Friday, July 29, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: Dealing With the Oppressed Oppressor

One of the most dangerous characteristics of bullying is that it is infectious. That is most often apparent when a ringleader or "queen bee" secures a complicit or at least silent audience, getting them all involved in bullying or at least in silently condoning bullying. However, it is more tragic when the victim becomes so infected he or she- often unknowingly- also becomes a bully. Even worse is when the victim is aware of his or her behavior, but feels justified or uses his or her status as a victim as an excuse. Pop culture and even history itself are rife with examples. In the Harry Potter books, Severus Snape performs his job faithfully, but doesn't lose any opportunity to vent some anger in the direction of his bully's son. The downtrodden kids in  Saved use bullying tactics to bring down their "queen bee" oppressor.  Linsday Lohan's character in Mean Girls is an even better example, as her transformation into a "mean girl" is noted and she is held to account for her actions.  Comic books give us a good example in X-Men's Juggernaut, who was abused as a child and grew up feeling an almost constant need to take his anger out on others. The most extreme example pop culture has to offer (and I'm open to hearing different suggestions) may be Magneto, who, when written well, believes he's acting in the world's best interests when his attitudes and aspirations echo those of his old Nazi oppressors.

History offers much harsher examples of bullying victims gone bad- from individuals seeking revenge, to school shootings, to murderous dictatorships. The details are easy enough to read elsewhere, and I won't go into them here, mostly because I don't want to come across as making excuses for their actions. Being bullied, insulted, or otherwise wronged does not justify returning the favor. Period.

So how do you deal with someone who is bullying someone who allegedly wronged them? Suppose they really have been wronged? Suppose they're trying to get even with you?

First of all, if you're a bully getting some of that right back, stop bullying. If you've wronged the person who's targeting you, try to apologize and make it right. Recognize the difference between self-defense and retaliation. If you are in the process of doing wrong, and they stand up to you or do whatever they need to defend themselves, they are not retaliating and not bullying you. They are justified in their actions. But if they're trying to get even after the fact and outside appropriate channels, you're not at fault for their behavior. You just need to gain the moral high ground.

If you are a third party or a bystander to retaliatory bullying, try to discern if the person seeking vengeance has actually been wronged, is feeling genuinely hurt, or is just trying to keep an uppity victim under his or her thumb. The last scenario is all-too common. Too often, bullies respond to victims who stand up to them by escalating the bullying. Sometimes the bully will play the victim and misrepresent the real victim's attempt at self-defense as bullying and mischaracterize retaliation as self-defense. If you know the difference between retaliation and self-defense, that will help you see through their victim facade.

In any case, you should refuse to participate and state clearly and firmly why. But if someone is retaliating against someone who really hurt them, that calls for a little finesse and diplomacy. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and you do not want to give the impression in preventing one wrong that you're condoning or defending another. Ensure the legitimately hurt retaliator that you have their best interests in mind, and then offer or help find better means to address their grievances, because repaying bullying with bullying will only damage their credibility and cause nothing but more harm in the long run.

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