As I began researching the realm of bullying, I was quite surprised by the different definitions presented to me. It seems on an individual level, we all have our own ideas about what a bully actually is or does. The media plays it’s role in that definition. The experts have a different, well established definition that doesn’t fit the dictionary description at all. And as you will see below, the dictionary itself, whose sole task is to define our words – seems to be in disagreement with itself. So what is BULLY, exactly?
When we hear the word bully, many of us draw up images of a mean spirited, tyrannical brat of a child hitting or belittling a smaller one. But bully's take on many forms. Look at the two following definitions on the word "Bully".
Miriam-Webster online dictionary1:
2 a: a blustering browbeating person; especially: one habitually cruel to others who are weaker
3 : a hired ruffian
1 : to treat abusively
2 : to affect by means of force or coercion
And according to dictionary.com2:
1. overbearing person who intimidates weaker people
2. to intimidate
To be bullied simply means to be coerced or abused in some manner. Which implies (to me) that anyone who behaves this way is a bully. Yet, how many times have we been coerced or abused in some way and felt bullied by someone who actually fit the noun description?
Where did this stereotype come from? As a woman, who was bullied as a child more by other girls than by big oxish boys, I still instantly think of the blustering browbeating person, and to be completely truthful, I usually think of a large stupid boy – like Nelson from the Simpson's, or that mean kid in A Christmas Story. This is the imagery society has placed on the noun bully, even though bullies can be just about anybody.
The word has a simple implication, but is far more complex than that. I doubt anyone as an adult can honestly say that they have never been bullied in some way, shape or form; and if we're completely honest with ourselves for a minute, I doubt anyone of us can say we've never bullied someone else.
How many of us were actually bullied by a person who fit the description in the definition? I know, we look back on our childhood days and on those who were mean to us and get a little comfort to see them described that way. But reality is this: Bullies are anybody and everybody. If we truly want to open up the heart of the matter of bullying, we need to first shed the stereotypical image of a big dumb meanie on the playground who demands lunch money as payment for not giving us wedgies.
Therefore, I give this definition of a bully:
Any person, group of people, institution, government, entity etc. etc. who uses coercion, verbal, physical, mental abuse towards others to get their way.
Think about this for a moment:
Parents sometimes bully their children.
Teachers sometimes bully their pupils.
Companies bully other companies.
Bosses sometimes bully their employees.
Wives sometimes bully husbands; husbands sometimes bully wives.
Governments bully other nations, and/or their people.
And yes. Kids bully other kids.
Many bully experts, however, believe that behavior must follow a certain criteria in order to qualify as bullying. These standards include3:
Involve an imbalance of power.
**I disagree that behavior must be repetitive in order to qualify as bullying, as it is defined not only by Miriam-webster, but other vocabulary sources such as Dictionary.com, not to mention the general public. To this point: This past holiday season, my husband took our oldest two sons to a toy store on Black Friday to pick up a highly anticipated toy that was going on sale. At the store, the customers were told that there were a limited number of the items and that no one was allowed to take them until the bell sounded. However, other people had made off with all but one of the play kitchens he was intending to buy. As he waited, standing directly beside it, a very large man walked up and stood immediately in front of him, bristling and grunting and verbally trying to intimidate him. He made it clear that he was after the play kitchen, and became belligerent when my husband informed him there was only one left. At the sound of the bell, my husband took the play kitchen, put it in his cart and ran for it as the man chased him down. When it was clear that he wasn't able to frighten my husband into abandoning the play kitchen, the man took up a basket and rammed it into my 14 year old sons back before running away. I clearly define that as bullying, as the man attempted to coerce and force my husband to give him an item he wanted and when he didn't get it, he retaliated by attacking a smaller person who was unlikely to fight back.
While repetition or duration of behavior is cited as a definition of bullying due to the chronic effect on the targets self-esteem, I also argue that traumatic instances such as I describe above can indeed have lasting effects on the self-esteem of those involved. Being attacked in a public place, in the presence of his own father most certainly can make a person feel helpless, vulnerable and inadequate, which is detrimental to ones ego.
Because many experts clearly define bullying as a repetitive act, or acts that occur over an extended time period, and those singular acts such described above as harassment, I will, for the sake of simplification, cover both harassment and bullying and I will refer to both as bullying when the behavior is defined as intentional, malicious and involves an imbalance of power. This is not to disrespect those experts who have dedicated their lives to this subject, I just don't care to argue the semantics.
When we wonder why children bully, let's not think of it in terms of one child being big, mean and stupid and the other being small, weak, and helpless. We need to recognize that we are ALL bullies in some way, even if we are not intending to be malicious, simply by our need to control our surroundings and the people in them. Bullying is a behavior, a natural instinctive form of manipulation we use to get what we want. To feel in control. To be the person in charge. Who doesn't want to be in charge? Therefore, bullying is a normal part of humanity and there is a bully inside each and every one of us. If we're going to have an honest and open dialogue on this issue, it is time we recognize the bully in ourselves.
3 - "Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard", by Sameer Hinduja, Justin W. Patchin
How do you define bullies? Does your idea of a bully differ from the textbook definition? Why do you think the media has such strict parameters for portraying bullies in film?