A bully is someone who verbally or physically assaults someone who is weaker than themselves because that assault can’t be returned.
They are, without exception, bottom-feeders who derive pleasure from the one-sidedness of the exchange. But if someone is merely uncompromising with those who disagree with them, they’re not being a bully. Unkind maybe, but kindness isn’t a compulsory position to take – and those that feel someone is being unkind aren’t limited in their ability to return that unkindness. Playing the “bully” card when disagreeing with someone is a form of sympathy-garnering that does a disservice to real victims of bullying.
Bullying is a massive problem, especially in schools where young people are taking their life because they can’t cope with the daily routine of being the victim of a bully. Not to mention harassed teachers being bullied by over-wrought, violent parents. It is a real problem that requires a real response.
When research on bullying began in the 1970s (specifically in UK schools), an act had to meet four criteria to count: it had to be an act of aggression directed by one or more children against another child, the act had to be intentional, it had to be part of a repeated pattern, and, it had to occur in the context of a power imbalance.
But since then, the concept of bullying has metamorphosed into something else. It has crept horizontally to encompass new forms of bullying, such as among adults in the workplace or via social media. It has also crept vertically so that the bar has been lowered and more minor events now count as bullying. For example, the criteria of repetition is often dropped. What matters most is the subjective perception of the victim. If a person believes that they have been made to suffer in any way, by a single action, the victim can call it bullying.
As columnist Julie Burchill argues, axiomatically we’re now in the hideous age of what she calls “the Cry-Bully”. TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson is a prime cry- bully, punching a producer and then bleating to The Sunday Times about ‘losing my baby’ (The baby being Top Gear). Then there’s the repulsive Stephen Fry; forever waxing on about his own mental fragility yet mocking the late Dr Stephen Hawking’s voice at an awards ceremony.
I think the answer to this societal cancer is less likely to arrive when we decide it’s fine to misappropriate the term “bully”; particular on social media, because people who can’t win an argument through rational means throw out: “stop being a bully!” This is always done in a bid to gain sympathy and exit stage-left without looking like the ejected flotsam of a badly-lost argument.
That all being said, I have no doubt that Redland City Council in Queensland, and others like them, have their hearts in the right place with this tweet today:
Today is National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. We have taken the #PledgeNot2Sledge to take a stand against bullying and disrespectful behaviour online and offline. We ask that you join us in taking the #PledgeNot2Sledge and help us stamp out online bullying. pic.twitter.com/2VcutbHgtn
— Redland City Council (@RedlandCouncil) March 15, 2018
In the spirit of taking a stand against bullies – and standing with victims – I will retweet this as they’ve asked, in the hope they’ll reconsider the inclusion of the word “disrespectful” in this message.
Because I still want to defend my right (and yours) to fearlessly deploy the eye-roll emoji whenever the occasion demands it – but without joining the ranks of Fry and Clarkson.