When I was 12, I was pelted with basketballs on the playground during recess.
Like any other day, I was picked on because I was some sort of smarty pants, know-it-all with large glasses and widely gapped teeth. After the It Gets Better campaign debuted, I’ve thought more and more about that experience.
I like the It Gets Better campaign, because, for most of us, it’s the truth. After all of the basketballs settled, I was called down to the principal’s office to talk. My friend, who also had basketballs thrown at her, was there with me. It was nice knowing that I wasn’t alone. We talked about what happened and the next day, the boy and girl who had cornered us against the building were suspended. For once, I felt like something had gone right.
They didn’t bother us much again and I don’t think I’ve seen either of them since high school, except when they cross my path on Facebook. I hope they’re doing okay.
But this wasn’t the first time I was bullied, nor would it be the last.
Bullying is something we’ve all faced at one point or another. Sometimes, we’re the bullies. We whisper insults and gossip in each others’ ears, smirking at the idea that we know something that person doesn’t. It hurts when you hear the whispers too. It’s instinct to think that the whispers are always about you…and I find that very sad.
But the thing that bothers me most, I think, is the hypocritical nature that many take when it comes to bullying. On one hand, someone will say, “You should never bully anyone. Let’s stop the madness. Let’s take action against bullies!” Five minutes later, that person will be posting snarky comments online because they feel that the internet is a sounding board. Or they’re mouthing off to someone because they’re having a bad day. Or they’re whispering.
But those comments can cost you a job, an internship, or membership in a student organization. They can tarnish your reputation and destroy your credibility. I’ve seen it happen a lot. The sad part is that I don’t see the bulk of it from pre-teens. I see it from adults.
In today’s world, it’s easy to forget that we’re always on.
What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, we have technology at every turn. Every tweet, every status update, every tumbl, every pin, and every blog post is a direct reflection of who we are and what we represent. It’s no wonder that our employers are nervous about what we say online – we’re part of their culture and brand image.
So what happens when we decide to take to our Facebook walls, Twitter accounts, or Tumblrs to bully (or be bullied)? There’s not always an easy answer when it comes to dealing with bullies online. Sometimes there are things we can do. Other times, we just have to let it go and take the “high road”, so to speak. What do I think? It’s hard to articulate in a coherent thesis, but here are some thoughts:
- Just walk away. Get as far away from your phone or keyboard as possible as soon as you get pissed off. You will regret what you post in the heat of the moment. If you’re still upset after you’ve given yourself time to cool off, then you can deal with it. Otherwise, just let it go.
- When someone bullies you on the internet, you have a choice: handle it with grace or delete the comment and choose to address it in a private message. Some posts don’t dignify a private message, but in many cases, it’s usually a misunderstanding or a breakdown in communication that results in someone flaming on your wall. Try to reach out to the person and find out what the problem is. It’s a customer service tactic that can work well in personal relationships too.
- Stay classy. The most powerful response to bullying is to respond with dignity, which means no trashing the other person, no crazy capital letters, and few exclamation points. Take a deep breath and respond in a way that diffuses the situation, through humor, kindness, patience, or otherwise.
- When it crosses the line, block the person who is bothering you. It’s just Facebook. You both will have to get over it.
- Remember that what you post is a reflection of who you are and what you represent.
It really does get better, though. I can remember a time when I cared too much about what other people said about me or thought. Granted, those feelings still follow me today in some ways, but now it’s much easier to let these things slide and to focus on the positive.
Keep striving for peace and the positive. It pays off.