The Bullies Won't Change. But We Can.
A message about it getting better.
BY Luke O'Neil | Dec 12, 2017 | Culture
Over the weekend a video posted by the mother of a young Tennessee boy rocketed into the stratosphere of virality. In the video, which has now been viewed tens of millions of times and already started to receive backlash, Keaton Jones breaks down in tears detailing the types of bullying he’s been subjected to at school.
"Just out of curiosity, why do they bully?" Keaton said, in part. "What's the point of it? Why do they find joy in taking innocent people and find a way to be mean to them? It's not OK.”
It’s a sympathetic message that has been met with an overwhelming response from the millions of people who’ve shared it, as well as a flood of warm wishes from celebrities, politicians, and athletes like Katy Perry, LeBron James, Snoop Dogg, and Justin Bieber. Chris Evans invited the boy and his mother to travel to Los Angeles next year for the Avengers premiere, telling him, “Don’t let them make you turn cold. I promise it gets better.”
That part in particular, that it gets better, was a message echoed by many others under the #istandwithkeaton hashtag. And while it's certainly a heartening message to convey to young people, that the way they’re feeling now won’t last forever and that someday the bullies will go away, it also happens to be a lie. The bullies do not go away. In fact, they only get worse. You don’t have to, though.
THE BULLIES DO NOT GO AWAY. IN FACT, THEY ONLY GET WORSE.
Just this morning a number of women who have credibly accused the President of the United States of sexual misconduct held a press conference in which they detailed the ways he inappropriately interacted with them. He has yet to face any consequences. This came almost immediately after the same president finished tweeting about unfavourable news coverage, singling out journalist Don Lemon as “the dumbest man on television.” He similarly spent the weekend trying to get a Washington Post reporter fired for a mistake that was retracted and apologized for.
It’s probably not necessary to catalogue the president’s history of abusive behaviour here—there’s scarcely enough space—but suffice it to say the most powerful man in the world is the biggest bully any of us has ever encountered in our lives. It did not get better.
Meanwhile, Roy Moore, another horrifically corrosive bully to women, LGBT people, and African Americans in particular, and himself accused of sexual misconduct with underage women, is in all likelihood set to be elected to the Senate tomorrow with the full support of the president and the Republican National Committee. What’s worse, both Moore and Trump continue to bully their accusers, discrediting them, calling them liars. It did not get better.
Ironically, Keaton also received messages of support from the likes of Sean Hannity, a man who spends every day of his life carrying water for Moore and Trump and bullying the powerless on television. Donald Trump Jr. and Kellyanne Conway, themselves no strangers to bullying tactics, chimed in as well.
And as the list of men caught in the fallout of the Harvey Weinstein scandal continues to grow, let's not forget how Weinstein got there: by bullying his way to riches and power most of us couldn’t imagine. Bullying works. The bullies often win.
Even in Arizona, a police officer was acquitted of the killing of a man, Daniel Shaver, who was on his knees pleading not to be shot. He killed him anyway. The police more often than not get away with it.
Those are just a fraction of the high-profile examples in the past few days. And the rest of us who don’t make it into the news continues to get bullied throughout our lives. The mentality can carry over from school into our jobs. Psychology Today called workplace bullying a “silent epidemic.” Various studies in recent years show significant percentages of people in the workplace have been subjected to bullying themselves. In 2017 the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute found that 60 million Americans are affected by workplace bullying.
Going online isn’t much safer. In fact, with the internet, your potential exposure to bullies increases exponentially. A Pew Research report from this summer found that 41 percent of Americans were personally harassed online, and that 66 percent witnessed it happening to others. Eighteen percent reported they had experienced particularly serious harassment, including physical threats, sexual harassment, or stalking. And it can have a serious impact on one’s mental health.
It does not get better, I am sorry to say. But there is a kernel of truth to the message so many celebrities are sharing with Keaton at the moment. Over time, you will come to realize that bullies are not really concerned with you in the first place. They’re often either victims of bullying themselves or simply looking for an outlet on which to take out their own failures. While the bullying is directed at you, it is not necessarily about you. And once you realize that, things begin to seem different. Your skin thickens. You can drown it out a little bit better. Sometimes it will get to you, but that’s fine too. Eventually, you will remind yourself that it does not matter.
WHILE THE BULLYING IS DIRECTED AT YOU, IT IS NOT NECESSARILY ABOUT YOU. AND ONCE YOU REALIZE THAT, THINGS BEGIN TO SEEM DIFFERENT.
No doubt many of the successful people sharing messages of solidarity around this issue were bullied themselves at one point. One thing you can bet they all have in common is that they learned to ignore it. "Never mind the haters" is a cliché from successful athletes and musicians alike for a reason. Keaton already knows this in part. "People that are different don't need to be criticized for it,” he said. “It's not their fault. If you are made fun of, just don't let it bother you.”
And if that doesn’t work, the current news cycles gives us another alternative for dealing with bullies. Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, and many of the other harassers have finally been dealt a comeuppance. It wasn’t immediate, and it took time, and it certainly wasn’t fully comprehensive, but eventually, they got what they had coming. You can take solace in that.
While the world probably won’t ever change, and bullies will be here forever, we can change ourselves. We can tell bullies it’s not OK. We can remember there will always be more of us than them. We can call them out for what they are. And as tempting as it may be to hit back, we have to be careful not to become them ourselves along the way.