Bullying is real. It’s also really exaggerated. Somehow collective “wisdom” has decided that any time one person is mean to another it’s bullying. That’s not bullying; that’s being a jerk. People have been jerks since Adam and Eve got a hankering for fresh fruit.
Bullying is more than simply an insult or a fistfight. It is the consistent or systematic targeted abuse of someone vulnerable by someone (or someones) stronger. A bully is the guy who always steals lunch money from the same kid or the group of girls who decide to start an online smear campaign of a classmate by spreading rumors and posting embarrassing photos.
What we call bullying is a monster of our own making. We call all every mean person a “bully.” My kids would be horrified by my casual use of the word bully; to them it’s like a curse word (three cheers for public schools). We make bogeymen and misfits out of so-called bullies. They wear the scarlet letter and are marked by the black spot. It is horrifying and shameful; they must be dealt with!
Sometime back we forgot that conflicts are to be resolved, matters settled. Instead, the bullying mantra creates a division by labeling one person as evil and the other as victim. No longer can the “victim” stand up for him or herself with voice or fists. One child can’t pop a bully to defend another. Just as bullying is the bogeyman, confrontation is the Black Death. And so there isn’t any resolution.
The best way to eliminate bullying is to stop emphasizing it. The same wisdom that decided all meanness was bullying decided that the more we point bullying the less it will happen. That’s garbage. Bullying isn’t just a bad action like selling drugs or stealing cars. It is psychological warfare and thrives on fear. The fear in the bully drives him to make others even more afraid. And the more we “see” bullies hiding behind every insult and under every conflict the more we feed the fear. We must be aware but not paranoid.
What would happen if we raised kids who won’t stand for injustice? We don’t want vigilantes and bullies who bully the bullies, but neither do we want tiptoeing tattle-tales who won’t look a bully in the eyes and tell her to knock that crap off. We need to teach our kids to stand up for those who are vulnerable. We need to give them the support they need so when they face the attacks they can be strong then come home for comfort and encouragement then go do it again the next day. Our kids don’t need to be fighters (although that’s not so bad); they need to have conviction that picking on the weak is unacceptable. Some will be strong and silent and others will hit back. Either way, it is this conviction and action that will put bullying on its heels.