The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander
There is a dangerous notion of what normal is for today’s young person, defined in part by media images, Hollywood and reality television. The rest in a cocktail definition is pieced together by those with a voice and a platform. Whether that platform is prom queen or king, fashion icon or cultural diva, it matters little for the message is clear from wherever it is preached; normal is what normal does and if you don’t fit the mold you do not fit in.
The reality is that you either fit in or you are cast out. As long as you have a group to fit into, life should pace itself to the rhythmic meter that is everyone else’s. This is the important distinction. Friendship circles do not have to mimic each other, in actuality the only common factor they might have is the willingness to accept each other. What happens when there is no peer group that accepts you? What does a young person do when no one extends welcome and isolation creeps in? Suffer in silence? Dig deep for resilience and self-respect? Perhaps, but the number of suicides in this country has reached an all-time high. More and more teenagers are choosing to end their lives rather than fight for them.
The simple answer is that bullying is also on the rise, but this is an unsatisfactory conclusion. Bullies have always existed. Cruel pranks and hurtful words are nothing new. So why the percentage increase? It comes down to one thing, neither small nor easy to fix – the internet. Cyber-bullying is an emerging form of cruelty that is wreaking havoc on many a teen life and there is little to no awareness on the part of parents and teachers. Think of how fast gossip used to travel before Facebook, text and Twitter. We may live in the age of technology, but when it comes to human decency it appears we are in the dark ages. Kindness, acceptance and grace for our mistakes do not seem to exist.
Barbara Coloroso, international speaker, author and expert on the topic of bullying, says bullying is about contempt; putting one down to build the bully up. She also asserts that bullying is a learned behaviour and that home is where children first learn how set their moral compass. Those who are bullied typically remain secretive about it. They don’t want their parents to think of them as weak and are afraid of retaliation. They endure while quietly losing themselves. The bystander is the one who watches the bullying and does nothing to prevent it. They may even contribute with laughter or taunts. Bystanders are usually afraid of bullies as well and may have low self–esteem. They worry about becoming a target themselves or go along with the bully for lack of a better option. Even if a bystander would never bully on their own, by not stepping in they are picking the side of the bully and in essence enabling them.
It is too late to care after the fact. A suicide is not the time to ‘tsk’ the sad situation or wish something had been done about it. Kind words for those around us, a smile, inclusion and a willingness to see into the heart and soul of a person will make a difference. The greatest desire in all of our hearts is to be known.
We all need to have a story. What do you want to do in the future? What are your goals? What would you like to get better at and how can you make that a reality? When we have a story we have focus on the horizon and all that lies ahead, which makes the daily struggles a little easier to endure.