystanders--and bullies--to see the pain their behavior has caused. It allows bystanders, victims, and bullies to read the body-cues that others give off, and to adjust behaviors on the basis of them. These are all missing from interactions that take place in a void.
- On the 'plus side,' cyber-technology has the potential to connect victims. The student who is mocked and shunned can seek alternate on-line groups that support her or his interests, views, or even her/his social suffering.