Bullying: An ageless phenomenon

Bullying: An ageless phenomenon

Dear Editor,

After reading your series of articles on bullying (featured in this Saturday’s Globe & Mail and prompted by the recent death of Amanda Todd) I felt moved to comment on this phenomenon from the perspective of someone who has experienced bullying as an adult. It took some time for me to recognize and “label” what had happened to me and longer still to give voice to the experience. Why? I needed time to heal, and to understand an experience that left me feeling vulnerable and bewildered (for bullying does not always take a conventional form). Bullying is a horribly isolating and painful experience. The death of Amanda Todd and others before her attest to this fact.  

We are amidst a social catastrophe called “bullying” that seems to be growing despite education and celebrity intervention.  The death of another teen whose potential we’ll never know is heart-rending and an awful reminder of this unfolding tragedy.  But bullies exist at every age and every level of society. They are not limited just to the teenage experience.  What then, is the larger dynamic at the centre of this negative social trend? I’m sure a myriad of personal and social factors contribute to the creation of “the bully”, but it seems that we have reached a tipping point whereby overt expression of hatred and cruelty go by unchecked and unnoticed by those engaged in the behaviour.  So I wonder, do perpetrators necessarily recognize that their behaviour might be considered bullying?  (Or do they simply not care – which is itself a disturbing possibility). Beyond the obvious and overt behaviours of some bullies, might other more covert behaviours fall beneath the radar of awareness, slipping by unnoticed by one’s moral compass? Are the bullies that we encounter lifelong offenders or is there something newly wounded or broken within that gives rise to this kind of self-expression? With this in mind, who then are the role-models for the young bullies that torment “to death” the young persons who now colour the landscape of our news reports?  What social conditioning is at play here?

The behaviour of a bully is, I sense, both learned and intrinsic and so, education may only be a part of the answer to stemming the tide of this growing phenomenon.  Healing is essential, I believe, l in order to address the hatred that seems central to this behaviour, for at the heart of hatred is our own pain projected onto another. Our own terrible and pathetic self-loathing may be manifesting itself through the myriad forms that bullying takes.  With this in mind, a re-examination of our social milieu might be in order to extricate the warped sensibilities and unchecked woundedness that seem to fuel the cruelty at the heart of bullying.  We need to re-calibrate our social conditioning in order to restore some sense of reverence for both life and death and to embrace once more, the power of kindness. We need to reclaim our humanity. Underlying this need is the essential understanding of the group mind, for so much bullying is spurred on by the support of others and by the “control” and “belonging” that are central to the functioning of such a closed system. For without this support, would the bully necessarily feel empowered enough to continue?

In the end, there will always be differences between us. The key resides in how we choose to be with difference. Bullying should not be one of these choices – not ever.  Sadly in our youth, we are less equipped to understand this or to deal with the ramifications of such purposeful dehumanization. The sad result we have come to know all too well.