Could You Be Bullying Others? (Operation Bullyhorn's first blog post from Tumblr)
by Katharine Royal on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 at 12:33pm
I've been given a lot of interesting topics to blog about for the next few days/weeks and, for me, the one that has hit home most so far is whether a person can be a bully without necessarily even realizing that their behavior could be categorized that way. The answer, quite simply, is YES.
Allow me to explain. So many times, when people hear the word bullying they think of the big kid in the schoolyard or in the halls at school that shakes smaller kids down for lunch money, knocks them up against lockers, calls them names, etc. It's EASY to understand this kind of behavior as bullying. That said, there are MANY other types of bullying that go on today beyond even just name calling and physical harm to another.
For instance, have you ever been in the supermarket, school, the mall, even at church, and seen and heard people talking about what somebody was wearing, what they looked like, or something they did in a negative way? Maybe it was a remark about the person's weight. Maybe it was the way their voice sounded or their word choice, and maybe it was a wardrobe malfunction they may not have known about. Making jokes about such things, even if the person in question doesn't see to be able to hear you, is a form of bullying.
So where is the line between good natured ribbing and bullying? Well, ask yourself this question. Does the person involved think it's funny; or as the old saying goes, are they being laughed at, or laughed with? If the person doesn't know they are being talked about, they can't be laughing with you. If they do know, do they seem uncomfortable? Sometimes people will laugh out of uncomfortability, not because they are really finding the situation funny. If you're not sure, don't do it. If you don't know if the person finds it funny, err on the side of not wanting to be a bully.
Going along with this, there are two specific phrases I hear used again and again that have become so ingrained in some people's vocabulary that they don't even seem to realize they are saying them....and yet this language is VERY bullying language.
First, likely everyone has heard people describe things or people as "gay" and not meant by that that it's a person who loves somebody of the same gender. "Gay" is a word that sadly often get used to mean stupid, lame, effeminate, dorky, etc. When this word is used to mean anything other than a person who loves somebody of the same gender, it's offensive and is bullying behavior. Same with another all too common one that even I find myself slipping into every now and again; the blonde jokes. They've been around for decades, and are normally in good fun. It's easy not to even think of jokes like that in terms of bullying, but truly there are a great many people who are very offended by the thought that people consider others less intelligent because of something as trivial as hair color.
Lastly in the word department for the moment is one that's gained wide-spread attention of late due to members of the cast of Glee -- the word "retard" or "retarded."
Up until fairly recently these were words used by doctors to descraibe a medical condition affecting somebody's mental abilities. Most medical professionals stopped using these words a short time ago largely as a result of all the stigma that has grown from them.
Much like the usage of the word "gay," "retarded" and "retard" are VERY overused in society. Even in casual conversation, it gets thrown around by people to describe anything from a silly behavior to somebody perceived to be stupid. Along with it's usage are often phrases like "window licker" and "short bus"....even at times references to helmets and the pointed use of the word "special."
Most people when they say things like this, like with the word "gay" aren't really meaning that the person in question has a medical condition that affects their cognitive function. That said, as somebody who DOES have a medical classification which led to that word being one I was called frequently growing up, I know first hand how damaging it is. Most people, when they say it in a casual, "joking" context are merely meaning "that was a silly thing to do" or "that was something that didn't seem to make a lot of sense that person did." However, for so many things perceived as negative to be referred to by the use of a name originally intended to classify people with a disability is quite damaging to many people who hear the words being thrown around so casually.
So here's the simple thing you can do. Realize EVERYONE messes up. Heck, I still say things all too often that I then catch myself on and realize it could easily have hurt somebody even if it didn't mean it hurtfully. You'll never be perfect.
That said, you CAN and SHOULD do your best. You have a cheat sheet here. Even if you just start by trying your hardest simply to avoid the things mentioned here, you're off to a GREAT start. Don't beat yourself up if you mess up, just be mindful. It may help to have a group of friends to hold one another accountable on these things. They may seem minor to you, but stopping the use of words and phrases and behaviors like this will likely help save a life.