As if there is not enough on the already overcrowded plate of medical professionals. Besides having to endure staff shortages and inhumane working hours, a recent BMA survey showed that about one in five doctors were subject to bullying or harassment last year. One in five. Honestly, bullying the stewards of arguably the most noble profession that can be undertaken – the world never ceases to amaze me. It’s no doubt that the symptoms of a chronically underfunded NHS has probably contributed to a toxic and pressure cooker environment that may be exacerbating this kind of behaviour, but if you’re being victimised despite dedicating your life solely for the service of others, then bullying really is a beast that we cannot ignore for much longer.
I’d thought this was something relevant to discuss given that today is the start of Anti-Bullying Week. Bullying is something that is universally acknowledged, but often put to one aside when it makes a rare appearance in the public eye, either because there are more viral, pressing issues at the time or more tragically, it’s seen as a habitual part of our social experience. The personal and lifelong impacts aside, I feel that the most toxic thing about the perception and response to bullying is the utter hypocrisy in terms of the example set. The stereotypical image of bullying is children and adolescents during their time at school, which is often a difficult period for any young person trying to discover themselves within an environment of very different individuals, all vying to be socially accepted into round holes, despite us each being a variation of square pegs.
But bullying is a issue relayed from the top down, not the bottom up. Although the solutions should be implemented when people are young and malleable as to set them up with the best value system possible going forward, the root will continue to be embedded if key role models, namely adults in general, are not singing from the same hymn sheet. Speaker of the House John Bercow has been in the firing line recently for repeated allegations of bullying MPs. The manner in which the House even conducts itself, consisting of boisterous jeers and public put-downs, gives Year 10 classrooms a run for its money in terms of sheer unruliness.
A more sinister revelation came when comments allegedly made by significant, high-level politicians about Theresa May surfaced, including George Osborne not resting until the PM was ‘chopped in bags in my freezer.’ These are the supposed to be the well-mannered, educated people that are leading our country. If this lot can’t refrain from maliciously targeting people in the pursuit of political points without any regard for their targets, then how can we expect this culture not to filter into younger minds? And this is a real issue, not just theory:
The Anti-Bullying Alliance published results from a recent survey that some 97% of children aged between 11-16 said they would like to see more respect shown between grown-ups, both face-to-face and online, with 41% having seen grown-ups bullying each other in the past six months.
The internet has furthered this, and has allowed you to not only be bullied anywhere you go at any time of day, but also by hundreds of people that you’ve never even had the displeasure of meeting. How very 21st Century. But fundamentally, why do people seek to subject others to torment? What gains are to be made apart from a brief moment of ridicule at the expense of another? Beginning on a basic level, let’s say harassment. There are common tropes that bullies tend to encompass – having low esteem, having suffered past emotional traumas or being unable to respond effectively to internal dilemmas. I feel that this last trope rings true the most. The people that feel the need to target an individual for no reason other than self-validation, tend to be those most insecure and troubled in themselves. If you’re completely comfortable in yourself, there should be no desire to lower someone else down in order to raise yourself up.
Possibly the fact that we live in an endemically hierarchal structure, where dominance garners both power and respect, allows bullies to thrive. In a society, still prevalent with outdated social norms, which places a pedestal on members who display aggression, intimidation and assertiveness (traditionally ‘alpha male’ characteristic) over others, means that bullies can get away with it and gain respect. How many times have we seen ruthless characters, such as Roy Keane and Malcolm Tucker, lauded and rewarded for their ability to dominate and be a leader in their respective arenas? But there’s a very clear, defined line between being simply dominant in your mindset and abusing others in a demeaning manner. The former may actually achieve something, and although may leave some people in your wake, the focus is on the mindset. Bullying is essentially a shield and a sword. A smokescreen that’s designed to hide weakness, by piercing and exploiting someone else’s. It sums up the need for an inferior individual to find inner self worth by digging out similar plights in others.
No one is born a bully. They are taught to bully, and normalising the concept that bullying is rife and that’s just how it is, allows it to continue undeterred. Zero tolerance as a stance is great as a form of prevention, but finding a cure must be paramount. But of course, this is easier said than done. Social norms dictate that standing up to a bully is not only a hugely daunting task, but also one that doesn’t guarantee its cessation. And telling a teacher or a responsible adult, although the best solution advertised in schools and workplaces, is almost seen as a last resort, and an option that’s rarely exercised for fear of feeling meek and maybe not having your situation taken seriously. So for me, there needs to be more done to create a more open and comfortable environment for people to speak out. Look at the immeasurable positive impact that #MeToo has had at bringing issues of sexual harassment to the forefront of the discussion and the awareness it has raised as a result. Ditch the Label are one such force for good that aims to combat bullying by providing support, research and most importantly, creating campaigns to positively influence widespread societal change. Like any issue, the more it’s talked about and debated properly, the faster and more effectively it can get resolved.
Beating bullying is not about beating the act of it, it’s about never giving bullies the tools or the space to beat others in the first place.