90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
What Does ‘Bullying’ Mean, Anyway?

Our Nov. 7 hour on the Miami Dolphins’ bullying case and the culture of bullying in sports and professional life raised a lot of questions among our commenters and listeners  — what is bullying, really? And what does that term even really mean? We asked our guest, Amanda Nickerson of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, for deeper insight into the term. She offered us this thoughtful read below.

Bullying – now a buzzword in our society – has been brought to the forefront again in a different context with the spotlight on the Miami Dolphins. Bullying is a repeated pattern of intentionally aggressive behavior intended to cause physical and/or psychological harm toward a target where there is an imbalance of power (due to age, physical size, race, social status). Most of what we know about bullying comes from research with children and adolescents, although the problem is not confined to K-12 schools. Bullying can occur as young as preschool and can continue into adulthood. Workplace bullying is systematic aggression targeted toward one or more individuals by an individual or group that can have a negative impact on the target and the organizational climate.

What does bullying look like? It can take several forms: verbal (threats, derogatory comment, racial slurs), social (exclusion, spreading rumors, public embarrassment), physical (hitting, tripping, pushing), and cyberbullying (bullying through electronic means like text messaging, e-mail, social media). Being targeted by bullying can result in depression, anxiety, isolation and rejection, physical complaints, and avoidance of school, work, or social situations where the bullying occurs. There are many factors that contribute to the likelihood that someone will bully others, including individual characteristics such as aggressive or hostile attitude, need for power or control, lack of empathy, and contextual influences (family, school, peer group, work, societal) that model and/or tolerate this type of abuse.

This form of abuse, in addition to related issues of harassment, hazing, racial bias, and the climates that condone these behaviors, are being discussed across the nation. Issues being debated include whether it is even possible for a strong, grown adult to be a “victim” of bullying and how the average person is unable to understand the culture of professional football, where aggression, competition, and being tough are part of the job. The role of leadership and bystanders also come into play, as they are powerful contributors in shaping these behaviors.

The attention to this issue provides an opportunity for each of us to commit to treating others with dignity and respect. We must embrace our collective responsibility for recognizing that brotherly jibing, horseplay, and ribbing are certainly part of sports and our culture. However, using aggression repeatedly to harm someone in a position of vulnerability (even if it is not a person who fits a stereotypical view of a victim) is not acceptable. Professional athletes are extremely powerful and influential in many respects, perhaps most notably as role models for our youth. This could be a pivotal time to change language, attitudes, and behaviors to create the kind of culture and society where each individual can live and work without being subject to any behavior that creates a hostile environment.

What do you make of the bullying allegations in Miami? Are you concerned about the way this case has played out? How does it resonante in your own life and experiences? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below, or let us know on Facebook, Tumblr and @OnPointRadio.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • kokyjo

    “Bullying” is a choice to attack or suppress my weakness, fear, helplessness, etc. when I see it in another person. All “bullies” are incognito — unaware of / hiding from the pain, shame and brokenness that lives inside of them. Because we don’t RECOGNIZE (recognito) our own humanity, we must attack it in the other person. All human beings have experienced being bullied and bullying to a greater or lesser degree. It’s unfortunate but this is the human condition. Richie Incognito personifies this human condition perfectly. Having been bullied and shamed by his father, Papa Incognito, and others in his past and being unable to come to terms with it by, first of all, RECOGNIZING it in himself, he is motivated to destroy his own reflection when he sees it in others. This is the universal pattern of “Bullying”. Always, we will either Transmit our pain or we will Transform our pain. This football player knows no better than to transmit it at this point and the NFL, which profits greatly on Incognition, is a willing partner in the bullying. Our patterns of bullying can change when we move from Incognito to Recognito.

ONPOINT
TODAY
Sep 2, 2014
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks with Mark Wilson, event political speaker chairperson, with his wife Elain Chao, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, at the annual Fancy Farm Picnic in Fancy Farm, Ky., Saturday, August 4, 2012. (AP)

Nine weeks counting now to the midterm elections. We’ll look at the key races and the stakes.

Sep 2, 2014
Confederate spymaster Rose O'Neal Greenhow, pictured with her daughter "Little" Rose in Washington, D.C.'s Old Capitol Prison in 1862. (Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

True stories of daring women during the Civil War. Best-selling author Karen Abbott shares their exploits in a new book: “Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.”

RECENT
SHOWS
Sep 1, 2014
Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) recovers a fumble by Carolina Panthers quarterback Derek Anderson (3) in the second quarter of the NFL preseason football game on Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014 in Pittsburgh. (AP)

One outspoken fan’s reluctant manifesto against football, and the big push to reform the game.

 
Sep 1, 2014
This Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 photo shows a mural in in the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago dedicated to the history of the Pullman railcar company and the significance for its place in revolutionizing the railroad industry and its contributions to the African-American labor movement. (AP)

On Labor Day, we’ll check in on the American labor force, with labor activist Van Jones, and more.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: August 29, 2014
Friday, Aug 29, 2014

On hypothetical questions, Beyoncé and the unending flow of social media.

More »
Comment
 
Drew Bledsoe Is Scoring Touchdowns (In The Vineyards)
Thursday, Aug 28, 2014

Football great — and vineyard owner — Drew Bledsoe talks wine, onions and the weird way they intersect sometimes in Walla Walla, Washington.

More »
Comment
 
Poutine Whoppers? Why Burger King Is Bailing Out For Canada
Tuesday, Aug 26, 2014

Why is Burger King buying a Canadian coffee and doughnut chain? (We’ll give you a hint: tax rates).

More »
1 Comment