Can’t We All Just Get Along?

I have received a lot of great feedback from the Better Than The Bullies Project that I announced a couple days ago, and thanks to the people who got their submissions done in record time, and the amazing Golda Poretsky for solving some technical glitches, the site is live at www.betterthanthebullies.com

We’re definitely looking for more submissions and ideas to improve the site so feel free to get involved.

I received a few e-mails from people suggesting that I should not stand up to my bullies but rather try to reason with them and make them allies. Can’t we mend fences, they ask.  Can’t we all just get along?  First and foremost, this is a completely valid and legitimate approach to dealing with bullies.  If it is what you choose then I am hapy to support you, rock on. I think it’s also valid and legitimate to take a stand and say “No, I will not allow you to have power over me.”  I think it’s possible that different things are appropriate for different people and different situations.

There are times when I just ignore the bullies:  In my video for the BttB Project I discuss something that I haven’t talked about a lot- earlier this year I was the subject of a hate attack coordinated using at least 10 different forums that are supposed to be about health and fitness.  My blog got over 30,000 hits and over 5,000 negative comments in two days, over half of them telling me I should kill myself.  My response to this was to do nothing – my comments are moderated so they didn’t get on the blog, and I didn’t talk about it on the blog at all. So  I got a boost in hits but none of their comments made it to the blog – all that work and as far as anyone reading the blog could tell, nothing ever happened.

This situation is extreme but I get hatemail almost every day (I also get fanmail almost every day so it all works out in the end).  In the case of the hatemail I’m the only one they are annoying so I typically don’t engage with them, though I did create my hatemail page to give people a chance to see the kind of crap I put up with and also to give cathartic (what I think are) witty responses.

There are also times when I do try to reason with bullies and mend fences.  But I think that some bullies need to be stood up to.  Maybe they are making people scared to do activism work for fear of being viciously and constantly attacked.  Maybe they are keeping people from going to the gym or the pool or out to eat for fear of being shamed and stigmatized.  Maybe it’s an organization whose leader creates bylaws that make it impossible for him to be ousted then uses that power to bully others.

In my experience this kind of bullying is typically about power.  Some people don’t feel that they have control of the world at large so they focus on bullying a small community of people to feel like they have some power somewhere. There are people who feel horrible about themselves and so try to feel powerful by making other people feel weak. There are those who feel that nobody would choose them to be in power so they take power by force and bureaucracy.

So, having taken the long way around to answer the original question – no, I don’t think we can all get along, because I think that some behavior is deplorable and as long as someone is choosing to engage in those behaviors fences cannot be mended. That doesn’t mean that I have to fight (though I certainly choose to sometimes).  In my experience bullies feed on the reactions of the bullied.  So you can fight, but you can also refuse to bow to the pressure of the bullies,  refuse to change your behavior in response to bullies, leave situations and organizations that don’t make you feel empowered and valuable.  In that way you cut off the bullies fuel supply and often they shrivel and die.  To me the trick is to remember that it’s not about them – I can’t control other people’s behaviors and I don’t want to try, I do want to control my behaviors and I do not want to allow the bullies to affect me and so I choose my reaction to the bullies about how it’s going to make me feel about me.

Like the blog?  Check this stuff out (and you can help support my work which I would really appreciate):

Dance Class DVDs are now available for pre-order  Click here for the details

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Become a Member and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 5,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and/or want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, I would ask that you consider becoming a member or supporting my work with a  one-time contribution.

The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is always completely free. If you’re curious or uncomfortable about any of this, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on October 7, 2012 at 10:31 am  Comments (23)  

23 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Personally, I’ve found that bullies can’t be reasoned with. There was one that I actually had to resort to violence with (kicked him really hard in the knee) to make him stop taunting me back in those glorious high school days. Nobody ever picked on me for the way my voice sounded again. I’m not saying this is the way to deal with bullies necessarily, but reasoning with them? When the hell has that ever worked?

