Weaponizing “Bullying”

I’m a member of a teacher group that loves weaponizing the word “bullying.” It got so bad that I left it for a few weeks to get my focus back.

Bullying is a serious problem, and one that we tend to wrongly assume is limited to children. Bullying occurs when one person abuses their power over another person to get their way. This “power over” can be established (a boss bullying their employees) or taken (a stronger, larger peer using threats of violence, or the use of emotional manipulation to guilt someone’s response).

Bullying, as far as I’m concerned, has to include some sort of bullying intent. There has to be a deliberate use of power in some form to require compliance.

Simple constructive criticism is not bullying. Even non-constructive criticism is generally not bullying by itself. A comment which makes you, personally, feel bad but isn’t intended to probably isn’t bullying.

Yes, impact is more important than intent, and “I feel bullied” is a reasonable thing to say even if the person isn’t deliberately bullying you. It’s certainly possible to feel bullied without being bullied.

But this is where Giraffe speak comes in so handy. “I’m feeling bullied right now” is a statement whose truth can only be known by the speaker: If they’re being dishonest and (ironically) engaging in bullying themselves, that’s on them. And that’s one thing, by the way, that we don’t tend to acknowledge much: The act of alleging that someone is bullying us can be an act of bullying in itself, if our intent is to shut down criticism by playing the victim.

“You’re bullying me right now,” in contrast, is a statement whose truth can only be known by the addressee, and hence can be argued and denied.

Regardless, though, bullying is a serious problem in its own right, and when we weaponize the word “bullying” in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations or admitting uncomfortable personal truths, we water down a key concept. “White women sure love their activist tears” is not bullying by itself (contextually, possibly, but generally not).

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