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Psychology
Why bullying is about you, even when you think it isn't
Why bullying is about you, even when you think it isn't
The political narrative revolves around limiting the concept of bullying within the narrow frame of child behaviour. When the exact same behaviour occurs outside this frame, it is given a lot of different names. While one could consider this as a divide-and-conquer strategy, it completely misses the root behaviour and allows it to perpetuate in new forms.

Truth is, what children do is a reflection of society as a whole. The difference between children and adults is that children are beginners in everything adults do. If you understand why children bully each other, you will begin to realize not only why adults also misbehave, but also how someone might actually be manipulating you without your knowledge.

Anyone who has been bullied will recall that the bullying had one or more attributes of your being as a target of attention. The attribute targeted is irrelevant of your value as a human being, and might even be an attribute you share with the bully. I have seen a video of a boy being bullied for being overweight by a boy who was even larger. So why does it still work?

By my own observation of bullies, and as Gavin de Becker points out in his book The gift of fear, the perpetrator does not typically choose his target by a specific attribute, but by its vulnerability. Which attributes can be used to exploit an individual target is explored in an interview phase.

In short, the perpetrator is actively exploiting an existing vulnerability in the target's psyche. So the dynamic between perpetrator and target is therefore not really about the attribute, but the dynamics of power. From the target's point of view, this is echoed in the assertion that you get what you expect, not what you want. If you did not have a visible and exploitable vulnerability, you would not have been targeted in the first place.

You will find the same type of exploitation in any form of discrimination: An attribute is used in order to discriminate. It works only when you actively allow it to occur. In a job interview, someone may accept a lower salary because they already believe that a specific attribute will insure that they will not get a better offer elsewhere, that they expect to be discriminated and there is nothing they can do about it.

There are specific regulations that target this situation and specific attributes, such as gender and skin colour. If the attribute that makes you feel vulnerable is that you have glasses, have a foreign accent, crooked teeth, a funny nose, sun burn or messy hair, however, it is not covered by discrimination laws. My assertion is that this is not truly about the attribute as much as it is a game of power, where covert bullying is a tool.

Your prospect employer's hiring manager is actively using your own perceived vulnerability to cut costs. By playing hard ball and knowing your expectations, he gives you what you expect: a lower offer than you deserve.

Do you really want an employer that exploits your vulnerabilities instead of doing a fair trade with you? If not, why did you say yes to a lower salary? By accepting this trade, you have effectively opened the gates for further exploitation.

For CEOs: Do you really want a hiring manager that actively exploits employees' mental health even before the contract is signed? I realize some may say yes, in which case they should consider whether they may be psychopaths. However, the exploitation of employee vulnerabilities hurts productivity and loyalty, whilst taking care of and strengthening employees' mental health increases productivity and loyalty.

When you repeat a lie long enough, you begin to believe the lie and subconsciously engage in automated bullying. You may not even know you're doing it.

Happily, your mind is dynamic and can change. This is important, both in terms of making sure you're not becoming a bully on autopilot yourself, as well as protecting yourself from external manipulations. On the other hand, a dynamic mind also means that you are exploitable.

Your next steps should therefore be to consider your own interpersonal dynamic. For every person you have met the last day, explore your feelings about them - both in terms of how you may have wronged them or they may have wronged you.

It is important you do not deny your feelings, as this could unintentionally dismiss your intuition. Rather, accept what you felt and see where that feeling came from - a generic prejudice against a large group of people, or a specific observation with this person.

Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to understand your own cognitive bias towards yourself and others. This is the first step of pulling yourself out of the loop that generates bullying/discrimination as a whole.

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