I was going to write about the Rowling thing, but my thoughts on that aren’t gathered yet. And everyone else is writing about it so I think I’ll wait my turn.
Instead I’m going to write this half of a post…this half of a post that I told people to convince me I shouldn’t write. The other half of it is going to come out eventually, but probably not this week.
It has become very in vogue to call people “bullies”. Like the other things that are in vogue–introversion, autism spectrum diagnoses, gluten-free diets–this takes something that seriously affects a percentage of people and misapply it to a broader percentage. Now all of a sudden anyone who disagrees with you in a strong fashion is a “bully”, just as how anyone who doesn’t like playing frisbee golf is an introvert.
There are actual criteria for identifying bullies and bully behaviour. Surprisingly, “vehement disagreement” is NOT one of those. Sad news to people fighting about President Obama’s birth certificate, I’m sure.
Twice in my life I have been bullied according to the listed criteria; once as a child, once as an adult in the workplace. As a person who often disagrees with other people and has also been bullied to the point where the employer gave me a financial settlement to avoid going to court I can assure you that it is very very important to me to not use the accusation lightly.
When I told a person in an online discussion last week that that person was being a bully I did so after much prayerful consideration and input from the counsel of many.
So when exactly is an adult in an online discussion exhibiting bully behaviour as opposed to enthusiastic debate?
- Repeated use of terms that are designed to injure
- Creating an outgroup and assigning others to that outgroup
- Humiliating a person repeatedly
- Creating a power imbalance by assuming authority over the other party
Signs you are dealing with a bully in an online conversation*
1. “I haven’t read all the comments”
Everybody says this occasionally; people don’t always have time to read every comment. In online conversations, though, it is often part and parcel of Creating a Power Imbalance. The bully wants you to know that their opinion is important enough to be stated, yours doesn’t even merit a skim. If the comment that follows “I haven’t read all the comments” is inflammatory, then that’s a pretty good sign that this person has the bully mindset.
2. “Star-bellied sneetches are a pox on humanity”
Any solidly judgmental phrase that assigns people an outgroup based on their race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, political affiliation. This happens more and more in online conversations as folks lose basic civility online and sublimate their life-stresses to exercise that stress on semi-anonymous internet persons. It’s not always bullying. Not everyone who says “Democrats are idiots” is a bully. Sometimes they’re just being a jackass.
3. “Email me”
When the bully is confronted in the group environment where the conversation is taking place, they will often say that they can’t respond in the forum where the bullying took place, but they’re happy to talk to you about it one-on-one. This is because in a one-on-one scenario they don’t have the pressure of witnesses. Any recounting is a he-said, she-said dispute. If you then try to produce portions of their email to refute their assertions they’ll accuse you of violating confidentiality. The really canny bully will ask to speak to you over the phone or face to face. Thus no writing trail exists!
4. “I’ll pray for you”
I’m going to discuss religious bullying in the second half of this post, so I was reluctant at first to list this sign here. But it’s one of the biggest indicators of cyberbullying in adult fora. Even in non-religious circles an equivalent is often found. “I’ll hope for your eventual enlightentment” or “Someday you’ll figure it out…” I would venture to say, however, that the non-religious equivalents lack the punch hidden in the prayer statement. There are two ways of saying you’ll pray for someone. The first, innocuous, way is to let a person know you care for them and want to pursue a relief for them. It’s actually what most people mean when they say they’ll pray for a person. But when the bully says it they communicate two things: 1. They have a special relationship with God that you lack because you are in the outgroup 2. They will use that special relationship to see that you are censured.
You may remember this one from childhood when it was phrased as “My dad is gonna beat up your dad.”
Please don’t call someone a bully without reason. But please don’t be afraid to call a bully a bully.