… and why I won’t be joining the Twitter Silence today.
When I read about the proposed Twitter Silence I knew that it didn’t sit comfortably with me. I get the point that people want to make but, to me, it doesn’t feel the right way of making it. People have been stating their position and this post is my attempt to do the same. I feel very strongly that bullies and trolls should be stood up to. If people don’t have sufficient resources or support, they can ruin lives and careers.
When I was at school I was bullied. I was ten. My French teacher decided to put me into the year above for lessons and that meant that when my own class did French, I learnt Greek. This wasn’t my choice; in fact I asked him not to. One boy bullied me mercilessly for the next three years for being, according to him, a ‘teacher’s pet’ and a ‘boffin’. He made me incredibly unhappy. When I told my mother what he was doing and saying, she dismissed it completely. Of course, this made me feel worse. Like I had something to be ashamed of. This is what helps bullies to get away with what they do. When I was in my teens, I was bullied again by local kids for apparently being ‘posh’. Their gripe was that I had attended an independent school. I didn’t cope with this any better than I did when I was ten, and my mother’s response was the same also. I felt confused. I hadn’t asked to go to an independent school. In fact I’d pleaded with my parents to let me go to the local comprehensive with my friends. It was my parents’ decision. When I was ten I didn’t have the emotional or behavioural skills to cope with being bullied. Because I didn’t develop them when that situation occurred, I couldn’t handle the next incident particularly well either. Both situations had a profound effect on my childhood and on my psyche.
As I’ve grown up, I have learnt to deal with bullies but they make me extremely anxious. Now, if anyone attempts to bully me, I will either demonstrate with my behaviour that it isn’t going to work or I will state – loud and clear – what I think of what they’re saying. It infuriates me when people make comments which are offensive and abusive and then try to dismiss their seriousness and implications by saying ‘Lighten up, I’m joking. Where’s your sense of humour?’ There are a number of variations to this response but they all suck. If I get these in relation to bullying behaviour, it makes me more determined to stop those responsible. Sometimes I choose to ‘turn the other cheek’ and resolve not to not let the bully know how much they’ve upset me. I don’t always agree with ‘outing’, or ‘naming and shaming’, as they can seem a bit tit-for-tat, but in some situations ‘naming’ is what needs to be done. This counters the anonymity that so many bullies take refuge in, especially on the internet.
This gives some background to why I don’t want to join the Twitter Silence. If people disappear off Twitter for the day, who is to know that they aren’t just out, busy, in bed, away, whatever? There is no way of counting who supports what. If you state your position, you can be counted. I have been reading about what has happened to Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez and others, and it’s made me very sad. The venting of rage on apparently convenient targets is shocking. It reminds me of dingos at a carcass. History is full of examples of human cruelty and Social Psychology offers numerous explanations. It is no coincidence that aspects of internet behaviour are covered now on A-level Psychology specifications, as are some ‘mob’ behaviours. Modern day technology offers us so much, but, as with most things, it has disadvantages and risks. I believe that it is up to us, as individuals and consumers of said technology, to use it for the benefit of all. I fully respect those who have decided to stay off Twitter today. In some situations I go for withdrawal and distance too. We each have the right to decide what we want to do. It’s just that for me, with this particular situation, that isn’t the solution. So I propose to use today to get on with the things I have planned, in the way I want to do them, but to be mindful of my own behaviour also.
I sincerely hope that all concerned in this recent spate of trolling have support and adequate resources to cope.
Some years ago I bumped into the ‘boy’ who bullied me at school. He is now a ‘famous’ person. I told him how his behaviour had affected me. Guess what his response was? ‘It was a joke’. He never even said sorry. He just laughed at me. For a few seconds I felt ten again but I caught it just in time. I felt sad for him. He was a bully at school and probably still is. When I see his face on television, I feel so tempted to tell people who he is and what he did. But I never have. Instead, I smile and – in the Buddhist way – I wish him well. Sometimes more successfully than others but it’s work in progress.
Vicky Newham © 2013