There’s been quite a bit of a stink in blog circles about an alleged case of bullying. This has reminded me of an article I’ve wanted to write for months, but never took the time to put finger to keyboard over.

It’s a difficult topic. Before I continue, may I make clear, while my past life experience has informed this essay, this is not a cry for help, or a coded analysis of any ongoing situation. Neither I nor anyone I know is currently being bullied. Got that? OK, let’s continue.

A quick trawl of the web reveals many sites supporting children who are being bullied, but few anti bullying sites for adults to speak of. Well OK some unions mention bullying in the workplace, but not everyone has access to that sort of support and adult bullying is not limited to the work
place. Policies on bullying do seem to underplay the fact bullying between adults occurs; the Scout Association policy[1] is worded so as to apply to anyone, but then talks exclusively about young people, failing to take into account bullying between adults is a significant problem.

Bullying takes many forms, and is not limited to those who intentionally treat people badly or sadistically. There is a whole spectrum of bully that begins with simple aggressive or overbearing personalities and ends with those who cause serious emotional hurt and suffering. Many bullies I’m sure would be mortified if they knew how others see them, and the actual effects of their behaviour.

Different people have different ways of dealing with bullying. Some pretend they’re just dealing with a person with a strong personality, unwilling to think of themselves as someone who can be bullied. Others become too stressed to be able to see any rational way out of the situation. Whichever your personality, it is hard when you are an adult to admit to being bullied, and often what you can do about it is unclear. You are expected, I think, to have learned how to deal with that sort of thing, and trying to take action can mark you out as a do-gooder or a whiner.

When you are seriously affected it can be difficult to know where to turn. On a large event I went on the advice to staff was to talk to “someone”, without being clear as to how and where. Attitudes towards those that speak out are also a problem, people don’t want to be seen as weak, or troublemakers, and can often be confused as to whether the treatment they are receiving constitutes bullying or not.

I witnessed one bully threaten a third party with legal action if that third party tried to deal directly with the offending behaviour. If it were me I would have seriously considered plowing ahead with bringing the bully to book, with the evidence to prove my case safely handed to me on a plate by the offending party. But it does go to show that there is a fine line to be trod when reacting to evidence of bullying; malicious accusations can put sympathetic people in hot water, but equally we mustn’t give succor to any bully who has the legal action line in his arsenal. It is difficult when you are being bullied to ask for help, so we should not make it any more difficult than it is for someone who doesn’t know where to turn to reach, as the Americans would say, closure. In short you don’t want to give anyone the impression that in being careful how you respond to accusations you’re being unsympathetic, or you’re giving bullies a weapon that enables them to behave as they wish.

And what if the victim doesn’t want to be helped? What if they think they are big enough and ugly enough to tolerate aggressive behaviour? Some people would feel embarrassed if treated as the victim of bullying, even if to outsiders it is obviously the case. So if you witness an act of bullying, do you stand back and wait for the victim to ask for help, or do you step in for fear someone less able to cope will someday meet with the same treatment?

[1] Widely publicised late 2006.


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