Saturday, August 30, 2008

On Bullying and "Bullying"

The other day at school we had a lecture - as part of professional development and school compliance with legislation - on bullying. According to the speaker almost everything can constitute bullying, and he did not address the subject very sytemically, focussing exclusively on the role of the perpetrator, and ignoring the role of a possibly co-dependent victim, an the role of the general environment with its built in blindnesses / taboos and inability to provide support or eliminate the secret and hidden spaces where such behaviours usually manifest.

Some of the staff quietly sniggered at some of the exampls of bullying given - for example sitting too far away from a lecturer or teacher at the far end of a hall or classroom as a form of bullying. I quietly protested against much of the discourse too - in it sledgehammer to pea crudity and lack of subtlety. Many comic scenarios suggested themselvs as he spoke, and I reframed the scenarios he was presenting, and creatd my own visuals to accompany them. For example, he labelled as a form of harassment or bullying, an employer who 'isolated' an employee at work; so an employee who always sits alone, or doesn't get the same emails as everyone ele, is being bullied. All true, and all noble in intention, but picture the unkempt employee with bad BO and very few social skills who interrupts, smells, is tuned out and oblivious..or an employee whpo moans and groans and dumps his/her troubles in an unboundaried and inappropraite way on anone who happens to wonder within earshot - who is creating the isolation in these latter cases??

It could lead to cases of two "bullees" (not bullies!) outclaiming each other:

You're bullying me
No, you're bullying me
But I feel humiliated and powerless
Not as humiliated and powerless as I feel

Of course saying someone is bullying is adding an interprative layer to a set of actions you may or may not like: for example someone may be red faced and waving their hands. they may have raised their voice by several decibels and moved several steps closer to you. This is the data (or some of it as all data will always be incomplete) By calling this 'bullying' you are adding an interpretive and loaded lbel to an already volatile and murky dynamic, and so instead of clarifying and truth telling, will simply drive something underground to fester in another form.

No one can humiliate you without your consent Ms Rossevet is reported to have said, and the role of the bullee in the equation cannot be omitted from any serious look at the phenomenon.

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