Today, at my younger son’s school, they’re having their 1st Annual Anti-Bullying Day. The kids will wear a certain color shirt and there is likely going to be an assembly. Maybe even other activities, depending upon the school.
Why do we have to have these days? Well, there are a lot of reasons. One reason that I want to focus on, though, doesn’t happen at school. It happens online.
“Back in MY day…”
Before the present age of instant, public broadcasting, people communicated privately and vented their spleen without a wide audience. Sure, emails were forwarded and swapped and so on, but the instant titillation was lessened.
And before THAT, back when people engaged in social attacks in person, things were very different. Once upon a time, when someone went after someone else, they did it in person. To their face (or behind their backs) with the full knowledge that they had to look that other person in the eye eventually. That others who knew them and knew where they lived and/or worked. That this was not something done privately, in truth, but publicly. It didn’t stop some bullies, of course, but social pressure is a huge factor in how folks interact.
It’s a Tool
The advent of instantaneous communication has brought all kinds of opportunities. Like any good tool, it was developed for productive purposes. But because people are human, tools are sometimes misused to the detriment of others.
With online communication and social networking, this is also true, though the tools are largely “virtual” in nature. People can share their thoughts without sharing their true faces. They can communicate things they feel need saying without fear of consequences affecting their personal lives. If someone is hurting and alone, they can find help and support in a social network that doesn’t threaten them or leave them open to further pain in real life. Young people with mature voices can be heard without prejudice against their age.
People get to know one another on the basis of their communication, not their body type or skin color. It can be a great equalizer, this tool.
But sometimes, having an online identity behind which one can hide brings out the worst in people. They feel they have a freedom to act in ways they would never, ever act in person around people whose eyes meet theirs in hallways or playing fields. They unleash something that isn’t allowed to appear in their offline life.
So what is meant for good is sometimes used in a mean way. And because we all tend to slow down as we drive and look at the scene of an accident, online instigators who “play mean” get an audience. Some of whom are secretly of the furtive bully persuasion.
And people using a virtual social space create actual pain. And it’s almost always done without consequences. Because they don’t have to look their victim in the eye – they can go about their life without facing the results of their words and deeds.
It’s not hard to play nice. I see this Anti-Bullying event and it makes me kinda sad. Because really? It shouldn’t be about being “anti” anything. Instead, we should remember just a few simple things when we interact with one another.
- Never say anything online you wouldn’t say to someone’s face with a clear conscience in the presence of your children or your parents or someone whose respect you desire.
- Remember that once spoken or written, words will cause pain long after they’re posted or sent.
- Treat others, always, as you would wish to be treated. Use words and attitudes you would welcome being used to you.
It’s not hard. Just play nice.