Post No.: 0883
Regarding bullying and harassment, particularly in schools – some bystanders to incidents outwardly appear to side with the bullies in order to not be a target of them themselves. But these self-preservation strategies only perpetuate the bullying behaviour. We need to be brave and stand up for those who get bullied. Unless there’s a danger to oneself – be someone who stands up for others, as well as for oneself, especially when they cannot for themselves, like when they’re being slurred behind their backs. Don’t acquiesce or join in. It may be a case of ‘pluralistic ignorance’ (see Post No.: 0338) – so stand up for someone and you might find that others agree with you that a bully’s behaviour is unacceptable.
If you’re the target, you’re allowed to defend yourself but you must be careful not to act with excessive force. The best thing is to not show that you’re afraid – emotionally react as little one way or another as possible i.e. don’t sound whiney, flap, beg or cry, yet don’t be belligerent or aggressive either. They’re looking to provoke you so these reactions are what they feed on. So don’t give them this food treat by rewarding their provocations with a reaction of fear or anger.
Simply ignoring a bully may be taken as a challenge by them to escalate the provocations however. Asking children to ‘work it out amongst themselves’ can inadvertently increase the animosity too. And many have personally found more success in fighting back or giving back exactly what they’re getting – although they risk getting suspended or expelled from school if they use what the teachers would regard as disproportionate force. This could affect their future prospects even if they previously had good academic reputations. Upstanding reputations, like trust and other social goods, are hard to build yet easy to destroy so understand that bullies aren’t worth ruining your life over, even for a personal sense of justice (or instant gratification) – you’ll win in the end by having better qualifications and a better career.
It requires sangfroid self-control and an ability to assess what’s best for individual situations – just enough to stand your ground, calmly move away or retake what’s yours, and not too much that you end up being the aggressor yourself. Ignore their verbal abuse but not by looking like you’re actively trying to avoid them or by hanging your head as if trying to deliberately avoid eye contact. Stand strong, do your own thing and show that you’re not perturbed by their presence whatsoever. One doesn’t have to show force but don’t show any agitation.
If the bullying or harassment becomes physical, your case for self-defence will be legally stronger if you can show that you felt gravely threatened and terrified for your and/or another person’s life, and that your violent response was of the spur-of-the-moment rather than pre-meditated.
Boys are often encouraged to play boisterously, mainly by dads, because they shouldn’t be timid, in order to defend themselves from bullies. But these children can end up thinking that smacking others with sticks or throwing objects at them is everyone’s kind of play, or is the first line of retaliation even after mere verbal aspersions. That’s not self-defence but initiating the attacks!
Parents of children who’ve been bullied often take their children to martial arts classes. But don’t think that learning, at least traditional Oriental, martial arts is primarily about knowing how to physically strike others – it’s primarily about knowing how to avoid reaching that stage in the first place. It’s about self-control and self-discipline. In traditional Chinese kung fu schools, students must exercise wude or ‘martial morality’ too – the study of martial arts isn’t just about learning self-defence but also mental training and ethics. Hence many traditional Oriental martial arts aren’t focused single-mindedly on the physical fighting, which makes any comparisons between martial arts only along that single dimension naïve.
Some martial arts sports are only sports too i.e. confined to strict rules – rules that wouldn’t exist in a real street fight, like regarding where you’re permitted to strike.
Weapons – whether blunt, sharp, projectile or other – would change the parameters too so never get cocky about your ability to beat anyone in a real-world fight. This highlights the real-world value of exercising your self-control to avoid or calmly handle situations that could escalate into violence. (This applies to international diplomacy too, and every level of relationship inbetween.)
Real martial arts masters aren’t supercilious and don’t demonstrate their skills for the sake of ‘acting hard’ against people who didn’t expect a fight. And even if you do manage to hurt or humiliate someone on the day – they, or someone from their side, may seek their revenge on you, or someone you love, some day.
With social intelligence and street smartness, you won’t have to break a fuzzy sweat! You can dominate some soft bullies so that they know their place, even without needing to touch them. Hinting that you’re a psychopath by cold-bloodedly whispering in their ears, “Would you like to die today?” has worked before. For strangers you’ll never likely see again, you could just rapidly gesture that you’re about to launch an attack on them; but don’t. Watch them instantly run or petrify then quietly leave you alone. Once they’ve gotten the message, nonchalantly return to what you were doing as if nothing happened. Understanding that they’re weak and insecure, you don’t need to fear them and you can get them to fear you.
Some people can be okay when it’s just you and them alone, but then they start to posture when they have an audience of peers they want to impress. In these cases you can simply point out this embarrassing pattern to them. You get cowards who won’t confront you alone, but when they’re standing protected behind someone else or find safety in numbers, they’re suddenly all ‘big and brave’(!)
