Bullying and Victimhood

There’s been a big push lately for “anti-bully” measures, whatever that means. As best as I can tell, that translates to efforts by schools and other groups to ostracize and punish anyone that says anything that might hurt anyone else’s soft, fragile, tender feelings. And what that really translates to is efforts by schools to destroy anyone who does or says anything that the administrators don’t like.

In case you can’t tell, I’m not a big fan. And there’s a few reasons why.

When I was young, bullying meant something very specific. It meant that someone was using physical violence or the threat thereof to harass you. It meant getting tripped, pushed, punched, kicked, and otherwise assaulted. It meant having your things taken or destroyed.

You see, back then there was a distinct line between verbal and physical abuse. And I think the conflation of the two is in error. Reason being that verbal abuse can be dealt with in many ways, and can be very subjective. There is no standard to judge it by other than the feelings of any onlooker (because it’s not just the target of the insults that has claim to victimization here). So if you say something to someone else, and I overhear it and decide that if I squint just right, it may be offensive to someone else, then you are a bully and a victimizer, and deserve to be severely punished. And frankly that gives people way too much power of what other people can say.

Back to my youth. There was another accepted aspect of bullying that is no longer taken into account. The nature of a bully is one of cowardice and showboating. The bully intentionally picks upon targets weaker and lower in social status than himself, and does so when an audience of sycophants is present. And it was widely accepted and taught that there was one way to handle a bully: stand up to him. And my own experience, in which years of torment was ended decisively with a kick to the chest during a football game in gym class, has demonstrated this to be true. And for the pacifists out there, please note that standing up to bullies does not have to involve a violent response — I have personally observed cases in which silently standing ground is enough to deter abuse.

So why all this social commentary when I generally avoid it? Because this is about responsibility, confidence, and fighting your own battles.

We now have a generation that is being raised to avoid dealing with any hardships they face. They are being taught that the best courser for difficulty is retreat followed by an appeal to an authority for assistance. They are being taught to be professional victims, unable to deal with any difficulty at all unless aided by another, more powerful force, which will presumably make all of their important life decisions for them.

This does not equip young humans to deal with life successfully. And more relevantly to this blog, it does not bode well for anyone attempting to employ the art and science of magic.

I have encountered numerous hardships in my life and dealt with most of them on my own. That’s how we learn. True, there are other cases where I requested and received assistance, but even in those cases I tried on my own first, and still made the decisions on how to proceed on my own. And in my magical experiences I have also encountered difficulties and hardships, some of which were downright frightening. But if I had retreated when dealing with the first petulant spirit to play tricks on me, I would probably be in a mosque somewhere thanking Allah for allowing me to submit to Him.

I’m a stubborn person. I reject emphatically any mindset that encourages people to flee at the first sign of resistance and discomfort. It is simply unnatural: anyone who has watched an infant learn to walk knows that we instinctively work to overcome difficulties and attain our goals. Indoctrinating our children to do just that is unconscionable.

We must be able to deal with hardship constructively. We must be able to handle pain. We must be able to deal with harsh words and offensive concepts. Because life is hard, and we will encounter these things at some point, no matter how much we might wish otherwise. And it is best to be prepared for it when we do encounter it, especially when interacting with the subtle world of magic.

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5 responses to “Bullying and Victimhood

  1. I’d just like to emphasize the role of parents (in preventing or stopping bullying) and mentors (in magic). If we want to prevent bullying, parents and other responsible adults need to teach their children to stand up to bullies. It won’t magically happen for some kids. Same with magicians – people with a lot of fear and confidence issues who nevertheless have a desire to practice magic need strong mentors to teach them how to stand up in the face of adversity. Although infants do have some intriguing reflexes, remember they also lose many of those reflexes over time. Some people aren’t born knowing how to fight to survive and thrive, and they need compassionate support to become stronger and more effective people.

    • You’re right, and I probably should have stressed that more. In order to stand up to adversity, you have to be confident enough to plant your feet firmly, and that takes a certain degree of support.

      We all have different ways of overcoming adversity. My complaint is that we are being taught, as a culture, to avoid adversity and hardship in principle. We are being taught to retreat away from it. And that is a travesty.

  2. I feel like the anti-bully campaign is being used to try and protect the rights of kids, mostly those who identify as LGBT, without addressing the core issue of acceptance. The whole problem is kids who are different become easy targets for those insecurities within the rest of the population, and I’m not ignoring the fact that kids will be kids. I was teased and picked on my whole life for one thing or another, as I think most kids are, but if kids are taught acceptance and diversity from the start, wouldn’t the need to single out individuals be less drastic? I think this also ties in the parent issue too, because every prejudice a child will learn in their first years of development will come directly from parents and teachers.

    • I see what you’re saying, but I don’t think “acceptance” is the issue with bullying. I knew plenty of kids in school who were openly gay, or goth, or punk, or whatever that were popular and well accepted. Likewise I knew kids that were active in sports and the embodiment of normalcy who were picked on mercilessly. Bullying is dominance behavior, plain and simple. It is people attempting to bolster their own status and impress others by forcing the weak to submit to them. And showing you aren’t weak is a good way to get them to stop.

      I think that the taunts used to insult people are conflated with the act of insulting people, and that is why the diversity crowd has become so interested in bullying as an issue. Sure, there’s a lot to unpack when calling someone “gay” is so insulting and shameful that it demonstrated weakness and lower status. But the problem isn’t that the kid was called “gay” or “queer” or any other nasty term — the problem is that someone is abusing someone else to compensate for their own shortcomings. Taking the stigma away from some of the insults used may help society in general, but it won’t address the behavior that creates the problem. They’ll find new insults and new targets.

      This is another reason I distrust the anti-bully campaign, and frankly, much of the “diversity” push altogether: the focus on “incorrect” versus “correct” language at the expense of actually understanding and addressing the issues. Helping kids understand that they can solve their own problems by standing up to those pushing them down, or that they don’t have to demean others to gain status for themselves would be much more useful than punishing those who use the “offensive” words, especially when what is “offensive” can be so slight or subjective that it is simply and invitation for censorship.

      • Yea, I didn’t see it that way. I agree that kids should be taught how to stand up for themselves.

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