Written by J. A. Souders
“I know you are, but what am I?” Chances are you’ve heard this once or twice in your lifetime. This may be a simple child’s joke, but it’s no joke when it comes to bullying.
Bullying might seem like a new epidemic, but I’m sure most of us can think back to that person we’d call a bully from our pasts. Why the big fuss lately, then? It might be because bullying seems to be getting worse every year and I’m fairly certain that has to do with how connected we are, due to the Internet and smart phones. We can never get away from it. When, once, we could leave school, or work, or wherever and escape from our tormentors, now they can reach us through Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and our phones push their messages straight into our hands the second they send it. There’s no safety zone.
Because of its prevalence and inescapability, bullying has become the new “hot-button,” much the same way drugs and smoking were back when I was in high school. Organizations have been founded. Politicians vow to change laws to prevent bullying. A quick Google search shows pages and pages of different schools’ initiatives to stop bullying. Most schools have a zero-tolerance policy for it and kids accused of bullying are often expelled, just as they would be if they were found with drugs.
This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s easier now for a bullied child to get the protection they need, but at the same time it may have become too easy to “cry bully.” Every time someone says something we don’t like, or when they disagree with us, or someone says something mean, we immediately yell bully. That accomplishes exactly what we hope it will—it gets that person in trouble and we feel better about ourselves.
So we keep doing it, but we take it one step forward. We strike back. Sometimes it’s a good thing. Other times? Not so much. Can anti-bullying become bullying itself? It certainly can look that way some times. There are entire websites devoted to “outing” the “bullies” who dare dislike our books. Some even go entirely too far and send death threats to the bully and their families.
However, no matter how many rules we pass or how we strike back at the bullies, stopping them is almost impossible. There have always been mean-spirited people in the world. Always that certain person who needs to put other people down to feel good about themselves. But, a lot of what they do is protected under free speech. And even when it turns to harassment and/or violence, punishing that one bully is like plugging a dam with your finger. Our leaders and teachers and those in a position to stop it, often find themselves impotent.
From my book, Renegade, Mother—the leader of Elysium—has addressed this epidemic in her own brand of leadership. Eradicate all differences. Remove the right of free speech, make sure punishments are so extreme no one would dare argue. And when all else fails, brainwash. It’s effective—in Elysium—but do we really want that here?
But more damaging than all of that is all the people who’ve been “crying bully” and turning bullying into just another word. Like the boy who cried wolf, the more time we cry bully, the less people are going to pay attention. And the real victims of bullying will get ignored again, but this time it’ll be even worse, because no one will care at all. It’s a type of brainwashing and punishment all in one. One Mother would be proud of. One of which requires no more effort than watching the masses becoming indifferent to the issue because of constant exposure. And like that boy who cried wolf, the victim will get eaten.
We really need to focus on educating people on what bullying really is and stop using it as a buzzword to get people to respond to us, because if we continue to call everything bullying, then eventually nothing will be.
From the Tor/Forge December newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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