“Hell is other people,” wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in his play No Exit. This has often been misunderstood to mean that hell is the other people other than ourselves, but Sartre never meant that at all. The story of the play was about a group of people sent to hell, and hell for them was for four people to be stuck with each other for eternity with no-one else for company. The consequence was being dependent on these people for opinions of themselves. This is what is often forgotten when people think and talk about bullying.
Sartre’s view was that it isn’t possible for anyone to gain a view of themselves by themselves. That their views would be formed by the views of those around them.
Advice often given to victims of bullying is this:
“Ignore them, they will stop then.”
“Ignore them, it will go away.”
“Ignore them, they will get bored and move on to someone else.”
I remember advice like this from teachers at school. It wasn’t advice, it was a mantra. A one size fits all solution to a problem that affects every victim of bullying and abuse in a different way. Everyone seems to have a solution, but these solutions often ignore the feelings of the person that is at the end of the bullying. What about how he/she feels?
Today the problem of bullying has evolved. Its effects are still felt by its victims. And yes, the mantra is still the same:
“Ignore it. They will get bored.”
“Ignore it, it will go away.”
“Ignore it, they will move on to someone else.”
Except as well as schoolyard bullies, there are now online bullies, or to give them a friendly name that makes them apparently easier to avoid and ignore, trolls.
So now, there is a new mantra:
“Don’t feed the trolls.”
There. That made it go away didn’t it? No? Really?
Have a think about it. Think about Sartre’s words again:
“Hell is other people.”
We are damned to judge ourselves by other people’s view of ourselves as there is no real way of our judging ourselves. So when someone tells you something often enough, you’re bound to believe it. How much you believe it will depend on a number of things. How sensitive you are as a person and on how many people tell you the same thing.
Ignore it, we are told. I can tell you from bitter experience, that that is easier said than done. You can try not to respond to it, but that is not the same thing as ignoring it. What happens to the insult when you don’t respond? Does it die? Perhaps. Perhaps not. What happens when you are surrounded by bullies? Do you respond, or accept it? Can you ever truly ignore it?
Truly ignoring it means it has no effect on you. You don’t think about it again. That’s fine when it’s the odd word. But when that turns to bullying, which is repetitive in nature, ignoring it, or not responding will often lead to you simply accepting it, and since you are not challenging it, in your mind, it becomes true. Also by not responding, you start to bottle it up, and your self respect and self confidence takes a nose dive.
There is another factor. When someone tells you to ignore it, they are in effect telling you that what the bully is saying isn’t important. Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Of course, it’s not as simple as that. By minimising the importance of the bullying, they are unwittingly making your worries more trivial, and therefore making your feelings less important. If the bullying is bad enough to make you feel bad about yourself, then it’s important enough to take note of.
Bullying, both online and in the real world are very real problems that have made children and adults alike feel bad enough about themselves to want to harm themselves or even to make them feel so irrelevant that they see no reason to continue living.
Online bullying isn’t trolling, it’s bullying made easier by the dividing line of not having to face the target of your bullying face to face, so it feel like there is no victim. So why do we give it another name? Describing it as trolling doesn’t make it seem more evil, it just makes it seem less real, and therefore makes those affected by it seem like oversensitive cry babies.
The next time you see someone being bullied, whether it be online or in the street, at school or in the workplace, don’t just tell them to ignore it. Ask them how it makes them feel. Allow them to express themselves and feel like they count for something.
If you yourself is bullying ask yourself how you would feel in that person’s shoes. If you don’t feel you are bullying, that you are just teasing, think about how your words make other people feel. To you it might be a joke, and might be funny. To the person on the receiving end, it could be very different indeed.
Bullying cannot and must not be ignored. It won’t go away, but its victims need support and somewhere to turn and people to turn to. Giving people someone to confide in and making them feel that they count for something won’t make the bullying go away, but it will help them move on. Your ears can be so much more help than your mouth.