Thursday 22 May 2008

Bullying - the untold story

What makes bullying so different from other coercive interactions between people is its one-sided character, and that goes for both parties.

Contrary to the old joke bullies may be sadists, but their victims are not masochists. And anyway, sadists and masochists are not the perfect match.

What's so insidious about the bully and their victim is the expectation they generate within the group.

Bullies do not present instantly. They feel their way forward, slowly but surely absorbing the characters surrounding them. An initial assessment period if you will, and when they got the picture they pounce.

That absorption takes place in tandem with those by everyone else. Those first hours of getting to know everyone, of subconsciously creating an inner imagery of who is who.

From then on the expectations take over. Once the picture has settled people will respond according to what their mind tells them, any further assessment is hardly considered.

Bullies play their game and everyone knows it. The victims play the role in line with the commonly held script.

Now comes the really bad part. Once a victim, the experience a game shared by all, the group expects that scene to be repeated over and over again. That includes authority figures such as teachers and bosses.

The perpetrators could not ply their craft were it not for their wily skill understanding cause and effect to a fine degree. They know when to begin, when to stop, and how to remain within the bounds of convenience accepted by the rest. As long as the respective roles are adhered to, the situation will continue unabated.

But let the victim take charge, let them step outside the assigned territory, and retribution sets in. When a child can't stand it anymore and hits back, hits back so hard that the bully melts away, the space is suddenly in the glare of everyone's attention. It's an empty space, except for the victim who has nowhere to go. The bully is gone, but the victim is left standing there ready to cop it.

Scale up the scenario to the adult world and the same happens. Does the boss look kindly upon retribution, an act that brings in the unfamiliar and thus unseats the harmony? Hardly. Would the courts give the green light to those standing up for themselves? I don't think so.

You are victim, don't you understand?? How dare you upset the natural balance!

And so it goes. Unctuous sermons are held about the phenomenon of bullying, reports are written, statistics compiled, but they don't mean a thing for those on the ground.