Those that know me know I’m a very social person, I belong to several social groups, and like to think I can get along with most people. Recently one of the groups I belong to was thrown into personality conflict and passionate disagreement as a result of a concerted effort to oust a valued member of the group. The excuse was “bad behavior” and disrespecting other members. What bothered me most about this situation is when some people dared to call it bullying. Please indulge me a moment while I explain.Grow up, stop whining, say your peace and deal with it.

I’ll be the first to admit that the person is question is a classic “shit-disturber” sometimes arrogant, opinionated, and vehemently disagrees with certain decisions and leadership. This person expresses his opinion freely and will passionately argue his position to try to convince you of his point of view, sometimes even just to be devil’s advocate. If he disagrees with your actions he will tell you to your face. On the other hand, although conflict or disagreement isn’t pleasant, and you might not like what he says about you, you always know where he stands and his communication is straight-forward and matter of fact. He doesn’t yell, scream, threaten or make it personal and I have never seen him swear at someone. Further, if majority rules, he will agree to disagree, accept it and move on. In truth, he hasn’t walked away but continues to show up, be friendly and make a valued contribution to the club. He may still think you’re an idiot, but it’s a free country, he’s entitled to his opinion, as are you.

In my personal experience, if he blurts something that you perceive as hurtful and you call him on it, he will apologize and make amends. This is definitely not the behavior of a bully, it’s simply the behavior of someone who is righteous, sometimes inflexible and values his opinion over others. As a result, certain people don’t like him, avoid him, and others have learned how to deal with him and become respectful friends.

Now consider the small group that banded together to formally take him to task. The leadership with whom he disagreed, sought out the complaints and evidence from people who don’t like him. They made a concerted effort to warn him, threaten him, and quietly gathered and conspired behind his back to write letters, setting up evidence and using the club policies against him to orchestrate his ouster. Not only did they orchestrate his ouster, certain leaders walked around a very public event “dangling the noose” (as one member put it) and bragging about it.

To add insult to injury, they put him on full display in the middle of a public arena to suffer the humiliation, while rumours had been spread and everyone knew he was being ousted. An awful scene, like a bull being bested by the Toreador in the arena. Well, in this case, he may be a bit of a bull, but it’s just his nature, it’s the guy who set it up, goading and stabbing him and celebrating it that is the real bully.

Oh the elitists will justify themselves telling you they “followed the rules” and left the decision to someone else. But that’s like a social clique going to the school Principle to gang up and have someone they don’t like suspended. They’ve covered their bases writing letters, interpreting the “rules” and left the Principle no choice. Sure his behavior in some instances was not becoming, sure he probably deserved setting straight and probably should have mea-culpa’d where necessary. However, it’s very hard for me not to see this little group of conspirators as the real bully’s. They coerced, intimidated, and threatened and in the end exercised their imbalance of social power because they simply didn’t like him, all under the guise of protecting the club from a “bully” even when the majority had learned to appreciate him.

This situation upset me, because as adults I would expect we have already learned how to agree to disagree and get along, or not. But it also made me think of all the unsavoury behaviours we dislike in people that sometimes falsely get labelled as bullying. I ask you to consider the true definition of a bully and what it is and is not. As a mother, I have had to teach this distinction to my daughter several times, it’s not black and white, but I believe learning to deal with different characters has value in building strength of character.

Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power. For an incident to be considered bullying, the form of communication involves both parties; the aggressor must want to hurt someone and the victim must perceive the incident as a deliberate act of abuse.

1. Not liking someone or intolerance – We are a society of individuals, from different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds. It is very natural that you are not going to get along with everyone around you. As unpleasant as it may be to know someone does not like you, verbal and non-verbal messages of “I don’t like you” are not acts of bullying.

2. Being excluded – Of course it’s very natural for like-minded people to be attracted into groups, for stronger connections and relatedness to form with some people over others. While we should encourage our children to be civil and get along with everyone, the reality is, we cannot be friends with everyone, nor do we have to be. So it is acceptable that people will include their friends and exclude others. Although exclusion is unpleasant, it is not an act of bullying, it is simply a social preference. Someone choosing to take it personally or feel jealous or outcast does not mean they are being bullied.

