Listening to the radio as I drove along at the beginning of this week, I heard a news report of a sixteen year old girl who is travelling around speaking out against bullying. This young lady had been a victim of bullying and is now on a mission to bring awareness and make a difference. In the brief clips in which I heard her speak, I was very impressed. She speaks with the wisdom and maturity of someone who’s been through something.

Her talks are well-timed, as ton February 29th people were encouraged to wear pink as an expression of one’s anti-bullying commitment. These two items got me thinking about bullying. Little did I know how it would play into the rest of the week!

I got thinking about the definition of bullying. Is it just an instance where someone’s mean? If so, we’ve all experienced bullying, and if we’re honest, we’ve all probably engaged in it at one point or another in our lives. But from what I’ve read and come to understand, bullying is more than just ill-tempered conduct. Here are some definitions I’ve found:

– To use superior strength to intimidate someone, typically to force him or her to do what one wants (Merriam-Webster)

– An act of repeated aggressive behaviour in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterized by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person (Wikipedia)

– Aggressive behaviour that involves unwanted, negative actions, involves a pattern of behaviour repeated over time, and involves an imbalance of power or strength (Olewus)

The common themes in true bullying seem to centre around power imbalance and a pattern of behaviour. Given that, I think we can all agree that bullying goes beyond being mean once, but it’s still disconcertingly common in our society. This week alone, I’ve seen examples of bullying in community, government, and even in blog posts.

I struggle to understand it. What is the root cause of bullying behaviour? Is it just some random desire to impose one’s will on another, or some unresolved pain in someone’s life that makes that person want to cause other’s pain, or is it because a person’s felt powerless in their own life and so they seek to gain power over others? Maybe it’s any or all of those things. What I do know is that it is an incredibly destructive force.

I have a wee great-nephew, the sweetest little boy you’ll ever meet. He’s kind, tender-hearted and gentle. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. In spite of that – or perhaps because of it – he was bullied right out of grade one. His public school experience was an utter nightmare that may well be with him the rest of his life. Thankfully, he’s now home schooled, but I simply cannot conceive of why this dear child was targeted in this way. What makes people want to act so cruelly?

Why it occurs and why it continues despite all of the information, protest, support programs and education out there in the wide world is a mystery. I’m not sure whether we just hear about it more or whether it’s actually on the rise, but I wish we all understood its true cost. I wonder if people not being targeted for bullying or not experiencing it may sometimes develop a bit of a laissez-faire attitude toward the issue. But it is important to stress that bullying is NOT just a children’s issue, something that’s “just part of growing up”. It may start in childhood, but unchecked and undeterred, bullying behaviour carries over into systems, the workplace, the community and yes, even government.

So let’s discuss what bullying costs.

Bullying steals confidence, thus hampering healthy development.

Research clearly shows that children need to feel safe in order to learn. Because bullying makes a person feel unsafe and fearful, it interferes with learning.

Bullying keeps people in silence.

Or it reaches a peak and causes a violent reaction, perpetuating violence.

Bullying often takes on the form of physical violence, which costs us in health care, justice, and property damage.

I grieve the lost potential, the lost societal contribution. How many people have been impacted, even changed, by being victims of bullying? How many great thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, or leaders have we allowed bullying to steal from us?

How do we break the neck of this monster? And when will we decide the price is too high and we’ve had enough?

Tell me what you think.