  2. I tried to be nice and get along with everyone, it worked for some bullies, but for one he physically assaulted me several times, sometimes in front of others and sometimes when it was just the two of us around on the street. I never told my parents half of what was going on (they would have been supportive, but as the eldest I was expected to deal with things myself to a degree and my brain decided that included the bullying >.<)

    One guy was escalating his behaviour to the point it would have gone beyond childhood smacking around into serious assault – if it hadn't already, it's hard to tell how bad things were without independent corroboration of injuries – and then it stopped. I found out over a decade later my dad had reasoned with him to make sure he never laid a hand on me again. I know he wouldn't have touched the boy, but I also know he was quite willing to threaten him to make sure he left me alone. Given that this guy had already hit me with a metal bar (one of the things I'd not told my parents) and was in his early to mid teens when this happened I'm fairly sure that this was the only type of reason that would have stopped him. I just hope he never found another target.

    In each case of bullying you have to assess the situation and the person doing the bullying and tailor your response properly, a one size fits all approach is about as useful as making only a one size shoe, it'll fit a small amount of people but what about the rest.

    I have reasoned with bullies, stood up to them and in one or two cases hit them, each time it was the response that fit the situation best as I saw it at the time. But sometimes you need someone with more authority to step in and say, Stop or there will be consequences. I am now old enough that in some situations that is me, so at very least when someone treats me like crap I speak out and hopefully I can make it easier for someone else,

  3. That’s the weird thing about bullying–it never ends. You’d think once we’re done with the hormonal tangos of puberty that it would settle down, but no…I’ve dealt with workplace bullying by people much older than me, doctor bullying, everything. It always stuns me when I see it as an adult because I think, “Seriously?? Still??”

    (Although I have to say that after three years living amongst the Germans, I pretty much lost my fear of anything. They are some tough people!)

    I agree with the notion that you need to provide a solution fitting the problem. Having 5,000 negative comments flung at you (and half of those tending you to snuff it) is not a situation where you say, “I understand your perception of beauty is skewed and that you feel threatened by my life style choices.” It’s a time where you let it flow by you and back into the Universe because you can’t fix Internet stupid.

    I had these kids in my neighbourhood who bullied me terribly…shoving me down on the ground, throwing my stuff in the mud, that sort of thing. My dad went out and had a talk with them once. Did nothing. When we got older, they used to stand outside my house and scream, “FAT BITCH! YOU SHOULD F*CKING KILL YOURSELF! FAAAAAAAT ASS BITCH!” What sort of response should I give to that? I knew if I confronted them, they’d raise it up–smash the cars in the drive, bomb the house with paint, etc…and the only sin I ever committed against them was to be a fat kid. I waited it out…for 8 years. I guess technically it was a win, but the echoes of “fat bitch” have never left my mind, even now, and they shaped my self-perception for decades.

    • ‘You can’t fix internet stupid’ is my new favorite phrase.

  4. There are people who are open to reason. These are people who aren’t seeking to humiliate another person, it’s just that their argument style is self righteous, or over the top, or aggressive. Making them aware that they’re out of line and unpleasant might be enough to snap them out of it.

    You can’t reason with bullies because ‘bullying’ isn’t an argument style. It’s not that there’s someone with a point to make, who’s making it badly, who will correct what they do given half a chance. Bullying is a concerted effort to humiliate another person, with the aim of rendering them powerless. There are only two ways to deal with them – confront them or ignore them. Both can be either effective or dangerous, depending on the situation.

    The most dangerous approach of all, IMHO, is treating bullies as people who need sympathy. There is a recognition that kids can be bullies because they’re using behaviours they’ve learned from someone, and obviously that raises issues about their own wellbeing. But while the bully might have emotional needs that should be dealt with, their actual behaviour needs a strong response.

    But suggesting that victims should be understanding is just piling another type of bullying on them.

    • I couldn’t have said it better myself, Alexie.

    • Yes.

      Not all people can be reasoned with because not all people are reasonable. Compromise isn’t always the best option. If my goal is to not have to deal with someone’s mockery, and their goal is to mock me, should we compromise and have them mock me about half as often as before? Not an acceptable solution.

