There’s a perversion of the English language that goes around, and it sounds like this: “Don’t let yourself be bullied!”
Let. As if you’re totally just allowing it. “Don’t let him hit you! Don’t let her run you down with a truck!” Oh, okay, I’ll get right on that.
Bullying is one of those odd little things adults pretend belongs solely to the realm of kids, sort of like stamping your feet when you’re angry. It’s regarded as child stuff that those of us past the age of eighteen don’t engage in, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Nevertheless, we stick to that tired excuse dressed up as advice: “Don’t let yourself be bullied.”
“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”
“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
I’m absolutely sick of it.
Nobody in this country, on this planet, in this universe lets themselves be bullied. It happens without their permission, despite their efforts. And yet, we blame those who have the least ability to control the situation: the victim.
They’re just words, after all. Get over them.
I craft words all day, every day. I shape sentences, create worlds. I have made people laugh with the letters I type on the page, and I have sparked fury. My words have made tears. They have changed minds.
Bruises heal, given time. Minds? Not so easy.
We’ve seen it again and again and again. Children told they are stupid act stupider. Women told they are bad at math respond by doing poorly on tests. Men told they are ignorant pretend to be moreso. We believe what we are told when we hear it often enough. And so when someone who hears they are stupid and ugly and worthless every day begins to believe it, they are not “letting” themselves be bullied, they are doing what everyone else in the world does: responding to repetition.
Not being weak. Not being less.
And what do you do, if you believe you are worthless? Believe that it’s all your fault, especially when other people are telling you it is.
Saying to someone, “Don’t let yourself be bullied” is as helpful as telling them, “Don’t let yourself be raped.” You know, I think we all agree that we’d rather not be, and yet! Seeing as the other person isn’t asking our permission, it’s a little hard to avoid if that’s what someone wants to do to us. I won’t let them do it by…oh, wait. If I could prevent it, I would. But by definition, if it’s happening, I can’t.
Because people being bullied aren’t letting anyone do anything. Bullying is being done to them.
We talk about bullying like it’s a kid problem; it isn’t. We talk about it like it’s simple; if only. We like to pretend that not getting involved is the best way to go; that is not the case.
You know who lets someone be bullied? People who don’t work to stop it.
Oh, you think that’s the person being bullied again? Because they’re standing there with their eyes down, saying nothing? Or they’re being rude and sarcastic in return, provoking the bully? Or they’re fighting back?
No: that is what resistance looks like. Hunched shoulders are minimization of the target; sarcasm is a weapon. Shoving back when shoved first is how one defends oneself. This person is actively engaged in stopping bullying.
If you’re standing there watching, you’re not.
When I was in university, my professor once told a story that was told to her by her father, a Korean War veteran. He only talked about his experience once, and he said to her: If something bad is happening, and you are being hurt, calling for help won’t do anything. People don’t want to put themselves out there. People want to be part of the group. They will only fight for themselves, so you must single them out. Don’t shout, “Help!” Instead, point to someone and say, “You, help me!”
Those words stuck with me, all these years later, another weapon that just might work when nothing else seems to be. And so I give it to all of you who need it.
As for those who don’t, perhaps you do, you just don’t know it yet.
If someone is being bullied, don’t wait for, “You, help me.” You are your own responsibility; you are the one who must realize that you are letting bullying happen, and so fight back.
Yes, it will suck. Do it anyway. Do it whether you like the person you’re helping or detest them. Do it even if the bully is your friend. Do it as many times as you must, whether you feel like it’s helping or not, whether you are thanked or reviled, whether it brings you glory or nosebleeds—do it.
“Don’t let yourself be bullied?”
No; don’t let other people be bullied. That is a piece of advice we can actually work with. That is something you can do.
Leave the platitudes for those who let bullying happen. You’re better than that.