3. Wanting things a certain way – Wanting things to be done our way is normal and is not an act of bullying. It’s a natural human behavior. People will aggressively defend their point of view and have an emotional investment in having their way. This can be considered “bossy” without being a bully. It just means they are inflexible and will likely suffer their inflexibility in life by not getting their way. The key is to teach children to be assertive and communicate their own needs and opinions and not simply be submissive. Although it is not fun or pleasant to face conflict, this is NOT bullying, it’s simply a form of assertive communication we must all learn.

4. Telling a joke about someone or teasing someone– Poking fun at someone may not be fun and there is a fine line between having a sense of humour and hurting someone’s feelings. Jokes should be amusing for everyone, unless they are done deliberately to hurt someone. Telling jokes about or playfully poking fun at people is NOT bullying. There is a difference between someone making an ill-timed or ill-received joke and a bully who consistently and consciously wants to hurt someone or be malicious, such as demeaning comments or name-calling. A bully will never apologize, a reasonable person who makes bad jokes will.

5. Arguments and Disagreements – Arguments can be very heated and passionate disagreements between two (or more) people (or groups). It is natural that people have different opinions, interests and disagree on many things. The argument itself is NOT a form of bullying, disagreement even passionate disagreement with tempers is a natural part of life, it can upset us, but in the end, we must simply learn to agree to disagree then move on. A bully will use every means to get what they want and use a threat or exploits a weakness in the other person and use it against them. It is very important to distinguish between natural disagreements and bullying during an argument.

6. Expression of unpleasant thoughts or feelings toward others – Being straight-up, expressing an opinion or telling someone you don’t like them or their actions is not bullying. Of course, it’s always unpleasant to hear what someone thinks about you, but it’s a very natural thing. In every communication, there are disagreements and some form of judgment about each other’s attitude and behavior. If someone says to you, “I think what you did was wrong” or “You’re a fool if you think that” or even, “You’re acting like an idiot”; this is NOT bullying but an expression of opinions and feelings. There’s a big difference between criticism and real bullying which would include malicious name calling, labelling or such meanness as repeatedly putting someone down.

7. Isolated acts of harassment, aggressive behavior, intimidation or meanness – The definition of bullying states that there is repetition and intent to harm in the behavior. Bullying is a conscious, repeated, hostile, aggressive behavior of an individual or a group abusing their position with the intention to harm others or gain real or perceived power. Therefore, anything that happens once or even twice is NOT necessarily an act of bullying. It is certainly poor behavior that needs to be addressed.

Whether children or adults, we are human and our behavior does not always become us in the best light. Right or wrong, we make judgments of others, we passionately disagree, we have erratic emotions and we blurt stupid potentially hurtful things. We must teach our children to stand strong in their truth and feelings. As adults we need to learn self-directed confidence and to have a thicker skin when emotions take over. The world is not a place where everyone has to get along, it’s simply a place where we have to accept, cope and coexist. Straight-up no praise, no blame communication is the key to expressing oneself and agreeing to disagree.

The focus on bullying in schools is appropriate, and necessary to raise awareness and encourage dialog. Anyone who has ever faced true bullying knows that bullying by individuals or groups must not be tolerated. However, we must also teach strength of character and be careful not to falsely label bullying simply because we don’t like someone, their attitude or behavior. Being an asshole doesn’t make one a bully.

The fact is disagreement and conflict are useful to our growth, it challenges us, makes us examine our own feelings and opinions, and forces us to develop better communication skills. If we allow this false labeling by pretending everyone should get along and there should never be conflict, we become a “milk-toast” society that stifles freedoms of expression and personal opinion. Indeed, our children will not develop personal character, will not learn conflict resolution skills and the strength of self-determination. Worse yet, we will lose the natural colour and diversity that makes life interesting.

I invite your comment and perspective. ~ Stephany

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