Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Note: This is my first attempt at addressing the topic and I can recognize areas where I need more examples and to think out my argument, especially in terms of my final argument for empowerment of people versus disempowering people, but this is to open a conversation and provide talking points.

There are also more specific power arguments to be made which in my essay I treat in fairly generalized terms and form or possibly not at all.

I am open to constructive criticism.

Bullying Defined-

  • Wikipedia: Bullying is the use of force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others. The behavior can be habitual and involve an imbalance of social or physical power.

  • Merriam Webster: a : a blustering browbeating person; especially : one habitually cruel to others who are weaker

Bullying doesn’t just happen at schools.  It doesn’t just happen to youth.  I worked briefly for a man who had come to mistake cruel words for social intimacy.  I was his assistant and as his assistant I had an office next to his.  There were several times in meetings and in the hallways that he made comments to other people who worked for him that were cruel and mean spirited.

Most of the others had come to ignore him.  They didn’t listen to his lectures or much of what he had to say.

And because I was his assistant I think I felt it worst.  Other people had positions, titles, that functioned semi-independently from his daily scrutiny.  I on the other hand was constantly intimidated by his ability to ridicule and criticize without constructive feedback which made me feel like I was in a negative feedback loop.

I noticed that I always felt good in the morning until he arrived and then I felt horrible.  One day I finally imagined what it was like.  I thought of him as the schoolyard bully and I was his favorite target.  I thought about how in cases like that when it happened I hated recess, worked to avoid the bully, just as everyone else did too.

I didn’t last long.  I had the shortest tenure and I made sure to tell Human Resources about his behavior.

Bullying through unkind words, unkind actions, are offensive and can plague a social environment.  They drain moral and positive feeling and most often mistaken for criticism, lead to higher rates of absence, lower output, and cause poor health.    There is also the potential for rebellion either through sabotage or direct action.

This isn’t to say it can instantly be stopped or that eventually it ends.  Bullying persists through unequal power systems and is perpetuated by people who feel they need to threaten or intimidate others because of justice, revenge, scarcity of resources, and/or for proper moral and ethical behavior.

But here I would like to make the distinction between persistent behavior and an incidental unkind word, action, or behavior.  There are times when each person either based on some prejudice or frustration may attempt to strike out and level the playing field, to act in some offensive or cruel way that disempowers and potentially defeats an opponent or subjects them to some form of criticism.

This is especially true for those who feel powerless and is expressed as sarcasm or comedic wit when there is little positive feeling or intention to the comment or action.

An unkind word may ruin a day or may seem part of a larger epidemic, especially as people deal with their own personal crisis such as illness or death in the family but I feel they should be recognized differently than a persistent campaign.

As cruel as the words may be I personally would not work to censor them.  I want to know how people feel about me so that I can judge and determine a legitimate threat.  I don’t want to waste my time talking to them and I certainly would minimize my time in their proximity, especially if the person or persons is dangerous.

Each human being must understand their own capacity for violence both passive and aggressive then come to terms with their capability and its ramifications.  This is especially true to recognize that capability within a person’s frame of reference to the power they have whether professionally, physically, and/or artistically.

Some may identify their power over others then attempt to use it as a bully would, or else fall into a bully’s actions through some unconscious attempt to maintain power.  The latter is especially true when the person’s superior, boss or supervisor, actively or passively works to disempower the person.

There are those who would turn to strategy such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War or Prince Machiavelli as in the Sopranos but that is largely for a person who wants to defeat an enemy, subject them to tyranny, conquer their land and resources.  This is largely how human history has worked and persists especially under concept of limited resources.

Bullying is a traumatic experience that can often leave the victims with PTSD.  While I feel that all people, especially those in various statuses of power should work to stop bullying I feel that people, especially youth should also be taught about resiliency and how to build social networks for support.

But it isn’t the subject of the bullying that needs to build a group but the people around the subject because it is too easy for the bystander to feel apathy or otherwise passively work to further ostracize the person subjected to the cruel and persistent treatment.  The bystander may react this way especially as they feel their individual safety is at risk and that they may in turn may be bullied.

So what do we do?  I don’t have all the answers but I think we, each person, needs to understand their own social privilege: sexual, gender, race, class, ethnicity, and education then instead of working to take we must give.

We should work to empower each other because then we make friends and create allies.  Two people are usually more capable than one whether in a physical situation such as labor and war or in a social situation such as business and education.

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