Recently, I came across an article in the New York Times that explored the public shamings that have taken place on twitter and online. Someone posts a stupid or racist joke in very poor taste… and they proceed to get shamed, humiliated and abused. Someone tells the world and, within a few days, online pressure has caused them to lose their job and delete their online social media accounts. Notorious now on the world wide web, they find it much harder to ever find another job. The question that can be asked ‘do they deserve it?’
Then, we have the trolls. These are the anonymous individuals that spend much of their time surfing the internet looking for people to attack. I remember seeing that song ‘Friday’ on YouTube by the teenager Rebecca Black that went viral. Reading some of the hate comments to this young girl was horrific.
Then you have the celebrity culture. Celebrities are famous and so, we should have a right to criticise them. That’s the argument. Once again, some of the ways that people do that online is pretty hardcore.
Lastly, we have the ordinary folk, the average child or teenager or even adult that becomes the victim of a hate attack and bullying by their peers. There is the ring leader usually and then other people jump on the bandwagon and do what they can to insult the child or teenager or adult as viciously as they can.
Of course, this is hilarious. Except it is not.
Bullying is an issue very close to my heart. I experienced it first hand regularly in my school years and it played a big part in my struggle with suicide at the time. I have experienced both physical and psychological bullying and psychological bullying is by far the worst.
Physical bullying never really bothered me that much although I am sure for some it is much worse and, indeed, terrifying. Psychological bullying however was simply devastating. Back then, in a mixed school, it was the sarcastic politeness and the backstabbing. The funny put downs and labels. The unforgiving mockery.
My heart broke. Many times. And I didn’t know what to do.
The reality is that I find it very difficult to hurt someone’s feelings. That’s not to say I don’t… but I never mean to if I do. I am certainly always into giving constructive criticism for sure and I have some strong opinions of course, but I hate the idea that I made someone feel really bad.
If someone says something I find offensive on social media for example, I will file it away in my head as that person being an idiot. I will hope that most people know that it’s wrong. I don’t want to have bad ideas or people in my head so I won’t dwell on them for long. And I certainly won’t engage. Why would I? I’m not going to make them change their perspective.
If I see a song on youtube that I think is rubbish, I will shake my head and say to MYSELF, that was rubbish. If I see a celebrity being an idiot I will think to myself, gosh they are an idiot. But I don’t feel the need to go online and attack. I don’t see the point. The possible outcomes include… they care what you think and you hurt them. They don’t care what you think and you don’t hurt them. Why would I want to try?
I suppose I’m trying to say that, from my perspective, life is quite simple. You hurt people or you don’t. Being outraged has it’s usefulness when it leads to social awareness which prompts a committed effort to change minds on a mass scale. Figuring out ways to influence people like these idiots so that we can avoid more and more of them appearing on planet earth.
But being outraged to prove you are ‘this sort of person’ or being outraged because you are jumping on the bandwagon or being outraged because you want to prove your thesis of how some group of people are the worst… isn’t useful or helpful to society.
Many people get a kick out of downing others. It’s more than schadenfreude… it’s more than sadism. It’s joy that they get because putting down others helps them not to feel so bad about themselves. As we compare ourselves to others, we fall into the trap of feeling good or bad based upon our evaluations with people who couldn’t possibly be the same as us.
Somewhere along the way, people got the idea that hurting others, putting them down and humiliating them was a good way to feel better about themselves. But this is an illusion. In reality, shaming, hurting another person or calling them names doesn’t make them any worse. They are the same nice/horrible person they were beforehand. All you’ve done is made them feel bad. Which is fine if you believe in revenge. Revenge might feel good but really isn’t, when it comes down to it.
Instead, the best tool we have at our disposal is humour. Our ability to laugh at the stupidity of others without attacking the people themselves. An idiot troll that you engage with is one you breathe life into. An idiot social media commenter that you engage with is one you give notice to. The celebrity you gossip about is one you pay attention to. The bully you argue with is one you validate their right to put you down.
The reality is that the antidote to bullying lies in your ability to laugh at the stupidity of those who say stupid things while also laughing at the behaviour of the bully who tries to attack us.
A bully bullies because they want to feel better about themselves through making others feel worse. This strategy only pays off when you walk into the trap. The key is to know this from the beginning and focus on remembering how great you are throughout anything they say to you.
Trolls and bullies will do what they do. We only lose when we start engaging. So stay free and laugh because it’s exactly what they do not want you to do. The power lies in your attitude.
Image thanks to: http://www.gratisography.com/