Hardly a week goes by without reports of bullying in the news. More often than not, these reports feature children and teenagers as both victims and perpetrators of bullying.
What is rarely covered is the issue of adult bullying.
Outside of the occasional political analyst referring to Donald Trump as a bully it does not seem that we are having enough conversations around the seeming upsurge in adults belittling each other in the public and quasi-public spheres.
According to the American Psychological Association, bullying is, “a form of aggressive behaviour in which someone intentionally and repeatedly causes another person injury or discomfort. Bullying can take the form of physical contact, words, or more subtle actions.”
The only thing I would perhaps add to this definition is the fact that bullying takes place not just from “someone” but also from organisations and groups.
Whether it be one country bullying another to take action, donor agencies pressuring governments of developing nations to make certain changes or women being bullied for how they feel or for the choices they make, we can conclude that adult bullying exists.
Not only does it exist but it is a problem.
Often when we talk about bullying we are referring to the physical kind that we see played out in schoolyards when the bigger child takes advantage of the weaker one by taking his lunch or taunting him for being different.
This though, is but the tip of the iceberg. Bullying and especially adult bullying is often not physical. The boss who uses the power and authority from her position to belittle a staff member is a bully. A family member who condescends to a poorer relative is a bully.
It is the same when a world leader makes fun of individuals with disabilities or zeroes in on people’s weaknesses and repeatedly pokes fun at them.
Bullying hurts and causes great levels of anguish. In many adult social circles, bullying is never addressed as the idea is that we are grown and bullying only happens among children. This concept in itself, where adults fear calling out bullies because of possible backlash from peers is dangerous.
A few months ago an article appeared in a women’s magazine about the psycho-emotional hardships faced by female expatriate trailing spouses. It delved into a discussion on how many of these women are professionals in their own right but choose to foster their husbands’ expatriate careers.
While outlining the emotional baggage these women carry, the article also sought to balance its arguments with the positives of being an expatriate trailing spouse. It spoke of the:
increase in family disposable income
opportunities for children to attend schools of a higher calibre than would have been possible if the family has stayed ‘home’
trailing spouse’s ability to return to school to get a higher education without loans
family’s ability to travel to exotic places, among other things.
Overall, the article could be seen as balanced but its main point was about a group of women who were sad and had lowered self-esteem given the loss of their own careers. The comments section of the article had a more hostile tone. Many persons who commented berated the women described.
Words such as petty, selfish and even stupid were bantered about by both females and males who had read the article and felt the need to comment. Sadly, the responses were primarily hurtful and not just shows a lack of understanding, but also empathy.
There are those among us who sit in front of screens, by podiums and around lunch and game tables and hurt each other. Sometimes it is done out of spite, cruelty or simply as a mechanism to cover one’s own insecurities. Often, however, adult bullying occurs out of ignorance; out of a state of mind where we think this is the way to operate in an adult world.
The questions are:
How do we change this?
Where do we begin?
The writer is owner and operator of Forrest Jackson Properties, a real estate company based in Kigali, Rwanda
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times Publications.