Waffle On Bullying And Related Issues

I say no to criminalising bullying.  That’s just something I extracted from the mumbo jumbo below.

Some context: I’ve been following an anti-bullying movement The Bully Project for about two years now, and I think what they’re doing is for a good cause, considering how I was a former bully victim all the way through primary school and whatnot.  Earlier today, the organisation shared an article about Florida passing a bill that would criminalise all forms of bullying in response to the recent suicide of a victim.  Admittedly, I’m not really familiar with what happened lately about this particular instance of teenage suicide, but after seeing case after case after case of similar deaths caused by incessant bullying, I’ve gotten a little…I don’t know.

Don’t get me wrong: of course the victims need help, and of course something needs to be done about bullying…to put simply.  But when we make bullying a crime, I think we may have gone a little over the line.

Come on guys: kids are kids.  Kids are still young, and they tend to do things they regret because they’re unaware of not the consequences, but why they even do such things.  This doesn’t just apply to the bullies; it also applies to the victims and the bystanders.  When people bully, it’s definitely a guilty act; but when we are not even aware of the underlying intentions behind why people bully, would that really constitute to a guilty mind?  Meanwhile, when victims are too afraid to consult help, how will that psychologically affect them?  Would it make any difference if they did consult help?  Hypothetically, it’s hard to tell, I guess…especially when there have been claims that schools tend to “ignore” bullying cases because it’s “hidden.”  That’s a debatable issue.  As for bystanders, would they fact that they didn’t do anything to help the victim because they really don’t see it’s that big an issue? Or are they just afraid?  Would that, in itself, be a guilty act?  Or a guilty mind?  Or both?  Or neither.  Bear in mind that I’m thinking aloud here.

From primary school to secondary school, I’ve noticed that kids’ social lives in the former are largely predicated on some social hierarchy (I don’t know if that’s how it works in high schools elsewhere, but I doubt it’s the case in my school anyway…so my perception may be flawed).  When the hierarchy runs the school, there’s the prevailing idea (or justification) of Us and Them: there wouldn’t be an Us if there weren’t a Them.  Due to this idea, kids tend to insecure because they’re prone to be judged for being too fat, too thin, too ugly, too weird…but that’s just a natural part of growing up.  My point is that if we criminalise bullying, then we’re essentially taking away children’s rights to be…kids.  It’s difficult to admit this, but sometimes…I really think that bullying can prepare kids for life.  Perhaps it was used ironically in a poem I had learnt as a child, but I don’t know.

Of course, I’m not encouraging that the bullying should continue.  But I don’t think that bullying is something that can be eradicated.  Kids bully because…well, who knows what goes on in kids’ heads nowadays.  But can we really criminalise bullying as a means to somehow eradicate it in schools?  Most of the time, the bullies are misunderstood too…and that’s something that people really need to understand.  Bullies say that they bully Bob because “I hate Bob,” but why?  Well, it’s just the childlike logic talking, right?  Truth is, I don’t think kids will be able to stop their bullying habits.

And the harsh reality is that bullying is everywhere.  Even when we leave school, we’re not detaching ourselves from the world of bullies: adults can get bullied by their colleagues or their bosses.  Even countries bully each other, thereby arising disputes that appear on the news.  I rest my case that due to this, criminalising bullying is to some degree redundant.  We’re only going to be trying to avoid the inevitable.

I know that we’re talking about stopping bullying, but after thinking it through for three years after the bullying stopped, I think it’s now a matter of teaching victims how to let the bullying stop at their accord.  People say it isn’t possible (“look at all the suicides.  They need help!”), but I beg to differ.  The media shows us all the negative sides of bullying by discussing teen suicides and whatnot, but is that really enough to show us that bullying will only lead to people dying?  Come on, people: it’s only because those who have survived like myself are not dead.  We’re still alive.  Cock-a-doodle-doo.

Look, it worked for me and, although I know I can’t represent every single teenager in the world because nobody can, being bullied made me stronger.  It’s not immediate — it never is.  It took me ten years to finally emerge from my shadow of self-pity.

Ultimately, criminalising bullying isn’t the answer.  It’s stripping children’s entitlement to be children and although bullying can be serious, it’s not something that can be wiped out for eternity.  Let the bullies bully; instead, we should focus on letting the victims come out of that shadow.

How I did it, and how I think many people did it, is to find something that the bullies can’t bully them about.  Sometimes, bullies are so immersed in the idea that they know their victims inside and out, but…they really don’t.  I let go of my emotions through writing and dance, which were the ‘hidden talents’ that the boy who bullied me overlooked only because he hated me for my poor grades and poor athleticism.  When he realised my potential, the bullying didn’t completely stop, but it was toned down significantly.  He stopped beating me up, and we started talking to each other a little bit.

Look, a lot of this is really based on my experience as a former bully victim.  People would expect me to say Yes, criminalise bullying because it ruined my childhood but…it didn’t.  It made my life better.  It was hard to become this, well, ‘optimistic’ (I’m not an optimist) but the long term effects it had on me were mostly positive.  Sometimes, we just have to find the little bits of what’s good…what’s left…in the bad.  It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.

This is how I think the bullying movement should go.

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One thought on “Waffle On Bullying And Related Issues

  1. Kids will be kids… but kids also need to be taught that their actions have consequences and they need to know where to draw the line. There need to be consequences. Not just so the bully learns that their behaviour is inappropriate, but also so the victim does. So many people grow up believing that the bullying they were subject to is what they deserve, that they don’t deserve to be respected etc because everything the bullies said about them was true. Someone needs to call the bully out on their behaviour so that the victim can hear it and realise that what the bully said or did says more about the bully than it does about them.
    That said, I don’t think that making bullying illegal is really the answer here, either. I think it just creates more victims. As Mr English-Teacher said in class the other day, many bullies were bullied by a parent and used bullying others as a way to cope. I think that although there should be consequences for bullying to deter the behaviour and to send a message to the victim(s), there needs to be a greater focus on why people feel the need to bully others (and it’s not “it’s fun”… I think it’s more that people don’t have the words and/or self-awareness to give any other answer) and the consequences of bullying should address that for the bully, because otherwise you’re not addressing the root of the problem and you’re making an already-vulnerable person feel more vulnerable (and that, I cannot imagine working out well in the long run).

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