Article on Bullying February 1999


BULLYING IS ABUSE - it is always harmful; it always involves injustice.

There is No Thin Line, No Grey Area, No Other Side.

Bullying is a poison. It is unwholesome. It is not like a diet with excessive amounts of sugar, butter,
salt or coffee. It is like a diet of sand sauced with petrol washed down with sea-water.

Bullies are misery - makers and kill-joys, liars and deceivers, betrayers and back-stabbers. Some
people never bully, some are full-time bullies, some are part-timers, some mere dabblers - dabblers
join in on a social occasion, it is similar to smokers and smoking in these respects and also in
another very important one, as Tim Field, author of ,BULLY IN SIGHT, relates, the serial bully is
addicted to bullying.

Tim also points out that there is a problem with RECOGNITION of bullying - most people don't recognise bullying when they come across it, which of-course gives a big advantage to the bully. What I have always stressed, even more than the lack of recognition, is the lack of training in what to do when you do notice it - people do tend to recognise something like queue jumping or shop-lifting if they notice it, but don't always know what to do about it.

Recognition - signs to look out for: It is essential to be clear about what behaviours are desirable or
at least acceptable, and what are bullying. The former fall within the range characterised by Fairplay,
Courtesy, Consideration and Respect. Bullying is the antithesis of these. ?We need to remember that
bullying is not an isolated phenomenon which suddenly appears out of nowhere. It exists along a
continuum of behaviour which begins with people believing that it is acceptable to disregard the
feelings and sensitivities of others and ends with their giving expression to that disregard in extreme
and violent ways.?(This quote appears in the CaB Anti-Bullying Information leaflet and in the
Proceedings of the CaB Conference on Bullying 27/3/93, in the speech given by Simon Richey of the
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.) It is important to understand that the term, Bullying, does cover the whole range of behaviours as described above, from the relatively mild and commonplace unkind teasing or put-down or uncalled for criticism to the appalling acts most of us would be, or would hope and believe ourselves to be, incapable of, such as murder, mutilation and massacre. A succinct way of summing up bullying is:- DON'T CARE DON'T RESPECT. Just as with illness, where you go first to your G.P. , who may find it necessary to refer you to a specialist, certain kinds of bullying fall within specific categories for which there is special provision; again as with illness, some fall across several categories. That is another reason why a general term is so important - some cases used to fall between agencies' remits and many cases require a many-pronged approach. This brings us to:

DEALING with Bullying. This requires diagnosis, treatment , cure and prevention and, life being like
that, all at the same time and continuously. Diagnosis involves looking at the situation in general,
usually starting off with some informal discussions followed by a survey, as well as dealing with any
specific cases and incidents which have come to your attention. To deal with a case, you need to find out:- what happened, who was involved - including as witnesses, where the event(s) took place and when.
Then you need to discover the Antecedent i.e. what happened in the past that led up to the bullying
incident(s) and the Consequence, what has already happened as a result of the bullying situation - if a case has been reported then either the report was true or it involved a misunderstanding or it was
false, a false report is in itself bullying so you have either bullying or misunderstanding to deal
with and in both of these some form of education or training in the subject will be required, that is
some aspects of treatment, cure and prevention remain the same. As well as the basic definitions of
bullying as given above, you need to know some of the common forms it takes, such as:- derogatory or offensive nicknames, verbal abuse, shouting and aggressive behaviour, using a person as a constant butt of jokes, sneering or public humiliation, slandering or maligning a fellow
employee/classmate/neighbour, persistent unwarranted criticism, offensive gestures, staring or
aggressive facial expressions, isolation, exclusion, sending to coventry or nonco-operation at work,
ostracising or exclusion from social activities, unfair delegation of duties, taking credit for someone
else's work, withholding information or giving misleading information , lies, horse play, unwanted
physical contact, assault or threat of assault, stealing or deliberate damage to property.

