The Adult Bully

In writing this blog, there have been several times I’ve wanted to write on an issue only to revisit my post on the subject and realize I’d already made the same point. It’s frustrating but there’s not much more I could wring from many of these points.

Bullying isn’t like that.

The topic has been on my mind, I suspect, because of recent events noted here and here. It’s an important subject, one I could/should/will write a book on. I also suspect it’s one that’s been on my mind due to the world I move in. I operate online among people who have experienced severe harassment and it never fails to jar me.

Of late it’s become very unnerving because it’s starting to feel familiar. People drowning out other voices by harassing them, calling them names, attacking them with “pranks” and making their lives hell? It took me far too long to realize I recognize the things my friends face online. They’re the exact same things I faced at age 13. I mean exactly. Saying that I see the behavior of 12 year olds in grown men seems silly but I can’t argue against it. The question is why.

It’s tempting to turn this into a cultural commentary about how video games and movies are keeping us juvenile but I’ve never gone to that well and I never will. Popular culture today is far smarter than credited while earlier pop culture was infinitely dumber. That there is perhaps an overt devotion to the sillier things in the media is a fine discussion but it’s a diversion.

I am a bit more interested in the identity based communities that form online. Certainly I’m not immune. I have my friends in film twitter and in warrior twitter. Autism twitter rules. And there is the other side. Gaming twitter is fine, to be clear. It’s the organizations that decide any human being has any less rights than any other that scare me. These organizations are where your modern bullies congregate and form. But is that alone the answer to why they’re so prominent as adults today?

No, I think the answer for why the same behavior I saw as a child continues on in the adult era has a far more insidious source.

The idea of victim blaming should, on the surface, horrify us. To tell someone who has suffered a grievance that this was their doing and they should have avoided it is disturbing and implausible. It is also, as life proves repeatedly, common. The despicable language thrust at victims of the most vile crimes will not be repeated here but it must also be acknowledged for it often accompanies the adult bully’s taunts. They will never blame the perpetrator if they are in any way like them.

These people are the same ones who cannot possibly be told they are wrong. What they think is right is the truth and everybody else is wrong and bad. Those who oppose them are infringing upon their free speech rights. To point out a statement they make is offensive is to be “unable to take a joke” or “too sensitive.” I could use the profanity they use but I’ll pass as I want this to be read by younger eyes.

They are special. They are amazing. To call out their failures is to be jealous of how great they are. Because to the adult bully, as with the child bully, jealousy underlies every opposition people have. They just wish they were them. No wonder the adult bully uses sexual taunts, assuming that his victim needs to “get laid.” The adult bully is ego incarnate.

So why are they like this? Simple? Because they have been taught to be this way by the previous generation.

It isn’t an accident that my generation was born in the midst of the so called “me decade.” The 1980s were steeped in egotism and rather inevitably that seeped into our schools. Self-esteem education was huge in the early 90s. Our media was saturated with messages of believing in yourself and self empowerment. Nothing particularly wrong with those ideas but they were accompanied by another set of messages in tandem sadly.

I’ve started to hear the phrases used by counselors in teachers coming out of the mouths of bullies. Those three awful words “Just ignore it” keep coming up. This was what we were taught. The problem with bullies didn’t stem from them being cruel to us. It stemmed from us reacting. If we would just take control of the situation it would stop.

Today, we’re hearing the same things. If we would just stop confronting the offensive behavior we face, they wouldn’t do it. It’s our fault we call people out for being cruel and vicious. We need to relax, take a joke, and in some cases “man up.” We are at fault.

I stress: this is as untrue now as it was then. Yes, a thick skin is helpful but when you are constantly bombarded on a level like bullies unleash, toughening up is all but useless. Being afraid to go online is in the modern day no different than being afraid to go to recess. This is what we are facing in the modern era. Nothing having changed since sixth grade.

And why would it? The kids who bullied me faced occasional punishment but not much. No, by and large they got away with what they did. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t blame them. They were kids and by the law of averages I’m sure I was friends with one or two in HS, maybe now. I certainly have no rage or bitterness towards them. I’d even offer to buy a pint if the circumstances were right. If those kids have become the bullies they are today, then they’re adults and they must be held for that. But, I stress, their behavior makes sense. They weren’t told no.

Indeed, the people who must be called out were the ones who allowed it. The parents, teachers and counselors who refused to take responsibility. They didn’t want to or didn’t believe it was their place to act. They thought the situation would resolve itself. By explicitly telling children that bullying would just “go away,” it became open season.

But what of the victims who turned bullies themselves? I’m not changing what I said. The lesson was still taught. They learned that this is how the system works. And so it was they fell into those roles themselves when the opportunity allowed.

Undeniably things have changed in schools since I was there. Anti-bullying seems to be given a greater focus and I have hope. I’m not certain how much I have. I’ve definitely heard a healthy amount from within the community. But I do want to believe we’re at least aware.

As for my generation, I’m not sure how much hope I have on this issue. Who is there to be cited as authority? Perhaps the only hope lies in places like this blog. I’ve been shouted down my whole life. I’m fine with shouting back. And when the time comes, I know the values I will teach my children. I will teach them love and compassion. None will be below them, not even those they disagree with the most virulently. We’re all human. We can’t forget that.

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