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Bullying is intentional. It's not accidental.
May 6, 2012
CALGARY, AB, May. 6, 2012/ Troy Media/ – We all know, unfortunately, how it feels to be bullied – the embarrassment, the shame, the sense of being set apart in a nasty way. We know how bullying can make us question who we are and our worth. We also know the anger that wells up inside us because something wrong has been done to us.
Human beings are social creatures. We need to connect with other people and to be part of a group. Bullying is bad because it attacks our social identity (our sense of who we are and how others see us) and our social relationships (where we belong in this world). That’s a social attack.
Bullying attacks who we are
If we were to meet, we’d introduce ourselves. We’d tell each other our names, where we’re from, what we do for a living, and maybe a bit about our families. I’d tell you I’m from Calgary, that I’m a lawyer and conflict coach, and that I’m a proud grandmother of two. By telling you these things, I’ve described part of my social identity. It’s very difficult to describe who we are without describing parts of our social identity.
A large part of the bullying that goes on in school and on campus attacks the targets’ sense of who they are and where they belong. It also affects how other students think of the target. These attacks on the targets’ social identity are devastating, not in the least because they’ve done nothing to justify the attacks. Some targets have their social identity ripped to shreds to the point where they believe their only option is to escape by suicide. That tragedy is called bullycide.
Since you’re reading this article, you were never pushed that far, but I have a hunch that you still recall being bullied and feeling really embarrassed, ashamed and isolated. It’s not the embarrassment you feel when you commit a social faux pas. It’s that red-hot embarrassment and shame that courses through your veins from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. And it’s that sense of being forcibly isolated that is a hallmark of being bullied.
You remember the bullying because it was serious, even though you may tell yourself it wasn’t that bad. It was serious because that bullying attacked your social identity and your social relationships – where you fit in, where you belong. It was serious because it affected how others saw you, your reputation. That’s why libel and slander are so serious: they attack a person’s reputation and how others see them; they’re also social attacks.
We need to connect with other people to survive. Infants who are not nurtured, cuddled, talked to or smiled at can fail to grow and develop at normal rates. It’s called nonorganic failure to thrive, to set it apart from those cases where there’s a physical cause for the delay.
Many tribes punish serious crimes and social offences by kicking the offender out of the tribe. That social isolation can be a death sentence, because tribe members depend upon each other for survival. While being socially isolated rarely leads to death these days, it can lead to depression that interferes with daily life.
Being socially connected, having relationships with other people, and belonging to one or more groups are vitally important. That’s why I’ve included social attacks as one of the goals of bullying.
Bullying a lethal form of persuasion
Bullying is the intentionally aggressive behaviour that’s objectively excessive or unnecessary, or both, used to manipulate, control or socially attack another person.
Bullying is intentional. It’s not accidental. It’s aggressive behaviour because it’s words and/or actions that result in damage. The bully chooses the words and actions knowing they will hurt in order to get their target to do or not do something (i.e., to control or manipulate them) or to socially attack them. The bully may not fully appreciate the depth of the damage her words and actions will cause, yet she will know their words and actions will hurt.
Bullying is bad because it strikes at the heart of who we are and where we stand with others. We need to stop bullying and find better ways to persuade others in peaceful and productive ways.
Anne McTavish is a lawyer and conflict coach. She can be reached at www.FistFreeLanguage.com
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