Monday, March 28, 2005

The bully as a friend

I've spent some time away from the blog for a couple of days. Shawn and I had company over yesterday, played a new board game, watched the movie Mystic River on DVD (enjoyed it!), read, and cooked. We also had a few long discussions on the above subject and I've been meditating on it since. To begin the discussion, I think it's useful to define it.

According to “bullying” means:

“To treat in an overbearing or intimidating manner.”

Looking up the word “intimidate” on the same site, I found this definition:

“To bully is to intimidate through blustering, domineering, or threatening behavior.”

Wikipedia offers this definition of bully:

“A bully is an individual who tends to torment others, either through verbal harassment or physical assaults, or through more subtle methods of coercion.”

This topic has been on my mind in one form or another for several months. During the past week at work, where my manager clumsily attempted to try a bullying technique and then got it deflected with reasoned, but forceful argument, it came forcefully to the front of my thoughts. This incident was reinforced when over the weekend, I encountered 2 discussions – one about a family member and one about a friend during which we discussed bullying tactics employed by another family member and another friend. Also during the weekend, I ran into a situation with a friend, whom I’ve known to try to bully his way through many situations in the past, as he attempted to do the same with me and, when it failed and I tried to reason with him, he continued on in his attack via email.

Finally, while reading the local section of the newspaper, I came across a story on a person who teaches Asian face reading. This practice alleges that one can determine distinct personality characteristics based on the make up of the face, the shape of the nose, and the size of the forehead and so on. To my mind, it’s akin to reading bumps on a person’s head, but I figure even charlatans can get lucky once in a while and the instructor had this line in the article: “Once we can stop blaming ourselves for being who we are, we can stop blaming others for being who they are.” I’m still meditating on whether this line is applicable in my thoughts on bullies, but for the moment it appears as if it may have some resonance, at least in some cases.

One of the things that strike me about our perception of bullies is that it almost always refers, stereotypically, to brutish children or adults who result to physical means to produce the results they demand. My encounters this past weekend were of a different nature in that they involved a family and friends who used more subtle means of coercion. In particular, guilt was used a great deal in all of the cases and in two of them, threats – overt or otherwise – of ending or permanently damaging the relationships were used. The first word that came to mind when confronted with this behavior was “bully”. However, having carried around the same stereotypes other people share; I actually had to look the word up in order to prove to myself that I was indeed using the correct word.

At this time, I don’t really want to go into complete details of each situation. I’m happy to do so if someone wants to email me and I probably will post about some of them later. Each situation would take up a great deal of space here to explain and be fair about. I will note that in each situation either myself or the person involved had decided to stand firm in the face of the tactics employed and walked away from the encounter, albeit they were drained, frustrated, and angry. I’ve discussed this directly with a couple of other people. One person said to me, “Friends can be such a pain in the ass, sometimes.” Heh, the same could be said for virtually any relationship, but ones in which we tolerate bullying behavior are particularly difficult.

So, I want to continue the discussion and open it up. Please, feel free to share your thoughts here or through a private email. I promise not to expose names or details that would expose individuals if that is the writer’s wish. I will pay special attention to this if I know both individuals involved. I’m not here to pass judgment, but rather to try and understand the process and our role in it.

Some of the thoughts that I’ve come up with are:

Tell me about a time when you’ve been bullied by a friend or family member. How long did it last? Has it resolved itself and, if so, how?

Have you ever been the bully? How did you come to this realization? What did you do to change it? Were relationships irreparably changed because of it? What tactics did you use?

When does advocacy become bullying? Is it something that happens all of a sudden or does it happen over time? Does the view of whether or not such behavior is “advocacy” or “bullying” really depend upon how the person on the receiving end perceives it? Are there rules for determining bullying then, or is it subjective?

What techniques to your mind constitute bullying? Guilt is a BIG one with adults. What other methods have you experienced?

Why do we put up with friends who are bullies? Do we really need bullies in our lives? How do we constructively communicate with them? Is such a thing possible? How do we separate ourselves from them and how do we deal with the almost inevitable backlash when we try to deal with them rationally? Does the victim participate in reinforcing to the friend that their bullying techniques are successful? (Note: I don’t mean to insinuate that the victim is at fault in any way, but rather that, as friends, we may choose to overlook some bullying behavior for years before we realize what is happening and decide not to deal with it. In a case from my history, I find that I tend to focus upon the good things that happen and overlook the bad things, and by not confronting my feelings about the bad things, I never let the bully know the behavior was unacceptable and therefore reinforced that the strategy was successful even though each time I was hurt, angry, and frustrated).

If you are brought up in a household where parents bully, does this mean you are more apt to accept that behavior from friends as an adult? Why are we willing to put up with bullying from one person where we wouldn’t tolerate it from another? (For instance, I put up with it from a friend whereas I would never put up with it from Shawn – my closest friend – or vice versa).

What are your thoughts? Please, use my starting points and/or expand my horizons by providing other insights. I look forward to reading the replies

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