The bystander effect of bullying

We may not have a solution to extinguishing the act of bullying. But we – every last one of us – can diminish the experience of being bullied.

Bullies bully. Some say it’s because they have certain wirings. Some say the bullies are in pain themselves. Whatever the reason, the cause of bullying is always with the bully, not with the bullied.

The bullied person may look like they make themselves an easy target. They may be “different” than others. They may look odd. They might dress and act younger than others. Those may be the reason that the individual got bullied, but that’s hardly the reason bullying occurs.

Some say that people who are bullied should learn to stand up for themselves. Other than the problem of “victim-blaming,” it’s also ineffective. That person standing up for themselves is a solution for that person but is not a solution to drive bullying to extinction. If they themselves or teachers or bosses or parents save one victim from being a target, the bullies will just find another victim. People would keep fighting for the bullied individual until it moves off to someone that’s not within your intimate social circle. Or until the bully changes the tactics and makes it psychological so the bullied individual can’t quite call them out on it.

I’m not going to go into “How to wipe out bullying entirely” because, first of all, I don’t know, and secondly it’s being discussed by psychology professionals and the like. And because I don’t think it’s possible – I do believe that many of us human beings are born with the urge to step on others. Yes, it’s primitive, just like pecking in chickens and mounting in monkeys. But we are only a few hundred years away from being primitive. That’s a blink in a history of a species. The only reason we don’t go around hurting others more often is that we have learned to let nurture win over nature.

So what is it that we can do if we can’t wipe out bullying?

We absolutely need to stop the bystander effect. We need to spread the word that, when bullying occurs, it’s less the fault of the bullied or the bully. The blame falls squarely on those that stand by and do nothing.

Ask anyone who’s being or has been bullied. “Let’s say the bully keeps bullying you, but 10 people/students either come stand beside you or publicly voice support each time anything happens to you. Would it make it a bit easier?”

I would answer “That’s the difference between a bully and someone who’s just mean. An act becomes an excruciating experience of being bullied because it isolates you. People do not want to be associated with you either for the desire to feel superior by silently joining the bully’s rank by ignoring the bullying or for the fear of making themselves a target. If bullying does not isolate me at all, I could have brushed off the bully as just a mean kid.”

We may not have a solution to extinguishing the act of bullying. But we – every last one of us – can diminish the experience of being bullied.


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