For all the shock we express when there is a suicide at the end of bullying, we love the bullies among us. Does that come as a shock? Don’t we hate the bullies, the ones who picked on us in seventh grade, making us feel like outsiders? No. We don’t hate bullies. Secretly, maybe even not so secretly, we want to be like them, we want that power.
Realty shows have shown us the value of the bully. You probably remember Omarosa, the bully of the first season of The Apprentice. Do you remember the name of the winner of that season? Omarosa was thrown out in week nine of the 14-week show, so we saw the winner for six extra shows, but most people don’t remember Bill Rancic or where he is now. But we remember Omarosa for her mean
It runs through other reality shows, too. The winner, who has the smarts, talent, or endurance to make it to the final round is not nearly as loved or popular as the also-rans and bad boys (and girls). There is a long history of unmarried women prefering bad boys (and men) to the polite nerd. And for men, the loving virgin-turned-earth-mother gets dumped for the skinny, cunning trophy wife.
The parents of the kids might say, “They didn’t think about the consequences, they were having fun.” By not linking consequences, by winking at vandalism, the parents are giving their children permission to bully. Right after that comes approving being mean or cruel to people who are different. Only if you can win, of course. The big kid can pick on the small nerd. That’s one step away from the popular kid (think “big support”) picking on the unpopular kid (think “no support.”)
After that, it gets complicated fast. The majority in popularity gets to be cruel and take away the basic rights of the minority. That explains lynchings, hate crimes, and cyber bullying. We are missing just one final component–not getting caught.
So here is the sequence: Bigger, more support, majority tortures the weak, the “other,” the minority into submission, or, as happened this week, into suicide. With approval. Or at least without getting caught. There is already a complicated legal battle over proving if the cyberbullies could be proven to have premeditated the forcing into suicide. How do you prove that? If you can’t, the bullies go free, given legal permission to do it again.
The next step is figuring out how to punish bullying. My guess is that we will treat teenagers as adults and use jail time. It won’t work. They will come out angrier and meaner.
We need prevention of bullying by training. If we’ve past that point, we need to re-train the offenders to live in a society that doesn’t condone or approve bullying on any level. We need to teach our kids–and adults–how to handle anger, how to speak up for our beliefs, how to negotiate without feeling a need to screw our competitor, how to feel compassion for people we don’t like, how to accept the “other” in our lives, and yes, how to stand up to the bully in defense of the person being bullied, even when we aren’t involved.
Right there is the key–we need to stop being concerned only for ourselves, for our good and step into a bigger realm of caring for others. For protecting others. For speaking up in defense of the person being treated badly instead of slinking into our offices, grateful it wasn’t us this time. Speaking up is hard. We can get picked on ourselves.
But you will be surprised. The instant you speak up, you will discover you are not alone. You will find a small band of supporters. And that’s where it starts–with you and a small group of people who are willing to educate–not punish–all the bullies in your lives. Your boss, your kids, your friends who want you to trash their “frenemies.” Don’t choose sides. Don’t fuel flames. Don’t stoke hurts. Instead, ask, “Is there a way to turn this around before anyone gets hurt more?” You might be surprised by the need for revenge and bullying among your own friends. Maybe even your own.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and coach. She deals with a lot of angry people who would love to punish if they didn’t get caught. She wonders a lot about that.