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Monday, April 15, 2013

So Let's Talk about Bullying.

Bullying, is perhaps one of the most tabboo topics in our urban Pakistani society, it is probably as taboo as freedom of expression or talking about sex education for the youth. People often love to avoid talking about it, it is very very conveniently swept under the rug as if it is something no one wants to acknowledge that it exists to begin in. To put it in simple and straightforward English, bullying is more or less display or exercise of power between singular or multiple individuals where a percieved power differential exists. Bullying in itself has become so vast, that even in the corporate world bullying is talked about as a tactic that bigger companies use against the smaller ones and play the occassional game of unfair competition. For bullying to take place, there has to exist a perception between the bully and their victim that their supposed victim is relatively inferior to them based on their perception. We have always heard these words 'a bully never picks on some one their size'. This alone should answer a lot of questions about bullying. Among the existing literature, a very big focus of bullying is on bullying and harassment that takes place in school, most particularly high school, when young people are in those transitional teenager years when it all begins. It is bullying from these teen and pre teen years that carries onto adulthood and a host of other bullying related issues ignite later on.

The whole issue of bullying and its early youth origins has become a matter of even greater concern in the modern technology oriented and social media that we live in. We live in a day and age where the youth and our children have access to high speed mobile internet on internet enabled smart phone devices and have instant access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, which were not around when my generation was not in high school about a decade ago. Cyber bullying is going out of proportions on an epic scale, unlike what some of us would have imagined even a decade ago. The seriousness of cyber bullying has prompted many countries especially in the European Union to step in and intervene on the matter. It was really refreshing that on the widely popular Express Tribune Blogs, one of their web desk sub editors Zahra Muhammad who ocassionally blogs as well took a very bold initiative and brough to the attention of their online readers the issue of high school bullying and the impact that social media has on this whole episode. In her blog she mentioned that many well known upper middle class schools in Karachi have secret or not so secret anymore confession pages on Facebook.

In these confession pages students of these schools on their respective confession pages are verbally lashing out against their fellow students in an attempt to character assassinate them or socially demonize them. For a lot of people it might seem that all this is in good humour and one should just dismiss it as casual naive teenage behavior, but who are we really we fooling by saying this. As a matter of fact I agree the blogger Zahra Muhammad that we are kind of living in self denial when we show complete apathy to such behavior and disregard just how truly damaging this sort of social or antisocial behavior is. It can be truly damaging in the long run to the lives of those being bullied online with severe consequences in real life. While some of the confessions that will come on these pages will truly be light hearted humour and in good spirit, most of it is likely to be for the sole purpose and intent of damaging some one and bring about social, emotional and psychological harm to their intended victim. I would like to honestly say we are living in denial if we again think for a moment that children are naive and have no real ill-intent, a lot of us who have gone through high school and first hand seen the transformational effect it has had on our lives as well as those around us, should avoid being apathetic and try to put themselves in a position where they can feel empathy for the person being victimised. For those of us who have grown up watching teen movies would have seen countless movies made on the issue of bullying at school, how it damages lifes, tears people apart, and most of the aggressors are purely doing it for pleasure purposes or to give themselves an ego  boost so they can believe their superior to some of their peers.  

These messages The nature of these messages thrown out across social media can have long term damaging consequences for the person being victimised. It can lead to cases of social discrimination and marginalization that the victim might experience on behalf of their peers, even to the point of social isolation. Social marginalization and ostracization of the nature can damage a youngsters self esteem, confidence and social skills by instilling a fear of their social environment. Not just for the duration of the schooling years, but it is something that can carry on for years and years to come, playing an important role in hindering the development of that person on a social or even economic level. Also let's not forget that one nasty character assassination rumour, could lead to dozens more in the future, as it will give others the impression also that the person being targeted either through word of mouth on social media is in fact a soft and easy target. It would also encourage people to join in on the bullying who otherwise would not even remotely consider it if the intended victims are overly demonised to the point their reduced to social misfits or outcasts. There is also the tendency to create long term rifts through the process of stereo typing, for example for whatever some people get stereotyped as being your typical losers in school because their either too needy, or they can't afford the finner things some peers have, socioeconomic or cultural background or even for their poor ability to speak English (which by the way attracts a lot of unwanted attention in elitest schools) etc to just name a few.

What I am trying to say is that such attitude have long term consequences,that even among people who are indifferent to those being bullied, it will create serious distancing or pushing away attitudes towards these people without ever showing the desire to know them on a personal or social level, and such attitudes might continue well into adulthood. Some one's public reputation what it might have been during the school going days, their former peers might treat them the same way even as we all supposedly evolve into adult hood or may even create countless obstacles in life through an active continous chain of bad public propoganda. In other words, the person deemed yesterday as the big loser in school, might have trouble forming social relationships not only because of lost confidence and self esteem, but the negative public propoganda message might become so out of control, that it will serve as a barrier a brick wall of sorts to form future relationships.

With the advent of social media and mobile technology, communication travels at alarmingly pace, and in the case of bullying or cyber bullying this is something of serious concern. A lot of youngsters are naive to the point, they do not realize the consequences of their actions in the present and future tense, they may hate some one for the sake of hating some one, but they do not realize what damage their words and actions would do. This is where the responsibility lies with the sane adults out there, who have been there, done that, witnessed all of this growing up in a offline environment to educate their children with regards to making responsible choices in life, to explore the causes of anger and aggression in their children which they pour out on peers they percieve weaker than them and to foster a culture of empathy for their peers, as their behavior during adolesence will have a long term effect on their personality and the people they grow up to be.  Schools and their administrations are equally responsible, it is their responsibility to monitor such behavior whether it is happening online and offline, and provided councelling services to students that are victims of bullying as well as those who are committing aggression towards their percieved weaker peers. A lot of people can be saved if this matter is engaged proactively, a lot of lives and futures can be saved. I know it is easier said than done, it is one of the most difficult things in the world to actually make some one feel empathy for another human being but atleast we can try, just some food for thought. To conclude I would like to add just one final message, that those among us who are now adults, but took great pleasure during school days in character assassinating, socially ostracizing, bullying, harassing and in some cases physically abusing some of our peers, a good starting platform would be to make amends with such people, so that we can be good role models for our next generation.

Just some food for thought.

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