Smart phones and the use of social media have completely altered the meaning and experience of bullying. Home used to be a safe haven for adults experiencing bullying in the workplace or children in school, where you could rest and recharge before facing another day. Now it can follow you 24/7 – it feels like there is no boundary or escape with the internet in our pockets.
I have tried to teach my children to speak up if they witness bullying and if it happens to them, to understand that for bullying to be successful, there needs to be a perceived power imbalance by both the bully and target. The success or failure of the bullying is determined by what you think, how you feel about yourself and the meaning you give to it. Here is a post from last year about how one of my children dealt personally with bullying https://www.educatingmatters.co.uk/blog/our-family-approach-to-bullying/
I rarely use any form of social media, other than LinkedIn, so I feel a bit more protected but I know that children and adults in my community are seriously struggling with the level of antisemitism online, in schools and in the workplace.
The antibullying week theme for 2023 is “Make a Noise about Bullying”, so I asked my colleague Gwen who runs our ‘Bullying Matters’ workshops to shed some light on this topic.
As an Allyship Advocate, I could not be happier. I have always said that being an ally is a verb. This helps spread that truth.
In today’s complicated world, bullying shows up in covert ways like exclusionary behaviour, tribalism and unchecked bias. However, in recent months we have also seen a sharp increase in overt bullying like antisemitism, islamophobia and transphobia. These behaviours are not limited to the playground. They are being extended into our workplaces, pubs and even our households.
Sitting on the fence and remaining quiet is no longer an option. As the great Elie Wiesel said,
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
What I find interesting is how deskilled people feel when it comes to making a noise in the face of bullying. The desire is there, however, no one has ever explained just how this works. Here are a few ways to challenge bullying in a way that is respectful to all and instigates change.
Prevention-based education over intervention-based consequences
Do you know the difference between being unkind and bullying? The Anti-Bullying Alliance defines bullying as:
“The repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.”
Many children assume that someone being unkind equates to bullying. This is not the case. Bullying happens over time. It also makes the other person feel smaller or less powerful than the person or people bullying. We need to make sure that there is not a requirement to like everyone. However, there is a requirement that everyone feel safe and respected. When we know how to recognise bullying, we are better equipped to make a noise.
Checking in to stop bullying at the start
One of the most difficult points to remember about a bully is that they are a whole person. Whilst their comments or actions cause harm, the awareness is not always there. Checking in is a process of providing a sense check for problematic statements. It can look like asking someone to explain why a comment is funny or challenging when someone uses an “everybody knows” statement. My favourite formula for checking in is, “When you say/do ________ it implies that you believe________________. Is that what you mean?” This can be done respectfully and discreetly allowing a person an opportunity to learn, change and do better by making an effort to repair any damage done.
Bravely make a noise to the right people
Many people will speak to a partner or close friend when they witness injustice. This is a great place to start. However, making a noise to the right people is where change happens. This requires bravery. We are socialised to not tell tales from a young age. We are told that in order to be polite, we keep our opinions to ourselves. These rules do not apply here. When we witness harm being done, we have a duty to make sure that those who can intervene with authority are made aware. This is a safety issue. Whether we are in an institution of learning or one of work, there are procedures for bullying. Providing a witness statement can feel scary. However, if we wish to create a culture where bullying is stamped out, we need to be brave. I teach my children that living and acting with integrity is doing what you know is right regardless of who is watching. This concept of integrity extends to our adult lives, especially in professional environments. It’s about speaking up, not just for the sake of being heard, but to foster a culture of respect and empathy. By reporting incidents to the appropriate authorities, whether HR departments or teachers, we contribute to a safer and more inclusive environment. It’s about moving beyond the fear of being labelled a ‘tell tale’ and embracing the role of a responsible, active participant in our communities.
Creating a Culture of Openness and Support
A significant step in battling bullying is cultivating an environment where open discussions about these issues are normalised. In workplaces and educational institutions, this could mean regular training sessions on recognising and addressing bullying, open forums for sharing experiences, and channels for anonymous reporting. The aim is to ensure that everyone, from leadership to new entrants, understands the collective responsibility of creating a safe space. Fostering a culture where diversity and differences are celebrated rather than shunned plays a crucial role. By promoting understanding and acceptance, we reduce the grounds on which bullying thrives. This could involve diversity training, celebrating and understanding different culture and encouraging conversations around inclusivity.
The fight against bullying is not a solitary battle. It’s a collective movement that requires noise, action, and unwavering commitment from everyone. This Antibullying Week, let’s pledge to not only make noise but to act decisively. It’s about embodying the principles of allyship in our daily lives and ensuring that our environments, whether work, school, or social, are places of safety, respect, and inclusivity. Let us remember that our actions, no matter how small, can have a profound impact on the lives of those around us. Together, we can create a world where bullying finds no room to thrive.