Every bully is different hence requires different approaches. With some you can deliver a great comeback and they’ll leave you alone from then on. With some others you can just let them see that you’ll be no pushover through a demonstration of physical strength and then a silently dominant smile deliberately in their direction. Bullies are weak and insecure and so only want to pick on those they perceive as easy targets (hence many school bullies are from the years above). Some look like they’ll wet their pants if you walk calmly through inbetween their group whilst staring them in the eyes, as if you’re telling them they’re insignificant nobodies to you. They start to feel that you know something that they don’t, and they won’t test you to find out what that might be because they’re ultimately craven.
Much of it isn’t in any words you say (most of the time it’s best to not waste any breath on them) but in your composed and confident body language, which can admittedly be difficult to fake so of course it’s far easier if you genuinely don’t feel threatened by them. And admittedly this is easier for men to do than for women who are alone.
It’s likewise the privileged short-sightedness of members of a majority group to tell individuals from a severely outnumbered minority group to aggressively fight bullies who come from that majority group. It’s easy to tell a small, frightened and shocked woman to push away a large (rich and powerful) man who’s trying to rape or harass her. It comes from a privileged position to tell youngsters who face racism or other threats on the streets, and who don’t trust the police to protect them, to not carry knives to protect themselves.
And people who don’t experience discrimination for, say, their ethnicity often don’t realise that it doesn’t just happen when they personally witness it happening – it, along with the covert prejudice, usually happens everywhere. A teacher mightn’t give her/his best for a particular student or an employer mightn’t give an opportunity to a particular candidate because they don’t want ‘someone of another skin colour’ doing better than ‘one of their own’.
And too frequently, a majority group member will dismiss that the behaviour of a fellow majority group member is prejudiced – as in ‘oh come on, I doubt she/he was discriminating you when she/he was slow to serve you but not others’. Minority group members will have experienced such treatment routinely to know what’s happening. Based on this naivety, most majority group members haven’t experienced a single day in a discriminated member’s shoes.
Sexual harassment is about unwanted conduct of a sexual nature that violates a person’s dignity. This violation could be intended by the perpetrator and/or be how the victim simply felt. This means that it’s about how the victim felt that matters most. So watch your ‘banter’. Being pressured into sex despite saying, “No” is rape. A woman can be promiscuous and be raped – wanting sex sometimes doesn’t mean at anytime.
Men may send unsolicited genital pictures to women because it’s a power game in a ‘made you notice me’ kind of way, especially if the targets are celebrities. Some are just playing a numbers game by sending dozens of women pictures in the hope that at least one of them bites their maggot and is only interested in sex. Each woman is just a number to them. (The ‘numbers game’ is true about unsolicited adverts and spam generally.) Most women will feel violated, that it’s creepy or just won’t feel impressed. Some will collect them to use as blackmail against those who can be identified in their pictures!
It’s hard to be sceptical when a person claims they’ve experienced sexual harassment. We however still need to seek evidence because innocent people do sometimes get wrongly accused due to some agenda by the accuser. People should be deemed innocent until proven guilty. Yet already calling a person a ‘victim’ will influence a jury.
Returning to general bullying – don’t be a bully yourself. Lift yourself up instead of trying to put others down to feel better about yourself. Be empathic towards others who appear ‘abnormal’, be they physically disabled, mentally anxious, poor, in an outnumbered minority group or whatever. Even if you’re just gossiping about someone behind their backs, you will, in the end, look cruel or naïve if you try to mock or harshly judge someone for the way they seem to be. For instance if someone appears to be a loner, you won’t look good by further ostracising them! (They may have developed a mistrust of others when young and so prefer to be alone, and you’d only be compounding that. Such formative experiences can hinder their life and opportunities.)
In schools, some advocate ‘social and emotional learning’ programs to tackle bullying. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But if there are ideal solutions, they must involve the teachers, parents and other responsible adults because every stakeholder has a responsibility and shouldn’t pass the buck between each other.
It’s not about emotionally crushing bullies – many bully because they’re victims of something themselves (at least their own insecurities, which could be borne from their broken family upbringings?) A pattern is that the lower achievers tend to be the most bigoted. And if we reciprocate the bullying, we cannot claim to be better than them. We cannot morally win when fighting an ‘ism’ by being an ‘ist’ ourselves.
So when a bully isn’t bullying anyone, and especially if they’re being okay for the moment – try to include them in conversations and activities and be pleasant with them. This is totally unnatural and counterintuitive but reward the times they’re okay in order to reinforce those better behaviours.
And you don’t have to feel incensed, tormented or overwhelmed – you can apply the lessons of stoicism and understand that you are the master of your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Know that bullies only speak the truth about themselves – their own insecurities.