A subject very close to my heart is that of bullying. It comes to light in the media once in a while, most tragically when someone takes their own life such as in the recent case of Sheniz Erkan in Melbourne, Victoria. After suffering harassment at school and via the Internet, Sheniz stepped in front of a train and was killed. She was laid to rest today in Melbourne at a Mosque filled to capacity and then some. This has been on my mind all day. The following post is inspired by, but does take presume to comment on, Ms Erkan’s personal circumstances.
At first, the story of another young person committing suicide as a result of intense bullying behaviour just plain broke my heart. I felt sad for the young woman who would never be; her family, who will never live another day with her in their lives; her friends, for whom I just cannot imagine the grief and disbelief that their close friend is gone forever. I read more of the story which led me to the reader comments. The Internet allows us to comment immediately on articles of note right from our mobile phones. This is a very powerful technological tool. It connects the reader to the media source, a Letter to the Editor you can send without taking the time to put pen to paper and perhaps think about your words.
I hope that Sheniz’s loved ones see the messages of support and empathy. It may bring them some comfort in a dark moment. Some of the other comments (or inconsiderate jabs) will be like a dagger to an already broken heart, presuming arrogant moral superiority and casting judgment on a young person who’d obviously been in deep psychological and emotional pain. There were several comments from individuals saying “I’ve been bullied and I just got on with it…kids these days are too soft”. Deep sigh. This notion that targets are weaklings, over sensitive and ill-prepared for the ‘realities’ of life as we know it is a cop out. Or as I like to call it – victim blaming. Others attacked the bullies, “lazy parents of feral kids who need to be pulled into line”. Who are they pointing at here? Bullies are always the offspring of low income/single parent/parents under the influence? All of the above? Lord, save me. Many screamed “name and shame the bullies! They deserve a taste of their own medicine! See how tough they are then”. Eye for an eye. A life for a life. This kind of knee-jerk reaction (whilst a little scary and medieval sounding) does demonstrate public recognition that bullying at this level is harmful and wrong. That it causes long-term harm. That something needs to be done. But revenge is punitive and the issue here is more complex.
The spectrum of replies on this page demonstrated to me the core problem with tackling this issue. The public themselves are divided on what bullying is, who is to ‘blame’ and how to stop people hurting others. Is it any wonder that we cannot agree on acceptable behaviour and reasonable consequence? Is it any wonder that there is no continuity in policy and procedure? This is evident in schools, workplaces and homes around the world.
Because that’s another facet of bullying that must be dragged into the light. The term itself suggests visions of the ‘playground’ at school, a few kids circling the lone ‘nerdy’ kid. Probably small and possibly ginger. But it’s so much bigger than that. Bullying is an inadequate term for intimidating behaviours, and the absence of any action to contravene such behaviour (suggesting complicity), which in various forms go on in workplaces, social groups and families everywhere. This encompasses a myriad of actions and behaviours from the school ground taunts to aggression and violence in the home, allegedly where one should feel safest. I do not like the term domestic violence because to me the word domestic infers that it is of less importance than a violent street assault when in fact it is a more heinous betrayal perpetrated by someone you trust.
Adjective: Of or relating to the running of a home or to family relations.
Noun: A person who is paid to help with menial tasks such as cleaning.
Synonyms: adjective. home – inland – interior – homemade – household – native
noun. servant – menial
See what I mean?
Dismiss or belittle bullying and it’s effects at this micro level and you risk losing any hope of tackling the other connected issues. Or is it the very bullies themselves, now in grown up jobs and roles, that thwart decisive and inclusive action? You wouldn’t tackle an ‘issue’ very effectively if you employed similar tactics in the course of your own life, would you?
