I just saw an amazing video about bullying. It’s a short promotional ad for a French show about bullying at school. The video is here. Basically it shows a businessman subjected to the kind of abuse, assault, and humiliation kids live with and ends with (in French, of course) the message, “A day at work does not look like this. Why should a day at school?” It’s an important question and it became very meaningful to me in the past few days. Here’s why:
I saw a woman, a person whose opinion I normally respect, comment on an article about schoolyard bullying, and her comment shocked me. She said, basically, that it’s no big deal and that she misses the days when “boys were allowed to be boys” and this kind of thing was just “normal.” She brushed bullying off as harmless and talked about how kids have been dealing with it and not making a fuss for ages.
She was not the only one to express that opinion, and that is horrifying. It’s important to understand why, so let’s take a look at the situation.
In this woman’s commentary she really came down hard on kids who get bullied and then complain about it. It’s shocking to hear a woman do something like that because that is exactly the same mindset they hear from men who blame rape victims for having been raped. It’s a tragic error in judgment to blame a victim.
She also downplayed the severity of bullying as if it was nothing more than a bunch of harmless pranks. It’s not. The woman who made that comment probably never suffered severe bullying, and she, like many who downplay bullying, grew up in a different time. Even as little as 20 years ago kids could escape bullying by going home. In the information age, however, there is no escape. Bullying follows you via cell phones, social media, and more.
Kids can be crushed, and easily, by the intense and never-ending, slow-grinding-down of modern bullying.
There’s another aspect of it many people forget: kids are much, much crueler than adults. They are that way for a simple reason: they lack the adult capacity to weigh the consequences of their actions. This is one of the reasons many African warlord types kidnap children and beat them viciously during indoctrination into their armies of child soldiers, requiring them to murder another person as part of the process. As one such warlord famously said: Children know well how to inflict pain.
We need to stop making excuses for bullies. We must not downplay the severity of bullying. We must not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of saying, “It used to be different, kids were tougher and dealt with bullying better, so we need to go back to that and stop making a big deal out of bullying.” Remember, just because something used to be different does not mean it was better. We used to own slaves. We used to deny women the right to vote. We used to tell black people to drink from special water fountains. None of it was good just because it happened in earlier times.
The only way to mitigate the horror of bullying is to take it seriously and treat it as the critical problem that it actually is.