‘Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs’ – Pearl Strachan Hurd
Our actions define us, and in society, we tend to label people or categorise individuals based upon the behaviours they exhibit. For example, we describe people that play instruments as musicians, those that paint we call artists – and although these particular examples are seemingly harmless descriptors of interests, hobbies and careers – they allow insight into the potency and permanence of a label – after all, a musician is still considered a musician even when they are not actively playing their instrument.
In these instances we know that labels such as ‘musician’ and ‘artist’ are not a comprehensive representation of an individual’s entire personality – it is absurd to think that one word could adequately summarise the complexity of human nature. Yet, we very flippantly ascribe limiting and even damaging nouns and adjectives to people, including ourselves on a regular, if not daily basis. If you take a few moments to consider how often a label has actually positively impacted your self-esteem or confidence, you will find more often than not, they serve to be reductive and restrictive, promoting both conscious and unconscious prejudice.
“It is absurd to think that one word could adequately summarise the complexity of human nature”
Unlike a noun describing your profession – which is obviously subject to change depending on your employment – labels weighted with negative connotations such as ‘bully’ can be hard to shift. They dehumanise the person behind the word and can permanently tarnish a person’s reputation regardless of whether or not they are actively participating in aggressive behaviours. It implies that humans are incapable of change – an oxymoronic statement, because to be human means to be in a constant state of evolution. ‘Our actions define us’ but we should be aware that the definition is not indelibly inked.
This is why at Ditch the Label we refuse to call people ‘bullies’ and ‘victims’; although such labels may seem an accurate reflection of their experience at this precise moment in time, by calling someone a ‘bully’ you are implying that is who they are at their very core, that they are inherently ‘bad’, rather than acknowledging the fact, that sometimes, good people do bad things. We are using Anti-Bullying Week this year to spread the message that it isn’t okay to label people as ‘bullies’ or ‘victims’ anymore, because it’s counterproductive.
Just as none of us are born with the ability to draw or sing a song; nor are we born with the ability to discriminate against someone because of the colour of their skin, their sexuality or any other unique factor. We believe bullying is a learnt behaviour, not an identity and although we can’t always identify the exact reason why somebody decides to act in this manner, we do know that those who bully others have issues that are not being addressed elsewhere.
“At Ditch the Label we refuse to call people ‘bullies’ and ‘victims'”
One of the first steps we take in helping those that want to stop bullying is to remind them that they are not a ‘bully’ and to stop thinking of themselves as such as it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of subscribing to villainous stereotypes and persecuting those that bully, we look to address why they are behaving in such a way. Often, we find they are responding aggressively to a stressful situation – for example, a bereavement of a family member or their parents’ divorce. It is also a good indicator as to how the person doing the bullying sees themselves; for instance, if somebody is constantly poking fun at how others look, it is more than likely they are doing so to deflect away from their own appearance-based insecurities. Likewise with sexuality; homophobia is usually a product of insecurity and a lack of education – unfortunately, instead of taking the time to understand or embrace difference, they act negatively towards the unknown.
We must start to encourage those that bully to seek the support they need. In order for them to feel comfortable enough to do that, we need to stop branding people or giving them the impression that they are undeserving of help.
Bullying is one of the biggest issues currently affecting teens and we believe that we can overcome it if we start to think differently about how we approach things. Ceasing to use disempowering labels such as ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ is a great place to start during Anti-Bullying Week 2016.
If you are being bullied, or are bullying others and want to stop, you can get help in our community.