My experience of bullying behaviour began in the workplace and swiftly moved from one person with an agenda to a complicit group who began to see a strength in their number. To speak up against this was to be a ‘trouble maker’, ‘outspoken’…put your head on the damn chopping block. Even with the most noble intentions, the strongest of people can become worn down when harassed and pressured to shut up and conform. You can question yourself, your own perception of reality. ‘I’m causing trouble by bringing this up…Everyone will judge me…It’s going to get worse…I can’t stand the pressure any more…I’m such a loser, worthless…THIS IS KILLING ME’. That leap doesn’t take very long to make. And they chip away at you, day by day. With words, threats, isolation, gossip, manipulation of others, the creation of little lies to set you up to fail. Because they need the power. My rapist/stalker/bully/boss openly said to me that he’d entered that particular field of employment as he knew he’d be promoted quickly “with a penis” (verbatim) and he’d have “so many women’s minds to fuck with”. Again, verbatim. At times he was so incredibly brazen and candid in his inappropriateness that while I assumed him to be intolerable and offensive as a human being, I didn’t take his comments with the deadly seriousness I should have. Or am I blaming myself, like they did? Hmmm. That’s the power of a bully. Their targets eventually question themselves and their actions rather than being able to lay the blame where it belongs. With the perpetrators and their complicit followers. How can a bully cause harm to an individual if the majority are with the individual? They couldn’t. Bullies count on the fear and inaction of others to enable them.
Bullying is repeated verbal, physical, social or psychological behaviour that is harmful and involves the misuse of power by an individual or group towards one or more persons.
The question that emerges then is if people – witnesses to bullying – are so easily silenced by the dominant ideology of their environment (extreme examples: KKK, Nazi Germany), can they conversely be pushed to react to stamp out bullying behaviour and support the threatened?
Research shows that like sheep, we are all influenced by own environment, if it’s cool to bully it will continue, if it is not cool to bully, then it is OUT. The peer group decides what is acceptable and what is not. Thus it is useless dealing with bullying in class if it takes place in the staffroom, the carpark or on the school bus and these areas remain unaddressed.
I do not have the comprehensive answer. I do have some really crappy experience which led me to moments of such darkness and utter pain that a part of me understands how an individual can come to the conclusion that they cannot take that pain any more. From that experience I can tell the contributors to the newspaper forum I read today that suicidal thoughts are not the selfish whims of weak people.
They are the sounds of a human soul being stretched to it’s extreme limit. A suicidal person believes with all that is left that they are unable to be helped, a burden or embarrassment to their loved ones, a broken vessel. That is not selfish. That is heartbreaking on a level almost impossible to digest. It is a travesty. And it will do no good to denounce the decisions of those in pain, waking up wishing they could be someone else or no one at all.
I am only sure of one thing. These individuals, especially teenagers still finding their feet (and their voice) in their world, need to know that it is okay to say NO. It is okay to say, help me. It is okay to admit that another person/group of people is hurting them. IT IS NOT THEIR FAULT. If we really want people to be brave enough to stand up we need to stand with them. And mean it. Don’t leave that lone voice calling for help. Bloody step up and say, I’ll stand next to you and I’ll say it with you. Now this takes a lot of guts because no matter your age. People fear standing outside, risking being ostracised and judged. But don’t you see? If more of us cross the floor to make some noise and stand up for what we must feel is right (if thousands of mourners thought so today) then it will become less scary. We can mess with the numbers and change the balance of power. If you help the person who is hurting, you also take one more voice from the ‘group’, the bully, the POWER which intimidates and strangles. Which can kill.
Dedicated to the souls of those who fought with all they had, until they could not fight any more. Rest In Peace.
- Melbourne Schoolgirl Sheniz Erkan Commits Suicide Over Facebook Bullying (ibtimes.com)
- Bullying–What Parents Should Know (education.com)
- What can be done about a workplace bully? (career-advice.monster.co.uk)
- Torment too much for teen (heraldsun.com.au)
- Workplace bullying: The buck has to stop with the boss (thepunch.com.au)
- City council workers complain of bullying (nzherald.co.nz)