I wont go into details, but recently a writer/director of whom I was fond became the subject of some serious allegations. At first seemed isolated and, perhaps, unjustified. However, as time went on, these allegations were confirmed from multiple sources, both by victims and those who could back up their stories. In modern conversation we might say he created a toxic environment, apparently he had favorites and if you were not one of them you suffered. There is an older way of describing the situation. He is a bully.
Bullies are not just the terror of the school yard. Bullies are anyone who constantly uses fear and intimidation to prey upon vulnerable people, a kind of terrorist.
Bullies come in all shapes and sizes, in a wide variety of types. There are bullies who use physical intimidation, who use verbal abuse, who use power imbalances, who use intellect, and who use emotional blackmail.
Most bullies have been bullied themselves. Their actions come from a place of insecurity, a need to force their will on the world since they do not think they can fit into in any other way.
On the one hand, pity and understanding are appropriate. These are people who hurt others because they are hurting. They need love and understanding and, as fellow human beings, deserve the time and effort it will take to bring them a place of wholeness and restored relationships.
On the other hand, there are some things that cannot be tolerated. Bullies should be challenged. Their actions should be called out. Consequences must be faced. If they are unable to face their faults, they cannot heal.
The usual reaction for adults, however, is to ignore them. To tolerate them so long as they don’t matter much to you, let them have their way. This, however, perpetuates the cycle, reinforces their behavior; and perhaps no one instance is so damaging, but in total they are doing harm to others, even if it is not to you.
I really despise bullies, of all types.
This is, in part, because I am a recovering bully myself. Sometimes clever and cruel are too close together for me. A spike shell seems all the better to protect my soft interior. I have been working hard of the last twenty years or so to move past that. In part it is because I have been bullied myself, not just as a child but as an adult in some very serious ways. I could make a list of “Bullies I have known” that started in childhood and went practically up to the minute. On it would be the names of people I knew personally as well as celebrated public figures. Far too many.
We have a bully problem in our culture. We ignore them because we do not want to rock the boat or because it does not effect us. We dismiss them as curmudgeons, cranks, or grouches who are annoying but just one of those people. Worse, we applaud them. We encourage them. Laughing with them at their victims, calling their cruelty strength, and mistaking their hate for honesty.
One of the greatest things I have seen in my kids’ education is the focus elementary schools have had on teaching basic human decency. Things that we called “just being a kid” are now identified as cruel and hurtful. Bullying is taken more seriously. Obviously not universally, but far better than it was in my day. Honestly, its amazing that any of us made it out of our teenage years even remotely sane.
You might not be able to confront the bullies in your life. Maybe they really do have some power over you and you cannot risk the challenge. That is often the case, because bullies have a second sight when it comes to picking targets.
However, maybe there is someone in your life that is a bully to others. Maybe you have a bit of the bully in you.
If so I encourage you to challenge that bully. Don’t make the victim suffer more. Stand up for other people.
If it is you, identify the behavior that harms others and stop it. Identify where it comes from in your life and address it.
No more bullies.