“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names shall never harm me.”
Children have recited this age-old rhyme of resilience since it was first recorded in 1862, in The Christian Recorder and prior. Schoolyards and playgrounds throughout Western culture have echoed its words, as children are no strangers to bullying. Unfortunately, the final verse is inaccurate. Words spoken to hurt damage just as much as any physical actions.
While growing up, bullying is practically a rite of passage. Every child endures it. A sad fact. Bullying awareness has become prominent in our education systems throughout the world over. My son even wrote a speech on the topic for the Royal Canadian Legion Public Speaking Contest, after he was bullied in Grade One. It won first place, a demonstration of how powerful society’s yearning is to eradicate such behaviour from our schools.
Name-calling, teasing, rude sketches, sneers and laughter are all commonplace, non-contact tactics children use to torment each other. All are equally effective as “sticks and stones.”
Adults are some of the biggest bullies
It is said, violence breeds violence, but where does verbal abuse stem from? Where do kids learn such behaviour? Easy … from us! Children learn by example. Adults are some of the biggest bullies on the planet.
We (adults) protest against bullying, yet do so ourselves. Too often, I have seen, heard or read rude comments, taunts or jests aimed at another. Recently, I witnessed a family member ridiculed on Facebook. The tormentor made sure to include “lol” in the insulting comment, but their intent was clear. The perpetrator was “family,” so their acts went unchecked by the victim and others, as many claimed it was not their place to say anything.
Unlike children, who bully out of spite, fear, dominance, anger and so on, adults disguise their uncharitable acts as witticisms. They’re just playing; they mean no harm; it is all in the name of fun.
Sure it is! Comedy is notorious for creating hilarity at another’s expense. What I’d like to know is why people think it is right to do so. Just because we don’t know the person, that does not make it appropriate to laugh at them.
This mean humour, as I call it, never gets the bully called out, because it brings people enjoyment. However, the victim of such jokes isn’t laughing, and if they are, it is normally not sincere.
Verbal abuse and social media
Such verbal abuse used to primarily take place within a person’s social circle, among those the bully had a general knowledge of, be it a family member, friend, co-worker, neighbour or acquaintance.
However, social media has taken non-violent bullying to a whole new level. Today, complete strangers from a different continent can become your tormentor with only the click of a mouse. Now instead of taunting someone in person or talking about them behind their back, bullies can publicly … globally … humiliate you.
In most cases, the culprit is aware of their actions or intent. Nevertheless, some individuals may not realize their cruelty, as rude jokes have become a custom.
Therefore, ask yourself, are you a bully? Most of you will no doubt say no, but I bet at some point in your life you said, did or wrote something unkind about someone. I know I have. On occasion, it is hard not to. Monkey see monkey do, after all. If the company you keep mocks, it is human nature to follow suit to fit it.
4 tactics to help you resist abusing others
How do we refrain from such urges, then? It is all about mind over matter, having control over yourself and a genuine regard for people’s feelings. The next time you find yourself on the verge of making a rude gesture or comment to someone, put one or more of these four techniques into practice to help you resist.
Monkey see, monkey don’t!
Say you are at a party, at a family event, in the lunchroom or anywhere people gather, and the group is defaming someone. Instead of adding your own jab to the conversation, stop yourself. Don’t take part. Even if the subject is laughing with everyone else, you don’t know how he or she feels inside. By not participating, you do no harm. Instead, you could change the conversation or try to redirect the focus onto yourself.
Think before you speak
OK, so you are about to say something that may (or will) hurt someone’s feelings. We all have the capability and inclination. Again, the feat is to stop yourself. Before the words come out, think of how you might feel if someone said it to or about you. Try to remember a time you were verbally bullied, and hold onto it. The remembrance of your feelings will help assist you with not damaging another.
Names will hurt me
We have all played the name game. However, as most of us know, some names go to the quick. Being called a dumbass, idiot stick, lazy butt, sleaze ball, slut, nerd and such all have the potential to cause emotional damage. Actions may speak louder than words, but when they are negative phases, they slice deep.
Before name-calling, think of the impact such a name might have on the person and change tactics, preferably to something more positive.
Silence is golden
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Thumper’s father (though quoted by his mother) was quite the insightful bunny … and right. We have the ability to keep our opinions to ourselves. Unfortunately, most people don’t.
Therefore, if you are about to say or write something snide, unkind or derogatory, don’t! Just because we have the option to comment, whether in-person or on social media, doesn’t mean we have to. That is why it is called an option.
Do unto others
Whether it is a peer, parent, family member, friend, acquaintance, superior or complete stranger, no one has the right to tyrannize another, verbally or in any other way. For being such an advanced species, you would think we would have learned this by now. All of us are capable of inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings, but it is when we do so intentionally, we are at our lowest point.
Humans bring each other down, when we should, in fact, be building each other up. Nature is full of pecking orders, true. It is fundamental to species survival and the order of things. But bullying is not instrumental in sustaining life or structure. It is for the purpose of self-satisfaction.
If you feel enriched in some way by humiliating or browbeating others, then you have a serious problem. Remember the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
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