Friday, March 25, 2011

Remember the Days of the Old Schoolyard? We Used to Laugh a Lot! Right?

Boy do we have a lot to say on this one! Be warned, it's lengthy and you may want a beverage. Don't worry, we won't bully* you in to reading the whole thing!

Ell-Leigh Says:

Having gone to an all girls’ school from grade two I’m happy to say that the closest I got to physical bullying was when one of my friends slapped the other during a heated argument in the tuckshop in grade 10. I wasn’t there at the time, but news of it spread through the school like head-lice (exponentially fast without anyone having any idea of its origins – time to whip out the trusty ol’ lice comb). As it goes however, I learnt more than my fair share about manipulation and psychological bullying, and after years of being told “so and so doesn’t sound like a good influence”, can sniff out a bitch with bad intentions from three blocks away.

As the media has made us quite aware, bullying can harm a person not only physically but can emotionally scar much deeper, and for much longer than the bully might have intended.

I’ve watched enough family based sitcoms and Glee to know that standing up to a bully without an adult behind you usually ends with a black eye or being covered in sticky partially frozen liquid.

I’ve watched enough Criminal Minds to figure out that the sidelined freaks that are picked on as fourteen year olds become psychopathic football team murderers at 17.

I’ve watched enough Youtube footage (mostly from television) of phone-recorded fights between school kids and seen enough outrage from adults who are convinced that there wasn’t this much violence before the camera-phone came along to know that awareness is critically low but increasing.

I’ve heard enough from my Mum about cyber-bullying to know my little sister can give up the hopes of getting a Facebook profile before she turns twenty-one.

I’ve watched enough of the news to know that we don’t seem to be getting any better at solving the issue, and I’ve had enough work experience to know that bullying isn’t exclusive to the schoolyard.

I’ve also watched enough interviews to know that many of the world’s greatest performers, brightest minds and interesting personalities were bullied in their high school years.

It must be hard when justice seems to only exist in comic books and tv shows. Turning the other cheek isn’t something that comes naturally, and it can’t be surprising when victims of bullying lash out against their offenders after months or possibly years of verbal abuse and physical assault. It’s hard enough being a teenager, being different to those around you, trying to establish some sort of identity without daily harassment, but with it it’s near impossible to keep your head. It might feel like the safe world around you is crumbling down, you aren’t safe at school, you aren’t safe at home and in between is just short moments between two nightmares.

This, however, doesn’t justify being violent to your bully. It might taste like sweet revenge or just desserts at the time, but lashing out is never going to be something you can be proud of. It might teach the bully a lesson to a certain extent, sure, but then you’re left to face the consequences.

If you are a victim of bullying, whether it be physical or emotional, you are stronger than you realise, and you can make it through without turning to violence. It sounds cliché, but you must let an adult you trust know what you’re going through and how you feel, and chances are after you tell them it will be a load off your shoulders, and you’ll feel a lot safer. You can make it through whatever humiliation they throw at you, I promise, just prove to yourself that you can. The only person who can make the decision for you to give in is you. No one can give up for you. Stay true to yourself and watch as you grow up to thrive and eventually, one day, those bullies will be so far in the back of your mind cause there is just too much brilliant stuff going on in your life to leave room for them.

High School finishes, your life changes and you can make more decisions about how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Time and love can heal all wounds, and when you put effort into acknowledging your talents and amazing-ness you will mend even quicker. It sucks when people say that High School isn’t forever, but it really isn’t, and now that I’m almost 5 years out I barely think of my time there at all. I have a bit of latent baggage from the era, but who doesn’t? I’m working through it and probably will be for a while, but I’m leaps and bounds from where I was four years ago. Society makes out like High School is the best time of your life, and that youth and beauty are the only things worth having. Well, I put it to them that they’re full of crap, cause I’m pretty sure I’m much happier, vibrant and awesome now than I was in grade 11. Most people I know agree with me (not that I’m more awesome, but that life in general is more awesome). You just have to hold on to find out.

And, if I wasn't convincing enough, here's a video of Colin Farrel arguing my point! 

