Bully for You, Bully for Me


The issue of bullying has been very much alive recently and has become a political hot potato. The Prime Minister’s staff have allegedly been bullied and the revelations made public by a charity for bullying (that is for those who have been bullied rather than a club for bullies) threaten to undermine its existence.

It seems a little out of proportion. A bit McCarthiesque where we are all searching around for bullies (instead of communists). All desparate not to do anything that might get us accused of being a bully. Those that haven’t ever been bullied are feeling isolated and marginalised because they’ve nothing to say. I guess they could at least feel bullied on behalf of others. A sort of bully –by-proxy or vicarious bullying.

I don’t condone true bullying (though I can’t quite define it), I wonder whether we’ve lost perspective of what bullying is. We seem to have become less tolerant of many things our parents would have just put up with. You could argue that they shouldn’t have put up with it (but they probably didn’t have much choice). You could argue that they were tougher and we have become frail. You could argue that we’ve moved the goal posts and lowered the threshold of what constitutes bullying. You could argue that bullying has got worse but I doubt it. If you’re going to bully it should at least be done properly.

People working under stress often resort to uncharacteristic, sometimes, explosive and hurtful behaviour. But is this bullying? Does mere coercion or manipulation count too? Should we instead accept that spine donation or go on that “assertiveness” course and become bullies ourselves? Admittedly, it’s difficult to stand up to people who are in authority over you and no doubt it’s tempting for some (like Sylar) to misuse their power. When does strong persuasion become bullying? I kind of figured that bullying should at least have an element of deliberate cruelty, thuggishness and brutality (verbal, psychological or physical) to set it apart. If it’s all down to feeling intimidated then that’s difficult; it then depends on the context and how the behaviour is perceived by those on the receiving end – a bit like stress.

Real bullying needs practrice and thought to get right. To bully people so well that they don’t even know they’re being bullied (perhaps because they’re so used to it), now that’s the philosopher’s stone of bully school. That’s the stuff legends are made of (well, Greek Mythology actually). This punching in the play ground is so last season.

For professional advice, please give Gordon a call at no. 10.