A women being bullied by two colleagues at work

By Tafi Mhaka

The scene is ugly. The girl is bloodied. She is crying. She is screaming for help.

Someone daring or simply mischievous is filming the assault of a high school learner at Lückhoff High School in Idas Valley, Stellenbosch.

Other children stand close to the action with their arms folded as they watch the beating that is taking place in front of them. Who is to blame for this bloody confrontation?

Blame the bully in you to begin with. But you are never to blame for the bullying going on in South Africa, are you? It is never you to be honest. It is much easier to say, “it is her problem; it is his fault.” or “it is the fault of the delinquents from the other school.”, and has nothing to do with your kids, of course. No way.

Sometimes it is the nameless people you call ‘they’ who are responsible for all the bullying. It is never you. You don’t do that kind of thing. Your kids are not the type who would bully another child. They have been raised outstandingly well.

So you can sit there and pity the children getting bullied and bloodied for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So you can plausibly sit there and site the lack of strong parental supervision and guidance as the prime causes of bullying.

Deep down in your heart you probably blame the bullying on lazy teachers, disinterested principals, the Department of Education – or the troublemaking adolescents who sit around street corners in small groups or hang out at the mall all too often. They all must be taught a lesson or two, you reckon.

You blame the youngsters who come from broken homes. They are to blame for the verbal and physical assaults on other children or the seemingly harmless online bullying that has led to children committing suicide in the past.

Someone is to blame for sure, but it is just not you. That is right, it cannot be you. In fact, it could never be you. You are an honourable member of the community. You lose your cool with people sometimes and often say one or two things you regret later on, but you don’t consider that bullying.

You have also made a number of tasteless jokes in the past, which you rightfully regret, but you don’t consider that bullying. No, of course you don’t. Why would you want to do that?

That’s because maltreatment or victimisation never seem like bullying at all unless you are the person left sullied by the shame of being tormented and humiliated. A lot of people – who are ostensibly good people, people who are well-meaning and productive members of society, who are held in high esteem in the community, sometimes, will display behaviour that is uncalled for and embarrassing, yet not get that it is a form of intimidation or discrimination – a form of bullying.

See people have all manner of colourful phrases and convenient excuses to disguise their shameful tendency to harass friends, family and colleagues every now and then. Bullying is just not violent; it is pretty abominable in ways that seem most innocuous.

If bullying were just a matter of violence and nothing more the physical scars and pain inflicted by bullies it would all heal in good time and be forgotten. But bullying is all so mental. In the mind of a bully, the desire to dominate and control you from a distance is all that matters. The physical or verbal assaults are a prelude to the greatest prize for a bully- breaking your spirit and capturing your mind.

The mind games start when the bully has conditioned your mind to fear what they hate and presumably appreciate what they like. It is not unfounded to say that a bully will often supposedly befriend a victim after the power dynamic of their relationship is made crystal clear and he or she can reap the rewards of their deranged behaviour. This could entail a victim buying the bully lunch at school or applauding their dry humour at work; or just acting nice to them, as bullies need plenty of love too.

Bullying is a rather strange phenomenon, come to think of it. You would be hard pressed to find a bully journeying the length and breadth of a country to bully some poor soul five hundred kilometres away. Bullying tends to thrive closer to home; very close to home. Like charity, bullying usually begins at home.

But how is a bully nurtured?

Bullying is a complex issue, but let us go to Hollywood to gain an understanding of part of the reason bullying is flourishing so freely. Have you ever watched an episode of the animated television series SpongeBob SquarePants? The main character, SpongeBob SquarePants, is an energetic and optimistic sea sponge.

He might not know everything in life, no he does not, but he sure does try to soak up all the fresh knowledge he can and pass himself off as smart and intelligent whenever an obstacle or situation happens to come his way.

He is your kid next door – your typical kid at home. Kids love to soak up new details or gain fresh insights and adopt the habits that older and purportedly wiser parents, guardians or elders in society exhibit.

Kids learn to decode signals and messages through experiences and simple observations that help them mould their characters.So as all and sundry rush to absolve themselves for being part of the reason bullying is so rife in schools consider this: when you jump the long queue at the bank or supermarket on a Saturday morning because you have an urgent meeting to rush to, and the person in front of you just happens to appear frail or smaller than you, kids keenly observe that sometimes you can bully people who are smaller or weaker than you, for one reason or another, if there is a need to do so and you can get away with it.

When you laugh at your neighbour for the manner in which they dress or fashion their hair or you mock the cheap car they drive or belittle the small house they live in or ridicule a relative for they reside in an impoverished neighbourhood you subconsciously send a message to your kids: subjecting others to contemptuous ridicule is perfectly acceptable if it sits well with you and makes feel good or happier.

When you strike your partner, the kids get it: That is the thing, the kids get that you can bully your mother or father or your sister or brother or friend or colleague or a stranger and get away with it without battling an eyelid. The remorse you feel later on is scant consolation for the victims of your rage or outrageous behaviour.

When you laugh at your colleague for being ugly or short – or deride them for being dumb and not finishing an assignment on time and disguise it as some good natured banter, the kids get it;  bullying is all right if it is just the playful sort of thing you derive pleasure from. There is no harm in it at all if you can have a laugh about it or apologise for your behaviour later on.

When you yell at a friend for getting something horribly wrong over the phone or in person, the kids get it; there are people you can shout at if you think you have a good reason to and the situation calls for it.

Kids might not be a direct reflection of their parents, but they certainly do shine a light on the shameful behaviour some adults display in society.

So, you can blame the kids all you want, but it is time to call out the big bullies as well.