      Also, some people act like bullies are completely different from regular criminals. Some bullies are or grow up to be criminals. Some bullies are sociopaths.

  5. I feel that asking victims of bullying why they can’t just reason with their bullies is yet another way that society turns the problem of bullying back on the victims, blames them for the bullying, and absolves everyone else around them of any blame or need to handle the behavior. I know my 5th grade teacher would have been thrilled if little 10-year-old me had magically become a different person and my bullies just magically stopped bullying me on their own, so she wouldn’t have to do any hard work of trying to maintain civility in her classroom. But that’s not what happened and ultimately the bullying I experienced in that school was one of the things that drove my parents to homeschool me. I think my parents’ decision was ultimately for the better regardless of bullying, but I often wonder what my life would be like now if I hadn’t been bullied to begin with, if reasoning with my bullies had actually made them stop, and if the adults on the ground when the bullying was actually happening had supported me and helped end the bullying rather than finding new and creative ways to make it all my fault.

    If a victims of bullying decide on their own to try reasoning or other similar approaches, fine, and good for them. I think it takes a lot of strength to try that approach, especially in the face of beatings and death threats. But I think it’s inappropriate for people outside of the situation to push that option on them, and I think it’s inappropriate not to support other options too. Not everything in life can be solved with a round of hand-holding and singing “Kumbaya” together.

    I probably sound very bitter about this topic. That’s because I AM very bitter about it. It’s been 18 years since I was in that 5th grade classroom and I can still remember how I was treated. People have died because of bullying. But while I see society making a fuss, I don’t see society at large doing anything constructive to fix it and all too many people are all too willing to just turn around and blame the victims

    • It’s nearly 30 years since I graduated high school, and I still haven’t completely come to terms with the shit that was done to me. I’m angry at myself that it still affects me this much, but it does. Which is why I say “have sympathy for the poor wittle bullies? My fucking ass!”

  6. People are always so shocked by adult bullies. Like one person commented, “Really? Still?”. I understand thinking that way. I thought that way too until I realized the reason kids bully is because they see the adults do it.

    Ever notice how when a report of extreme bullying makes the news, all the adults shake their heads and exclaim, “What is wrong with these kids?” They just can’t get what make these kids act like this. Then these same adults post links to People of Wal-Mart or post photos on their FB pointing out someone who is different and laughing about it.

    I just had to unfriend an old high school friend for posting a really mean photo on his wall and laughing about it. It was some random woman that someone took a pic of and posted. We graduated 20 years ago. So I’m not at all shocked by kids who bully. Why shouldn’t they when the adults in their world are showing them the way.

    • Yes, this. Love it when people post on FB “bullying is bad” stories one day and People of Wal-Mart links the next, as if they do not see a connection between adults making fun of “ugly” people and kids bullying kids they see as “different”. Real message: bullying is ok as long as you choose acceptable targets.

    • Absolutely! When people blame bullying on kids (especially internet bullying), it seems almost dismissive of the problem. Like ‘oh those stupid kids, once they grow up they won’t do that’, when that isn’t the case. Adults engage in just as much bullying, possibly more, and on many blogs most of the hatemail and trolling is done by adults. By blaming it on kids, we pretend it isn’t a problem when it really is a problem.

  7. Thank you for writing this – you put to words what I was thinking about. I really appreciate your writing and I feel as though every time I read your blog I am educated more and also empowered more.

  8. Every time I read an article about bullying and solutions to it people claim to have THE correct reaction (usually it is either standing up to them or ignoring them). I am so glad to read an article that acknowledges that its actually complicated and that a variety of approaches are acceptable. thank you.

