10 Things I Have Realized About Bullying (And How We Can Do Better)

Ferial Pearson
Aug 31, 2018 · 4 min read

I have been thinking a lot about bullying since it’s part of both my personal and professional worlds. When people find out my dissertation was about kindness, the conversation inevitably goes to talking about bullying prevention and what schools can do about it. These conversations (like most conversations) stay with me for a long time, and I keep wondering about causes and solutions.

I have been bullied.
My children have been bullied.
My spouse has been bullied.
My friends and family have been bullied.

10 Things I’ve Realized About Bullying:

1. Bulling happens everywhere, every single day, regardless of the ages of the people experiencing or perpetrating it.

2. There is no magical age where people suddenly stop bullying or being bullied.

3. The only way to tackle bulling is in prevention. Once the behavior is happening, it takes incredible power to stop it.

4. Most people only have a vague idea of what bullying is. Often, they will think about physical violence and cyber bullying through behaviors like catfishing, spreading rumors, or gossip. There is MUCH more to bullying.

5. Babies aren’t born bullies. Children see it happening around them, mostly by people they admire (grownups, teens, politicians, etc) and then they mimic that behavior. Because it’s not labeled as bullying, it must be okay, right?

6. It’s just as important to intentionally teach/model/explain/name kind behaviors as it is to intentionally denounce/explain/name bullying behaviors.

7. There is no small group of bullies anywhere. Most people have engaged in bullying behaviors at one time or another. Even me. It’s important to recognize it, make authentic apologies, and then work on improving our behavior.

8. Just like any practice, bulling and kindness both become habits with repeated actions. Both can be taught and both can be unlearned.

9. There are children on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. THEY ARE WATCHING. They are learning. Remember that before you post anything, unless your profile is super locked down and private.

10. Here are some bullying behaviors that I see every single day. I believe that if we name them, we can stop them:

- Intentionally excluding people from groups, parties, meetings, lunches, etc
- Talking about people publicly without their knowledge or consent
- Public and humiliating call-outs instead of private call-ins
- Gossiping about people in public
- Trying to get people to dislike or stop being friends with someone
- Making fun of/speaking badly about things related to a person’s appearance
- Taking photos of people (even children) and posting them on social media without their knowledge or consent
- Disregarding boundaries
- Attributing lower intelligence to imperfect grammar/spelling/punctuation
- Gaslighting
- All the -isms (racism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, faithism, appearanceism, ageism, etc) and making/laughing at jokes related to those -isms
- Labeling people as either “bad” people or “good” people
- Laughing or finding joy at people’s misfortunes
- Setting people up to fail
- Having vague or unclear expectations and then berating people for not meeting them
- Saying/doing something mean or cruel and then excusing yourself by saying “I’m just being honest” or any other disclaimer such as “I don’t mean to be _______, but _____________.”
- Sarcasm and ad hominem attacks during a dialogue or argument
- Taking credit for someone else’s work

I’m sure I could go on forever. I know I have been guilty of some of these and am actively working to change that.

How We Can Do Better

  1. Start by focusing on our own behaviors, and making sure that kindness is infused in every single thing we say or do. Mindfulness is a huge part of this. Take note of the feelings that come with being kind.
  2. In living with a kindness focus, take comfort in the fact that we are modeling kindness for those around us, especially the young people who are in our lives.
  3. When we slip up and notice that we have hurt someone (intentionally or not) take some time to sit with the feelings that come with that realization. Then, apologize authentically. I love this explanation of how to do that. Remember that the person we have hurt has the right to not accept our apology.
  4. When we notice bullying happening, check in with the person who is the target and ask how we can support them. Address the person doing the bullying (privately, if possible, and with the permission of the target)to let them know that what they have done is not okay, and describe the impact of what they have done.
  5. Become a Secret Kindness Agent! All you need is an Agent name and a willingness to do acts of kindness every day without needing recognition for them. You can do this on your own, with friends/family/coworkers or any group with whom you meet regularly. Watch my TEDx Talk, get ideas from my Pinterest Board, like our Facebook Page, watch some Elementary Secret Kindness Agents, read about some High School Secret Kindness Agents, and let these young folks inspire you to make your small corner of the world a better place.

Ferial Pearson

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