I was cyber bullied last Christmas. And it was when I was defending someone else. It was the first time I realized what bullying can do to someone, if they are not mentally and socially prepared to handle it.
Here is what happened – I am part of a Facebook community of people looking to expand their small internet business. Usually, when a new person joins the group and asks for help, folks respond by answering questions and/or referring the new member to the pinned post. This specific instance was slightly different though, the new member happened to be from Nigeria and a person of color. When he asked about what he should do to improve his business, the response he received was “write emails to people as the Nigerian prince and ask them to wire money to you”. While this may seem like a witty and funny response and it would have seemed that way to me too, had this person not been from Nigeria and not been a person a color. It was especially shocking because no one in this group is ever berated or made fun of for asking questions, because it is meant to be a safe environment. And this comment, to me, bordered on racism and bigotry.
I am usually never the person who expresses myself on social media, well of course, besides on this blog. But this one time, I made the exception and asked the responder to be a bit more sensitive and considerate. Little did I know what I was getting into! That simple comment started a slew of messages/posts in support of the responder and calling me names. In about an hour, there were more people finding humor in what he said and calling me names, having poor sense of humor, and asking me to take down my response. This back and forth continued for a few hours. They called me various things – “idiot”, “having poor sense of humor”, “seeking attention”, “you are bigoted”, and sought out the group admin to ban me from the group. I can go on and on, but you get the point. As my final comment, I told the bullies that I won’t be responding no matter what they wrote. This further pissed them off and the comments continued for a couple of days more before they finally stopped.
I reflected back on the whole incident a lot. I was surprised that I found myself in doubt, asking questions and rethinking my actions. Maybe I should not have defended the original poster, maybe others were right, maybe I did not have a sense of humor. I was taken aback, because I had strongly believed in what I did and still these thoughts had managed to creep in. And I wondered, if I as an adult, at my age and stage in life, can be bullied, it makes me worry about the children, young teems and adolescents being bullied and victimized by their own peers and sometimes even “friends”.
There were a few things I learned that day. Bullying can happen to anyone, regardless of age. It can happen in any walk of life – school, college, work and in my case, social media. It can cast serious doubts on one’s beliefs, self-image and self-confidence. I learned that no matter who you are, how strong you think you are and how strongly you believe in your convictions, a bully can cast serious doubts and you can begin to question yourself. Having a safe haven in friends, parents, and (in my case) spouse, can help in validating your thoughts and stance.
I also learned that standing up for yourself is hard, especially, in this situation, when everyone around you is questioning your intentions and morals. It takes a lot of self-belief that what you are doing is right. Standing up for someone else is even harder, especially on social media, where people hide behind handles, pseudo personas, and hashtags and try to shame you for their insensitivity and inconsiderate behavior.
Thankfully for me, I am surrounded by a very strong support group – my husband, my family, Mamta, my friends – who all talked me off the ledge and stood by me. They believed in me and told me I was not wrong in standing up for someone being harassed. This is what a bully (or in my case, a bunch of cyber bullies) can do to you – throw you into serious self-doubt.
When I look at my daughter, I worry about bullying and how I can empower her to fight the bullies, no matter what age, sex, or walk of life are they from. I am educating myself on how to equip my daughter to identify bullies, to be strong and safely stand up to bullies. I believe half the battle is realizing that one is being bullied. We as adults need to stop bullying behavior the moment we see it, and every time we see it. It sends the message to the kids that bullying is not acceptable.
The other half of the battle is making sure that your kids are surrounding themselves with strong positive forces that are ready to catch them when they fall. At home, I tell her that mom and dad are her safe haven; that she can talk to me about anything, which thankfully she does. I have also tried to build an extended network of family and friends around her who she can trust. But as she grows older, she will become more self-aware, her differences from others, the color of her skin, her gender. This is especially relevant in today’s socio-political environment where more and more people are intolerant towards diversity and there are lesser and lesser role models for the kids to look at. I hope she continues to lean on us, her extended family and friends in such moments of self-doubt.
I want to leave you with a beautiful song composed by two young ladies who were victims of bullying themselves and they hope this song will help raise awareness of the effects of bullying.
Have you or loved ones been bullied ever? Will you be willing to share your story, so we all can learn from it and educate others?