Bullying doesn't just affect kids

Today is annual Pink Shirt Day, a day dedicated to combating bullying in all its forms.

When we picture bullying, it's usually in the form of a Grade 8 thug with a mullet and a greasy Metallica T-shirt and his goons picking on kids in the gym locker room. Or maybe that's just me.

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But bullies don't disappear the day somebody hands you a high school diploma – we all have to deal with bullies at work, in our personal lives, in our families and especially on social media and online.

The bully could be a coworker, your boss, your boss's boss, a client or customer, a family member, a member of an organization or club you belong to, a neighbour, the elected leader of a major developed nation, or just some random troll online who decides they don't like you for whatever reason. 

And the consequences can be serious. Bullying can effect your career, relationships, friendships, self-esteem, mental and physical health and general well-being.

As an adult, we're mostly on our own when it comes to dealing with bullies. 

Some people may have been fortunate enough to get through their youth without being mercilessly tormented for enjoying Dungeons & Dragons and having braces and thick glasses, and didn't develop the skills and coping mechanisms to deal with bullies in their youth. So here, in no particular order, are the lessons I learned from the jerks who made my early teen years a misery:

1) Bullying is about them, not you. This is a hard one. It's hard not to take bullying personally, to internalize their negativity. Bullies want you to think they are bullying you because there is something wrong with you. But the reality is, if you weren't there they'd just find another victim to target. Whatever insecurity or hostility is driving their behaviour is their problem, not yours. 

2) Never take a beating lying down. Nobody has the right to hurt you, manhandle you or sexually molest you. You never, ever "have it coming" or deserve it under any circumstances. Tell them to get their hands off you, call for help, get away if you can or fight like a cornered rat if you can't. 

3) The cavalry isn't coming. In an ideal world, we could always rely on authority figures, bystanders, coworkers, friends, family, police, whoever to stand up for us when they see us being bullied. But of course, successful bullies are good at avoiding getting caught. Sometimes the people around us are afraid for themselves, or just don't want to get involved. And, as seen in the court case against Harvey Weinstein, sometimes systems protect bullies and abusers – especially when they are powerful and wealthy. And lastly, sometimes the authority figures are the bullies, and who do you call when the people who are supposed to protect you are the ones victimizing you? There is only one person who will always be there when you need them, and that's you.

4) Don't pay it forward. Being bullied sucks. But sadly all too often people who have been bullied end up doing it to others. Perhaps they think if they put someone else down, it'll make them feel better about themselves and their life. But knocking other people down won't lift you up. 

5) Stand up for others. How often have you either been bullied or seen someone being bullied and everyone around just pretends it isn't happening, or worse joins in? Often all it would take is someone saying, "Hey, that's not okay," to stop a bully in their tracks. And yet so often we hesitate to do it, even though we'd want someone to do it for us. Even if it doesn't stop the incident, at least it lets the victim know they're not alone.

6) Sometimes you just have to let it go. Unfortunately, sometimes people are just jerks and there is nothing you can do about it. No matter how right you are, and how wrong they are, telling a senior executive of your company or a major client to take their attitude and shove it is a career-limiting move. Calling out your redneck relatives for posting stupid, inaccurate things on Facebook will likely just cause a family fight and not change anyone's mind. And the internet is a bully's paradise – a 24/7 opportunity to harass and insult people anonymously and consequence free. Let them waste their sad lives spewing anger and nastiness online, don't waste yours trying to correct them.

Sadly, no number of pink T-shirts will end bullying. It's up to each of us.


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