We need a better word than “Bully”

As a professional writer, words mean a great deal to me, and when I see the word “bully” I see a gross inequity. In short, I see the bully as the permanent victor. And that is terribly, terribly wrong.

Many very worthwhile organizations have sprung up over the years to counter the sadistic and scarring practice of bullying, and I admire what these organizations do and what they have already achieved. They work hard to communicate the fact that both parties in a bullying situation need help. But I am not sure that society as a whole has been successful in imparting the word “bully” with the necessary degree of social stigma in the way that the words “rapist” or “thief” has.

The word “bully” still seems to imply strength or dominance, and human nature will always look to strength as a virtue, since it is part of our collective instinct to survive and thrive.

The word “thief” has an almost universal negative connotation, because people the world over value their property and despise anyone who takes it by unlawful means. The legend of Robin Hood shows that thieves, when working in support of the majority, can actually be honored, but that may be the exception that proves the rule.

The word “rapist” has an insufficiently widespread negative connotation. There are still far too many places in the world, including North America, where rape is not treated anywhere close to serious enough, and in which the victim is sometimes placed under suspicion as an instigator, or co-instigator of the act. Society still has a long way to go before the word “rapist” receives the collective revulsion it deserves.

“Bully” has even further to go. It is still a term of strength. Someone who is bullied thus appears as the weaker party. The bully shrugs off a slap on the wrist, while the victim must focus on healing. This to me seems unfair.

Is there not a better word than bully? Can’t the guilt and the pain of these acts be placed on the shoulders of the instigator rather than the victim? Why can’t we label these people with a term that highlights their inability to fit in with society’s norms? Why can we not give them a title that might connect more directly with the shame and the self-doubt that they already feel, but which has been turned into a sour and vicious behaviour? Why can we not show, in words, that the bully is in fact the weaker party?

These people are socially impaired. They are behaviourally challenged. They are unable to control their aggressive urges and they seek to establish self-validation through offensive acts. Sounds like an illness to me.

Would society move more quickly in confronting this type of brutal social behaviour if we were to see the aggressor as unwell? This is not to take away from the care and rehabilitation that must be delivered to the true victim, the person toward whom the aggressive behaviour was aimed, but at least by re-branding the aggressor as socially impaired, the true victims could get a stronger sense that society is genuinely on their side while the bullies can realize just how isolated they are.

At the moment I do not believe that the word “bully” is incentive enough to stop bullies from doing what they do. After all, cigarettes are still relatively cool. Driving over the speed limit is seen as OK, and choosing an unhealthy diet is every person’s constitutional right. There is a certain thrill in being an outlaw, and I believe that unfortunately, being a bully falls into that fray – bad, but not bad enough – which means justice still denied for the true victims.

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