You also need to know the typical tricks and dodges of bullies when confronted with a complaint about their bullying behaviour. Tim Field details these particularly clearly; the initial reaction is
surprise and denial, the usual expressions being:- I don't know what you mean, you've lost me there,
What me?, This is a mistake/untruth. I've never bullied, It wasn't bullying, It never happened, It
happened but there's nothing wrong with it. Bullies continue with projection of their own faults on to
others:- You are incompetent, useless and untrustworthy; Then come the excuses/ poor me pleas such as I'm under pressure to achieve, followed by alarm leading to suggesting We can sort this out between us, which moves to threat e.g. This is doing your reputation no good at all; and ,provocation - You are embarrassing yourself, me and the company. Then, or even earlier, comes delay - I don't remember that, I can't find this, I can't attend then. Next is panic:- Let's talk, It's a misunderstanding, You've got it all wrong. There follows Defence with You're at fault, you're late again, I'm fed up with your mistakes. Confusion/trickery will be introduced including letters containing false or misleading statements. Nastily, comes diversion such as expelling a student or sacking an employee by making a mountain out of a molehill or bringing a trumped up charge. The repertoire also contains:- Counter attack e.g. You must stop bullying me, You are going over the top here. When the bully is up against it, comes- humility:- I'm really, really sorry. And, or Play the victim with, What are you trying to achieve? I'm the one who is being bullied. You are causing harm. In short, a bully typically abdicates responsibility for his/her actions or the consequences of these actions.

It is of fundamental importance that people should learn to be mature enough to be able to say in an
honest and straightforward manner, ?It happened. It shouldn't have happened. I regret that it happened. I will endeavour to ensure that it won't happen again. I will make amends. I accept the appropriate penalty if it is applied.?

Justice, Rules, Laws and Rights.

It is an imperfect world and there are problems with all of these.

Rules are necessary. To play a game, build a house, run a business, put on a show, use a computer,
share a home , we need rules - ground rules, house rules, etc. Some rules are natural laws like gravity or the value of pi. Others merely need to be agreed by the participants, as with chess. Bullies believe that others should obey rules when the bullies want them to, but that they should be above the rules, above the law, above suspicion, above reproach.

Bullying unchecked leads to tyranny and terror, consider Stalin, Hitler, etc.

Perfect justice is virtually impossible since once injury has been done it can at best be healed, one
cannot turn back the clock.. Laws are necessary to counter bullying and restrictions are imposed
because people bend and break the rules essential for peace and prosperity. Laws dealing with bullying are not about living the ideal life and they result in a diminution of everyone's personal freedom and their Human and Civil Rights.

Some forms of bullying are covered by criminal law, e.g. larceny, assault, stalking, some by civil law,
some by labour/industrial relations law some by International law. Bullies can be restrained by
detention, suspension, expulsion, barring and restriction orders, by tagging, curfews, daily reporting
in, by sanctions - including trade sanctions, by military occupation and military action.

The term Bullying is virtually synonymous with all the behaviours covered by the terms `harassment' and
`unfair discrimination' which are the areas dealt with by Equality legislation. Unfortunately, Equality
legislation limits its coverage to a few categories - 9 in the case of the Irish Equality Act 1998 - on
the grounds of , gender, marital status, family status, religion, disability, age, race, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, membership of the travelling community. Also there are restrictions within these, e.g. sexual harassment is only covered if it is between people of opposite sex , and there are restrictions on the people and places covered i.e. workers and workplaces and some college students and some users or customers and so on.

Bullying is recognised as a Health and Safety Hazard but the Health and Safety legislation applies to
workers and workplaces.

As I say in my book, Bullying : A Resource Guide, bullying is simple to define but in every other
respect is a very complex issue which we all have to tackle as individuals and all have a duty to help
to eliminate. It is in our own interest to do so. It is a necessary part of defending our own and each
others Rights to live in peace free from persecution and intimidation.

The Campaign against Bullying, CaB, can be contacted by tel. at 01-2887976...

Vivette O'Donnell Founder -Director CaB.