I don’t think you need me to tell you the horrifying statistics on bullying – the proportion of the population that has been bullied, or that has seen someone bullied – not just as a child, but as adults. Bullying is rife in our schools and workplaces.
School children are committing suicide because of the pressure of bullying, which is no longer confined to the school yard, but follows them home via the internet.
Australia has just enacted specific workplace bullying legislation to combat the rising productivity costs of workplace bullying.
In 2012, in Australia, the lone survivor of a tragic boating accident that claimed the lives of his three friends committed suicide. Why? Because he had been attacked, bullied, and received hate mail to the effect that he ought to be ashamed of himself for surviving, or somehow failing to save his friends. As if the man wasn’t already grieving the loss and suffering survivor’s guilt. As if those people somehow had the right to make such cruel statements and make his life worse than it already was. That man was survived by a wife and small children.
More than likely, those who bullied him have washed their hands of responsibility – it wasn’t me, it's not my fault, I didn't make him do it. They either can't believe, or don't want to believe, that their acts added to a man's already unbearable burden.
What kind of people commit these acts? Too often they are shielded by the anonymity of the internet.
Now, we have the era of the Goodreads trolls. I have seen them at work, attacking a friend of mine because she dared to ask a question. Insidiously, they take the high moral ground and behave as though they have somehow been wronged, while perpetrating the very behaviour of which they falsely accuse. My friend was accused of being judgmental and lecturing simply because she asked a question. The trolls proceeded to tell her she had no right to ask the question, and judged and lectured her, somehow ignorant of the irony. In fact, she of course could ask the question – she simply had no right to an answer, and did not assert one.
And this is the mild end of it. The Goodreads bullies have been known to bully to the point of making ill-wishes against those they dislike, to the extent of wishing rape and death on people. I can't fathom the kind of crime that would need to be committed against me to wish such dreadful things on someone - certainly more than a mere difference of opinion.
As if that weren’t enough, a few weeks ago I saw something that appalled me. A writer was accused of plagiarism. She responded to the accusations, including by listing some of the bullying acts that had been perpetrated against her, acts which extended to some horrific comments made about her husband and her very young daughter.
I don’t know if the accusations of plagiarism are true. I don’t know if the accusations of bullying are true. It doesn’t matter. The point of this is that I saw some people say, in apparent bald-faced honesty, that she deserved everything she got if she is a plagiarist.
That there summed up for me what is perpetuating this bullying culture that we have stumbled into. Some people think it’s OK, including in some cases as some kind of misguided justice for wrongs.
Bullying is never OK. No matter what someone has done, they do not deserve to be bullied. If they have broken the law, then it is a matter for the justice system. If the justice system fails, as it sometimes does, then you must pray for divine justice if such is your beliefs. If you’re an atheist like me, then suck it up, sunshine – you get no justice, and that’s a consequence of your world view. I accept that justice may not always be possible in a world with no gods.
Bullying is never OK. If we say otherwise, we set a double standard and perpetuate our bullying culture.
A line once crossed is easier to cross again, and for less justification.