My mother often shares an underdog story from my childhood (beaming with pride and I with bemusement) that I had stood up against a bully at a young age. We were at a park, I was barely 5, and an older boy took a ball from a younger boy, which obviously resulted in tears. As my mother tells it, I immediately stopped whatever joyful task I was doing, and staunchly marched across the park. Without hesitation, I punched the older boy in the stomach and returned the ball to the younger boy. But not first without exclaiming, “Pick on someone your own size!” within earshot of my mother.
Of course I was given a lecture on non-violent confrontation, but was also patted on the back for maintaining my convictions, something I have done and will continue to do in the face of adversity and injustice. Throughout my teens I put my self in the way of school yard fights, demanded and received the respect of a high school bully, and now as an adult have maintained that same need to protect; to be a voice. The idea that the weapons of character assassination can be so deeply rooted in such trite superficialities, not only perplexes me, but ties knots in my stomach. Simple adjectives do not a person make.
Recently I encountered the wrath of a certain website (which will remain nameless as I refuse to give them any credit) after defending a fellow blogger – a site whose sole purpose is to completely tear apart independent bloggers and websites. The site claims to be for the purpose of critiquing without judgment for its contributors, but critiquing is far from the slander these anonymous zealots spew; the very definition of critique being lost on them, or confused with cruelty. But I suppose slander, exaggeration and outright lying have become big business, if not at least due course, particularly for the millennial generation.
The self-indulgent entitlement ‘gene’ this generation has been born with can also attribute to a weakness in empathy, and a faux sense of confidence, which is only further enhanced by the faceless anonymity the Internet provides. Though I could rant endlessly about the millennial generation and the variables contributing to their ‘ME’ attitudes, I will save that for another post. Pointedly, it is the behavior of this generation and their delusional and ignorant parents that continue to perpetuate the cruelty of online bullying. Hiding behind an avatar and a screen name allows these people to troll the Internet, spreading their vile psychologically damaging messages, both child and adult alike. And though online bullying has been a hot topic, it has been widely regarded as an issue limited to children and adolescents.
Bullying is not something foreign to me, and I’m sure is understood by many of you, maybe even more personally than you’d care to admit. But what happens to these bullies when they have purportedly ‘grown up’? What happens to their children? And what is the consequence to placing a tool in their hands that grants them unlimited fury without repercussion? Well if you’re familiar with media at large, news of teen suicides, gossip filled reality shows, and endless hours of superficially critical sound bites are what happen. This is society’s monster.
Now I’m not advocating that we need to sugar coat everything; patting everyone on the head and telling them ‘it will all be ok’. That is one of one of the reasons we’re in this era of hostility – too much placating and not nearly enough accountability. After all, developing a ‘thick skin’ is part and parcel to social survival, and instilling delusions of grandeur in this generation is not doing them any favors. However, there is no denying that this inflated cruelty is detrimental and desperately requires real consequences, and that starts with us. Bullying is bullying, and is not limited to age or platform.