This bullying series started with definitions, then I moved on to bullying at the children’s level, including the differences in bullying for boys and girls. I also devoted a post to thoughts for the bullies, who may be victims of abuse and bullying themselves. Finally, I asked why children bully before I moved onto bullying in the adult world. I touched on bullying people who are perceived as different and what we can do about it. I also discussed power, its misuse, and status.
Through these posts, I hope I established that bullying, as well as the attitudes and beliefs that make it possible, pervade our culture. While some nations, like the U.S., seem to embrace bullying more readily, we are not alone in our dependence on bullying to support our social structure.
As autism is a state of being that pervades how the individual thinks and interacts, bullying is a state of doing that pervades how human society thinks and interacts. While autism is reviled against, because this state of being doesn’t fit social norms, bullying is embraced, because these behaviors do fit social norms.
When autism is treated as a developmental disorder, we are told that “normal” people are socially competent and that autistic people are socially incompetent. But “normal” social competence often relies on insincerity, bullying, and manipulation. Social insincerity, bullying and manipulation are accepted social norms—however, they are also destructive tools used to force power dynamics between individuals, groups, organizations, and nations.
Not so long ago, bullying made the news in the U.S., because the victims of bullies were dying. Leaders—politicians, celebrities, parents, teachers, social rights groups, and bloggers—called for the bullying to stop. While I agree with the message, it seems hollow upon further reflection. The U.S. is a nation that has a well-earned reputation as a bully in the international community. American businesses and politic groups thrive on bullying. Even our social rights groups use bullying tactics to make their points. Bullying may not be all we do, but we do it extensively. We rely on it. And…we teach it to our kids as an effective means to get our way.
This is normal. This is social competence. This is the way for things to be. This is what we rely on at the individual, group, and national level to make our social systems work. And, yet, it is autistics we call dysfunctional.
Bullying isn’t something we have to tolerate. We do not have to sit back and let these behaviors grow more accepted. We do not have to accept this social norm.
But in order to fight bullying, we have to see it for what it is. Bullying behaviors are not “boys being boys.” It is not simply a natural behavior engaged in by the immature, and it certainly isn’t something our children outgrow. Bullying is a learned behavior, a social tool used to enforce social structures. It is pervasive.
To fight it, we have to fight the attitudes and beliefs that make it possible. We have to fight these attitudes and beliefs where they live and thrive. We have to fight them in ourselves, in our groups, and in our governments. We have to fight them in our homes, our schools, and our places of work. We have to fight them in our systems—educational systems, health care systems, economic systems, and government systems. We have to fight these attitudes and beliefs amongst our friends and our families.
Bullying may be normal, but it is not good, it is not right, and it is not acceptable. And we don’t have to accept it. We do have a choice. And I choose not to bully. I choose to teach my children not to bully. I choose to encourage others not to bully. There are other tools that can be used—tools that respect the rights and personhood of others. I choose those tools. I choose to teach the use of those tools to my children.
And, if only in a small way, I will make the world a better place by doing so.