  9. I agree, you cannot reason with a bully. Depending on the person, you can stand up to another kid or have an adult do it. But adult bullys are another problem. Usually, if the bully is a ‘friend’ in most cases you can reason with them. But I agree with Ragen, how and why would you reason with the internet bullies. They are cowards. Just like the bullies who send hate mail. There is no reasoning with them. Best to ignore them. I dealt with my kids being bullied. When my son was 7, I told him to compliment the kid. He started doing that and the kid left him alone. When he was 13 a 14yr old bigger kid bullied him and we told him to punch him out. One day in class he stood up, turned around and clocked him. I stood by my son. Then when my daughter was 10 another girl bullied her. She stood up to the bully. Next day her 14 yr.old sister and gang of friends circled my daughter. I called the school and they did nothing about it. Next day I went to the school and saw my daughter was encircled by the kids. Got out of my car, grabbed the 14yr old girl by her arms, shoved her into the wall and told her to never touch my daughter again. I left nail prints in her arms. I went to the police and told what happened. They knew of her and said no problem. hahahaha, even a mother can stand up to a kid. Dont know if that would fly in todays world. Again, kids are one thing, but adults who bully are cowards. Best to ignore if there is no worry about violence.

  10. I’m sorry you get hate mail. That must just suck! I don’t think I could handle it as well as you do. Let me take this opportunity to say THANK YOU!!! And I’m such a HUGE FAN!! You have changed the way I feel/think about myself & my health and how I deal with those around me (my mother foremost among them). Thank you & keep up the excellent work!!!!!

    • Hi Lauren, Thank you so much – the hate mail is nothing compared to comments like this (which totally made my day!) I’m so glad that I had the chance to support all the really hard work that you are doing, you are kicking some serious ass!

      ~Ragen

      ________________________________

  11. Wonderful replies. A few weeks ago someone posted in the comments similar to this, that blaming the victim or putting the onus on the victim to change the bully (like that’s going to work) doesn’t cure the world of bullying. The comment was about Jews and Christians, and how some people believe that if only Jews would convert to Christianity, there’d be no more anti-Semitism. This doesn’t cure the anti-Semitism, since it’s still there if there are more Jews, it’s only dormant. Plus converting never solved anything but made the bullies more powerful.

    Bullying in adults take the form of discrimination, workplace hiring habits, wages, dictators, religious, etc. From personal experience, it’s extremely difficult for me to get a job because I want to keep the Sabbath/Shabbat, but most jobs are open on Sat. or have their longest open hrs on Sat. and if they see on your application that you aren’t available on Sat. they’ll toss you before the interview.

    I also have 3 strikes against me in finding a job or acceptance in the world: fat, female, Jewish.

  12. Here’s an example of someone attempting to reason with someone willing to use violence to get his way. (Warning: contains description of a murder. Also, I don’t agree with everything Ayaan Hirsi Ali says, but I defend her right to say it.)

    It’s not the same as bullying, but the point is, not all people are willing to sit down and have a conversation with you. To some people, your very existence is offensive. There is nothing you can say to them that will get them to back off.

    • And that is why we have police an US military.

  13. Just remembered a story which might bring a laugh. A friend of mine in junior high had a unique way to handle a bully. There was this girl that we were all afraid of. You wouldn’t know why to look at her. She was barely 5 feet tall. But she was mean as hell, and she had this gang of girls she hung out with. They put one boy in the hospital.
    This girl decided to pick on a fellow named Jamie one day during math class. He decided that he’d had enough. She was sitting behind him and kept needling him. Finally he’d had enough. He hiked his butt up onto the back of his chair and let a huge one rip.
    I’m kind of surprised the she didn’t have her gang of girls put him in the hospital, but for whatever reason, his tactic worked. She never picked on him again.
    Luckily she disappeared to who knows where the next year. She really was a scary creature.

  14. Bullying isn’t about reason. Luckily, bullies are mostly insecure cowards, so it’s pretty easy to intimidate them right back🙂. Especially when we all work together at it.
    But I’m horrified to hear you get at least as much hate mail than fan mail. So let me take a few minutes from my own busy life and say it right here – love you, love your blog! Keep it up, and thank you for everything you do. The world needs more people like you, and in this case the bigger the better🙂.

    • Thanks for the kind words M-C! I realize that the way I wrote this makes it sound like they are equal but, aside from the one day of 5,000 hate mails, I typically get far more fanmail than hatemail.

      ~Ragen

      ________________________________


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