B is for bullying
Are you bullying me?
I said, are you bullying me?
In the face of bullying I become Robert de Nero’s Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver angrily, hatefully and tearfully trying to frighten my own reflection. Mixed up and messed up I’m putting the gun down and taking off the shades. Now, if you’re ready let’s try to work out what’s going on with bullying at work.
Bullying raises profoundly disorienting questions about our own sanity and culpability. Often the victim of bullying experiences a dumbing down, questioning basic facts about what just happened and who did it. This confusion is a way of denying the problem. If I can’t work out what bullying is then maybe it didn’t happen. Silly me, must grow a pair before the next staff away day.
Playing stupid is a perfectly normal way to protect ourselves from bullying but hardly becoming of a professional, so using a definition from the Anti-Bullying Alliance “Bullying is saying or doing something horrible to someone else, more than once. The person doing the bullying knows their actions are upsetting.” The simplicity of that statement makes me want to cry. Someone repeatedly knowingly making me feel horrible. Have a little cry if you’d like to.
Getting a perspective on bulling is profoundly difficult because it requires facing up to some hard facts about human life. People hurt each other in an attempt to rid themselves of their own vulnerability, a paranoid attempt to split the world into powerful people and vulnerable ones. By bulling, all the vulnerability is projected into the victim as if it were just the natural order of things.
In workplaces where bullying is accepted, we easily get sucked into a passivity, colluding with a psychic caste system that says the world is simply made up of weak people and strong people. Like Basset hounds in a lab, we start to acclimatize to the carpet cleaner tests, bragging about the benefits of having really clean eyes while handing out ciggies and practicing our smoke rings.
Bullies find people who believe they are destined to live with the other underdogs, believing in the bully’s birth right to power. They do this because it takes us longer to work out that bullies become powerful because we give them that power.
Oh bugger, she’s going to talk about inner strength now, Toto.
I promise you that I’m wincing as I write this because it feels like I’m a bullying puppies but there is no way we can continue to tip toe around this. If we think that being a victim of bullying is just what happens to us underdogs, then we accept it rather than facing up to something that is in our hands.
All well and good Lassie but how do you do that? Well, the first step to addressing bullying involves getting a realistic perspective and being sure in your own mind that it’s the real deal. I’m suggesting three ways to do that.
Step 1: find some higher ground
Being bullied feels like drowning so you first need to get to safer ground. This involves getting out of bullying hot spots when you can, anything from avoiding the smoking room or those after work drinks that seem to end up with someone calling you fat (ouch, hurt even typing that). Or it can be going somewhere you really do feel good every day, from your best friend’s sofa, to train stations, to allotments or a John Lewis café which will be the last place of safety standing after the revolution. Anywhere you feel offers you safety. Then remember this feeling when you hear the mermaids calling.
Stage 2: bullying book
Methodically write down the times, places and what happened every time you were bullied. This sounds like something your Dad would tell you if your dad was a police man (most are, psychically) but it’s actually sound advice. I’m not saying you’re preparing for a court date, but to have some facts down is very important in getting your head around what is happening to you. Not everything is subjective, there are facts and they are the difference between being a sensitive soul and being delusional. So write them down, in a book, which you keep at home. Only ever read or write this book in the morning and when you are not drunk.
Stage 3: get a witness
It is essential that you tell someone what is going on. They can be someone that has witnessed the bullying or not, someone you like or not, but someone who you trust to keep their eye on you. You’re not asking them to be a judge or referee, only to be strong enough to be a witness to what you are experiencing, either literally or in the psychic sense. Telling someone does a number of things. It forces you out of your shameful bunker and makes you articulate what is happening. It shares the burden of your guilty secret and starts to shift the balance of power away from the bully to Team Not-Just-a-Victim.
I confess that taking a perspective on bullying involves the pain of no longer being able to sweep things, including our own humanity, under the carpet. But it’s also the first step out of a psychic caste system that says you’re just a Basset hound, smoking fags and thinking you’re clever.
Next week we go back to the playground to learn about the origins of bullying
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