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A Short Word on Bullying, Harassment and Social Safety

by Steve Wickham

posted in Relationships

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SOME people are more prone to being bullied than others are, but that makes them no lesser people.
Indeed, if we're prone to being bullied we may also need to watch for the fact we're prone to being the bully. It's not something of true cause-and-effect, though, because many people who are prone to being bullied wouldn't harm a fly. There are those, too, who would never stand to be bullied, yet have such narcissistic sociopathic tendencies as to be routinely involved in bullying. And there are those fortunate, blessed ones who don't stand for bullying, either against themselves or others. And finally there are those who don't see it as an issue. But it is an issue.
What a curse of fallenness bullying is! The modern day was made for the troll - the slinking evil presence doing the evil one's bidding. And who will defend the defenceless target of such stunts, covertly performed?
Those of the "harden up, princess!" school ought to be cautioned - just because bullying may not affect them, there's nothing to say it's not a legitimate and serious issue for others. Indeed, our society is screaming for better responses to those who would attack people without even a thought, let alone a care; those who perpetrate and perpetuate violence with a promise: if-you-resist-my-attack-I-will-get-you-back; or worse: if-you-resist-my-attack-and-I-will-raise-the-stakes.
In nearly two decades of being a health and safety 'chaplain' in four major corporations in the secular workplace, I saw many varieties of bullying outplayed in all organisational dimensions - up, down and sideways. As a contact officer under my State's equal opportunity laws I was occasionally called upon to support and advocate for a person who felt socially unsafe in their work environment. And, besides, it was bread-and-butter work for a safety and health professional; bullying and harassment were implicit and explicit in my State's safety and health laws; the legislature I was paid to oversee, educate people on, and enforce.
But my professional experience in the occupational environment didn't whet my appetite to be an advocate for the bullied. That occurred when I was bullied for the first time as a sixteen-year-old apprentice. That lasted three years. In the 1980s - prior to good safety and health legislation coming out - it was common for apprentices to be abused with pranks. I suffered dozens of them. I was fortunate, though, that God provided me an advocate in my final year; a tradesman who'd only shortly finished his own apprenticeship. He took my supervisors and the tradespeople I was under to task. He told them that I'd never amount to anything if they constantly abused me and put me down. They backed off and that was the last time I suffered bullying - until five years ago. In between times - from 1987 until 2010 - I worked for good people, I worked with good people, and, from 1993, I was able to advocate for others as either an employee representative, a supervisor, or a safety professional.
More and more covert bullying occurs these days as protagonists engage pathologically. In my experience, some managers used it as a form of control where other methods hadn't worked. Employees would often quit because of the stress. Some employees used it on managers as a passive-aggressive technique for resisting things they didn't like. Many managers I know have suffered significantly because of the stress of this up-line bullying. And many co-workers were ensconced in workplace relationships that didn't work - stress, anger anxiety, and depression were prevalent just because working relationships didn't work. Mediation was occasionally used, but not nearly often enough. Many, many people suffer in silence.
A classic irony in bullying is it's driven by fear. The bully is operating not out of love, but out of fear. Their fear seeks to propagate fear in the one/s they bully.
It's not the typical industrial safety risks that are of most concern to society. Truly it's discrimination, bullying and harassment; these silent risks that coalesce with the shame for not wanting to be seen as a weakling. Being bullied doesn't make us weak.
Quite simply there's no excuse for bullying, and allegations of bullying should always be taken very seriously. It's not for the purpose of punitive action against the alleged bully - it's about getting dialogue occurring between the warring parties. We can do nothing sustainable about bullying unless we can get the parties talking in safety.
If someone feels unsafe in a relational dynamic, and their efforts to bring peace have resulted in no change, there's a very high likelihood that it's bullying - especially if their efforts have resulted in the other person upping the ante. Pure and simple.
Many people in workplaces - indeed, also within families and other groups - need help in order to get on with one another. It should be everyone's aim to get on with one another. When we're able to get along with one another everyone suffers less stress.
I've seen previously 'normal' people reduced to pathology cases simply because bullying went on and on in their workplaces without it being checked. I've seen people's lives wrecked - again, previously very well adjusted people. Bullying doesn't discriminate.
It's not just so-called weak people who are bullied; everyone is susceptible.
When the truths of people's perceptions can be raised in safety, there's a very real opportunity of moving forward. Nobody should have to work, live or exist in situations where they feel unsafe.
A process I've seen used that works well is to get three parties in a room for as long as it reasonably takes - perhaps over two or three meetings - to get parties to agree on what the issues are and what can be done. Again, it's not just about defending the person who feels bullied. It's about understanding the perceptions of each person in order to develop work-arounds that work for both. It's not sustainable otherwise.
Obviously the ultimate goal is to get people on the same page so far as mutual trust and respect is concerned. It that's not possible a difficult choice might be apparent. For both persons' safety, separation may be the only choice, or a level of safe supervision. Whatever, a solution is needed. Sticking our heads in the sand only makes the problems worse. People should not suffer in silence and aggressors should not get away with it.
We live in a bipolar society. One day we're advocating for suicide prevention (in Australia we have "RUOK day" in September each year) and the next we're deploring people whinging about bullying. It's such a shame to think that many cases of bullying end up in suicide. And certainly self-harming is a very common response to bullying. We cannot advocate for mental health and tell people to 'toughen up!' We cannot have it both ways. The issues are interconnected.
My challenge to the so-called strong people who want people to 'harden up' is to lend some of that surplus strength they have and make real strength out of it: advocate for the weaker person. The only real strength is love; a strength that gives itself away.
1. Encourage them to overcome their fears.
2. Empower them to get the issues on the table so the truth can engaged with.
3. Equip them with the belief that reconciliation is possible.
4. Enable them with support if they need to get out of the toxic situation.
Advocating for the bullied isn't about being fearful. It's about being fair.
There's no reason why anyone should be in fear of a relationship, because of the threat of violence, or even because it feels awkward. Everyone deserves the opportunity of working and living in safe spaces and situations.
© 2015 S. J. Wickham.
About the Author: Steve Wickham is a Baptist pastor who holds Degrees in Science, Divinity, and Counselling. Steve writes at: and
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