Monday, March 02, 2009

I was bullied!

Published in Vestlandsnytt 10.2.2009 - English translation 2.3.2009 - unedited translation

I was the victim of bullying.

Bullying takes many forms, and are therefore difficult to manage without seeing the full picture. The schools have received a special responsiblity when it comes to bullying among children because that's exactly where they spend large amounts of the day. But the school is not the only place bullying happens. It is a phenomena that runs through all layers of society, age groups and beurocratic systems. But, as I mentioned, it takes different forms.

It is exactly because of this shapelessness of the phenomena that it is difficult to put your finger on a specific definition (not to mention being able to "prove" that bullying is occuring). And without a good definition, it is easy to focus on specific forms and unique occurances. Let me give a quick introduction to the simplest forms in the life cycle of bullying - from the age before cell phones and the Internet.

In elementary school, physical bullying dominates. It usually occures out of sight, but easy to recognize when the bruises begin to show up on the body. In middle school, it slowly changes to a more verbal form. Verbal bullying is a lot harder to prove. Then, at high school level, the social exclusion and backstabbing begins. But this is not the end of it. The experiences from all this bullying activity is also used in work life, when one wishes to "remove unwanted elements".

The fact that the youngest are the most immature is reflected in the choice of bullying form. And that's exactly why one must also be aware of the fact that the victim not necessarily knows that it is being bullied. It could, in fact, take decades before one realizes the full impact of what happened.

The youngest also don't necessarily realize that there ARE methods of interventions that may stop bullying. Many victims fear that interference from adults will make the situation worse. After all, both bullying and retaliation against "snitches" occure out of sight. And the older you get, the more refined the bullying, the more difficult to prove and impossible to prosecute.

When Eimar Hagen (Vestlandsnutt 6.2.09) writes that the number of victims are increasing, it doesn't necessarily mean that more are being bullied. Rather, it might as well reflect that people are become more aware of the bullying. More comes to see the light of day, which one should consider as a positive trend.

Paul Sundnes (Vestlandsnytt 6.2.09) refers to the fact that the school has to discover (or be told about) the bullying to be able to react. But victims of bullying develop a skill in keeping their mask. When I went to high school myself, my teacher would tell my parents that I was always happy and smiling. This came as a real surprise to me, because I knew that in many ways, I was experiencing the most difficult time in my life, and I was alarmingly close to taking my own life. It was moving away and living years in voluntary excile that not only saved me, but allowed me to slowly realize and understand what had actually happened.

Moving out the victim has become the most used "solution" to the problem. Many victims (and their families) often complain how it is the bullies that should have been exciled, not the victim. But particularly when dealing with children, we must remember that the bullies are just as immature as the victims. They might be missing - probably - empathy? This, a self declared bully will have to answer, if they remember. My own experience is that a child can be best buddies in private, but bullies in group situations. Excile is also not a "solution" for something I see as a general problem of society at large.

"Removing" a bully or a victim from the local community is no solution. Both are bonded to the social network, tearing them out affects a lot of people. Such a distancing of people is a polarization that plays a role in breaking down society. Instead, one must find a way for the parties to cooperate.

Jane Elliot was "a pickup ahead" when she in 1968 pioneered a role play experiment to help fight racism in the USA. In the experiment, she announced that people with blue eyes lacked pigments in their eyes. Without these pigments, nothing protected the brain from solar radiation, and they were therefore more stupid than brown eyed people. She then taught the "brown eyes" to systematically bully the "blue eyes". After a couple of days, she reversed the experiment, so that all the brown eyes could experience the same discrimination. All the students developed empathy from the experiment and became more aware to prejudice and discriminating behaviour.

The experiment stimatised both her and her family, which only increased her convition that her work was necessary. Today, she lives from doing the experiment on adults. Those who have experienced it know that it isn't just about racism, but about all human interaction.

In the end, bullying in childhood is an experiment in stratic abuse of power. The victims are those whoare stratgically easiest to bully, and has nothing to do with what they "officially" are being bullied for. As an example, the victim could be bullied for being "fat", while the bully is actually fatter.

With adults, the techniques develop into operational abuse of power to secure their own position in the work place or society. The more insecure they fell, the more they step on others. Particulary, they step on coworkers that potentially could endanger their job situation and therefore need to know who "the boss" is. Again, this takes many forms. The organization Stopp JobbMobben ( has documented a double digit number of forms that bullying occures at work. I have experienced som of them myself.

Children learn from adults. When adults backstab and speak prejudice against other people, they legitimise their own experimental discrimination of other children. This applies not only to parents, but also comments we do in media and what we call "politics".

Media lives off sensationalism, and it is therefore in their interest to polarise all stories. This way, media is a great proponent of a general attitude of "us" and "them" as opposites. It has become so ordinary that we often don't notice. Obviously, polarisation is part of what children copy in their experimental play with bullying.

Yes, play. I wish to emphasize that bullying during childhood is "play" for the bully, becase he/she experiments with this role. It is obvious for the experienced adult that it is a catastrophy for the victim, but we can not assume our own maturity to the child's. The child's play is a reflection of what the child observes in society at large.

Bullying and discrimination in all its forms break down society. Progress is only achieved through cooperation. If there is anything we can do to fight bullying, it has to start by encouraging empathy and cooperation before polarisation and competition.

I was going to end here, but received a reminder that these are all beautiful words with no tangible actions. Thanks the "Manifest against bullying", there is great focus on bullying in school. I think this will have only a limited effect if we are not able to see bulling other places. I therefore challenge everyone to come up with possible tangible actions we can take to prevent bullying in its entirety and share their suggestions and experiences with everyone.

Gard Abrahamsen Tuur-Eggesbø

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