Overuse of the Terms “Bully” and “Victim”

I feel that we must take a moment and discuss how terms like “bully” and “victim” are overused, and how this overuse of the words is harmful to real victims of bullying.

If you rank of popular words in America today; one word that is bound to be prominent in the result is the word “bully.” Without any doubt, bullying is an activity that deserves every attention that is being paid to it around the world, and perhaps even more care is needed. However, there is a somewhat strange aura about the bully in schools, workplace, and the society at large, there seems to be a misconception of what qualifies as bullying. Anytime the word is mentioned, the mood automatically shifts from casual to serious because the gravity of the consequences that accompany the act is endless.

It is clear that from times past, a lot has been done to stem the tide of bullying in human society and yet if you watch the 24-hour news channels or read a news article online, everyone is seemingly a victim of bullying.  It does not matter if the report is about a divorce case in court with one of the two parties labeling the other party as a bully or for a student to name his classmate as a bully, or for the President to be called a bully just because he does not follow the same political ideology of another.

The use of the word is also common in the workplace as subordinates and superiors often slam the word on any individual or character they often disagree with. It is impossible to disagree with another without you being labeled a bully.

The word “bully” is so commonly used in the society today that the average person already believes they know exactly what the word means and they do not bother to read a dictionary to find its actual definition, Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a bully as:

a blustering, browbeating person especially : one who is habitually cruel, insulting, or threatening to others who are weaker, smaller, or in some way vulnerable

The key is habitually cruel to others. It also goes on to define a bully as a tormenter who has an imbalance of power and uses this behavior towards others on a constant basis. It is imperative that the true meaning of a word be properly understood before being applied and used; otherwise, it may lead to a problem especially with developing laws to tackle issues. After all, a problem has to be fully understood before help can be proposed. In the definition above, some key factors are essential or necessary for a person’s actions to be aptly termed as “bullying.”

According to the definition above, among other things; a bully must habitually cruel, i.e. have a track record of cruelty in his dealings with others around him. The bully must also be a tormenter, i.e. he must be an individual that thrives and derive joy from seeing others in pain and anguish. He or she must also have an inordinate appetite for power and dominion; so that he wants to impose his opinion and ideas on others forcefully and aggressively regularly. Based on these clarifications, a bully must be consistently aggressive towards his victims.

Bringing this definition back to the schoolyard or even to online social media based cyberbullying.  The bully must be relentless and consistent in the torment of their victim(s). An isolated instance with the passing of a comment like “she is fat” or “look at those zits, dork” is an example of being a jerk, not a bully.  Of course, I am not saying that those comments should be made or that as educators and parents we should ignore those comments. Being a jerk is not acceptable, and we must teach our youth those comments are not socially acceptable.  I am saying; however, that these examples, which account for many cases of bullying do not rise to the level of victimization and calling them such only diminishes the words.

“So who cares?” is what you are probably thinking, right?  What is the harm in calling a simple schoolyard jerk a bully and the target of his or her meanness as a victim?  The harm is when you lump these cases together into the same grouping with instances of real torment perpetrated by bullies.  More specifically, if everyone is desensitized to the term bully then when a youth wishes to report an actual instance of bullying to adults it can be too easily dismissed as “kids will be kids.”  Put simply, if everyone is a victim, then nobody is.

Another critical reason to distinguish between name calling and fights being the gym, and actual cases of bullying is most cases of kids getting into tights, verbal or even physical, is a two-way street.  Whereas, bullying is one way with the target of victimization innocent of any wrongdoing.

Children are not stupid; in some ways, they are more cunning than adults give them credit.  Kids know if they run to an adult and say “he is being a bully and picking on me,” that the adult will storm over to the bully and stop the action.  Even if, unbeknown to the adult, both children were equal in their unkindness towards each other. In these cases, which account for many, who is the victim?  Was it the child that ran to the adult or the purported bully? I feel the alleged bully was the victim as he or she will undoubtedly receive punishment, whereas the other kid that reported the alleged act was most likely just as guilty.   Do not blindly allow a child to assume the role of a victim without investigation.

Only by separating the occasional name calling and simple fights in the schoolyard from constant tormenting of another by a bully can we ever help to remedy the situation.  Of course, just as I stated above, schoolyard fights and name calling should still be addressed at the administrative level with adequate punishment for all parties guilty, please do not call it bullying.

Now that we know what bullying is not, let’s delve into what it actually is; doing this will help expose the glaring overuse of the term in our society today. Bullying can be broken down into four main groups; physical, verbal, social and material:

  • Bullying can be physical when it involves acts such as tripping, pushing intentionally, hitting or striking a person.
  • It can be verbal when it involves the use of insulting words to threaten, mock and ridicule another person. Verbal bullying can also include the use of hostile remarks such as sexist or racist remarks or the use of stereotypic statements that discriminate against or unjustly amplify the physical defects or characteristics of a person. Bullying can be termed as social bullying when it involves consciously propagating lies and rumors about someone to smear their image and deplete their worth in society.
  • Social bullying also involves such acts and behaviors that are clearly targeted at isolating and excluding an individual from a group activity in a bid to humiliate them.
  • Material bullying just as the name suggests include the deliberate destruction and vandalism of goods or property belonging to someone else. It can also involve forcefully or falsely taking something belonging to someone without their prior consent, i.e. taking a kid’s lunch money or other item with or without value.

On the other hand, we must also itemize and discuss acts that do not constitute bullying. Based on the dynamic nature of human behavior, it is quite easy to categorize any unwanted or diversionary behavior from someone as bullying even when it really is not.