Lauren Says:

Youth bullying is regularly a topical issue in Australia, and recently the discussion has become particularly heady with the release of an appalling video showing a bullying incident in a school yard. The resulting interviews, talk show segments and opinion articles that always come from such a conspicuous show of an otherwise far too prevalent but somehow easily avoided topic have the media in a frenzy, bragging exclusivity and unseen new angles. It always amazes me just how many people are slathering to get in on the action when it comes to a situation like this, how many are keen to publicly put forward their own opinion about what has happened and how it could have been avoided or could be solved. Does no one else find this an incredibly difficult issue to talk about?

Being a reasonably opinionated person, I enjoy discussing the current goings on of the world, but I’m not immune to awkwardness or criticism. Youth bullying is not only a difficult to solve problem, but an incredibly personal topic for many, and as such emotions run high whenever the subject comes up. Not liking to cause undue offence, I’ve learnt to tread carefully and listen closely in areas where I don’t have apt experience, knowledge or solutions. So I won’t be discussing youth or schoolyard bullying here today, because I know that I don’t have the expertise to make a positive contribution. What I will talk about is bullying in the realm of young adults, a topic I am far better versed in, currently being a young adult myself, and where we are finding ourselves with bullying as a part of our lives and relationships.

Bully seems to be a word dropped from the descriptions of adults. Between young adults, I find, bullying isn’t really a subject discussed. The word seems almost immature, like something we should have left back in a time when we still imagined that nothing in life would be so difficult as passing our year twelve exams. It’s an issue that is remarkably prevalent though, incredibly so, and our not naming it allows it to lie unfixed and unrecognised. We go so far to not acknowledge the problem that we almost celebrate it, our media encouraging judgement passing and ‘shaming’ on every topic and person we can get our hands on. It’s a far more ingrained problem in our society than many of us want to think, and so instead we gloss it over with sayings like ‘that’s just how girls are, they’re bitchy’ or ‘young men are always competitive’ and refuse to face the truth.

The difference, I’ve found, between bullying at school and bullying in the adult world, is the relationship the victim has with the bully. It goes without saying that all cases are different, but often in childhood the bully is seen as the enemy; things are black and white in that the bully is bad and the victim good. Things change with time, though, and by adolescence the bully is also often the friend and the role model and it’s not so easy to dislike them. By the time people you’re in your twenties, it becomes pretty uncommon to interact at length with people outside of your social circle, and we see bullying breeding within friendships.

It’s often less blatant than what exchanges between eight year olds, there’s more room for subtlety and passivity and what once needed words to be shouted can now be conveyed in a mere look. Just because we are older doesn’t mean that bullying always focuses on issues any more deep or meaningful; we judge people for the music they listen to, the movies the like, their clothes, their hair cut, their university course, their car. By picking on the most obvious things, we directly target self confidence and limit self expression. We take judgements far beyond ‘helpful stereotyping’ and into exclusion and cruelty and we do it for no good reason.

You might notice I’m saying we a lot; I certainly don’t think that I’m immune from this. As people grow older, the line gets shaky between who is a bully and who is a victim, and things are not so clear cut. When I look around the people I know, we all make these judgements but we’re all also victims of being judged. The quiet gossiping behind other’s backs and sarcastic patronising of each other end up meaning that few feel comfortable or secure all the time, a sad state of affairs when you’re talking about just hanging out with your friends. The weird thing is, though, that we’ve all grown to become used to it, to somehow accept that this is how adulthood is and to treat the issue almost as something innocuous and meaningless. The idea that ‘life is tough and people are complicated’ excuses the fact that sometimes we don’t all choose to play nice. It’s like being initiated into adulthood included being hit with a wooden paddle of realisation that we’d all just quietly bully each other to make ourselves feel better until we eventually got either old and bored of it or moved on to bigger fish to take down.

James Cook University defines bullying as such:

“Bullying constitutes unsolicited, offensive treatment through vindictive, cruel, malicious or humiliating attempts to undermine an individual or group.”

I challenge any late teen or early twenty-something to think carefully about whether they indulge in bullying behaviour, whether it seems severe or harmless. If we want childhood bullying to stop, we might need to think about the role models we’re providing them with and get our act together.

*Oh the puns! Please don't judge us, for that would be bullying and bullying is bad, surely you've got that if you read all the way down to here!

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