How to Not be a Bully

How to Not be a Bully

I went to the football yesterday, which was entertaining for many reasons. It was a close game, and I was lucky enough to be sitting in a stand with a fairly even mix of supporters of both teams (I went with a friend who was a supporter, so was not “for” either team). During the match, I saw people taking turns to bully each other as the fortunes of the teams changed.

What is Bullying?

Here in Australia you have the right to feel safe and be treated with respect; bullying violates those rights.

Bullying is defined as repeated unreasonable behaviour. It is not people having a single fight, but if it the same fight over and over again, bullying may be involved.

It can include direct physical or verbal interactions, as well as indirect actions like exclusion or spreading rumours. And it happens on-line too; openly but also through anonymous trolling, comments and so on.

Unusually in law, the bully’s intention is less relevant than the feelings of the victim; therefore, if someone feels bullied, they are bullied.

Now you might think that I am telling you this so that you can protect yourself, but the truth is that you are probably a bully. My observations of the action in the stands started me thinking about some of the things that I have said and done during my life; by intention, to fit in with my social group, and because I was just thoughtless.

It is very easy to get caught up in the moment and to tease beyond the point where it’s not a joke anymore. Have you ever:

  • Called someone a name when you knew they didn’t like it?
  • Passed on information about someone that you knew wasn’t exactly true?
  • Not taken action on behalf of someone who you knew was uncomfortable in a situation?

Then you have been a bully.

How to Stop Being a Bully

  1. The first thing to do is to acknowledge to yourself that you are a bully. It may not have been your intention to hurt someone, but you have. Hopefully, this will make you feel bad; there’s nothing like the feeling of cognitive dissonance to make you take a long hard look at yourself. The conflict between thinking you are a good person and being confronted by evidence that you are not should make you consider your behaviour and the effect of it on other people.
  2. On the assumption that you want to maintain the relationship, you must apologise. Not the kind of “footballers apology” where you say “I’ve let myself down, and I am sorry if I did something to upset you”. I mean a proper, sincere acknowledgement that you did something unspeakable, followed by an earnest declaration of your intention to try harder.
  3. And that very difficult apology may turn out to be the easy part because you must now examine the things that you do and say around your victim, at least for a while, until you are sure that you are not overstepping the mark. Actually, that’s not so hard, you probably “protect” your mother this way all the time.
  4. Make some time for self-reflection. Consider what makes you treat that person that way. Examine your other relationships to see if there are any commonalities across the way you treat other people. Do you lash out at home because you get picked on at work? Or do you believe that what you are doing is a normal part of healthy competition?
  5. Find a new way to channel your stressors. Take up meditation or cross-country running.
  6. Practice being polite and respectful towards all the people you meet.

Moving Forward

Once you have confronted yourself as a bully and made your reparations, you have to move on. That’s not to say that you forget this happened and go about your normal business without thinking about it anymore. You have to make a firm commitment to being a better person, and continue to manage your behaviours and reactions until you become that better person. You will relapse now and again, but don’t be too hard on yourself; it will take you the rest of your life.


c. 1900 – 1920 Woods Point Football Groiund via State Library Victoria

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