Changing the Narrative: Negative Rhetoric and Bullying

Written by: April Vargo

As school has already begun or is in the process of starting, the hot topic every year is bullying.  Teachers will open up the year with lessons on how to treat each other, rules on what is and isn't allowed in the classroom, and parents worried about how their children will be treated.  It's terrifying handing over your child to an institution with groups of people who you hope will help to celebrate your child and not rip them apart. 

The truth is it all starts at home.  Adults are the victims of bullying as well.  Kids learn by what they see adults do.  Someone is always watching when you have a child, so "do as I say, not as I do" doesn't apply to a child.  Whether they know it or not they are picking up on how to behave by the role models they are surrounded with.  

The world is made up of all kinds of people.  The idea that we just cut negative people out of our lives is good, but not necessarily an end all be all.  I am an eternal optimist, I always try to find the silver lining to every situation.  For a great deal of time I cut out people who were a negative force, however, you can't cut everyone out.  That's where the problem lies.  How do we interact with the people in our lives that we have to deal with?  Maybe it's a co-worker, a family member or a classmate that you have to associate with.  

I personally have struggled with this.  I don't understand why people want to camp out in Negativille or why some people get off on hurting others.  However, in order to move on and deal, you have to learn how to understand these people and where they come from.  Instead of accepting the actions and words of negative people, we need to change the narrative.  It's time to make it so that it's not acceptable behavior.  That starts with adults.  Adults need to master this concept first, implement it into their own lives, and teach it to their children through their actions.  

Let's start:

1.  Negative Energy

Have you ever been in a room of people who are seemingly having a good time, everyone is jovial, laughing, talking, genuinely enjoying themselves?  All of a sudden there's a shift in the room, people are a little quieter, more guarded, and the energy itself has changed.  You realize someone else has entered the room, someone with a negative presence, negative energy.  No one has to say anything or point it out....chances are people may not even connect what has changed, but everyone feels it. 

There's that one person who comes in and has nothing but negative things to say, rumors to spread, or arguments to start.  It's almost as if their sole purpose is to make everyone's life miserable.  Everyone knows this person, they know what they're about.  No one has to start rumors or tarnish their reputation because their actions have already set the precedent. 

Kids feel this as well.  They may have to go into a classroom with a person that they have issues with.  They have to confront this person day in and day out.  They feel the tension, the negative energy, and probably a sense of fear.  It wears on individuals, it's exhausting and creates a great deal of anxiety.  

How do we deal with this as both children and adults:

  • Don't take the bait....these type of people love to bait you.  They'll tell you dramatic stories, and "can you believe this?"  You sympathize with them and comment on their story.  All of a sudden your comment gets, "holy cow, can you believe what April just said, she's such a (fill in the blank)."  Before you know it you're the villain in the story.  
    • Provide answers that are non comital - "I'm sorry to hear that."  "I'm sure you'll figure something out."  "I'm sorry you feel that way."  "That's a bummer."  Try to shut the conversation down and don't give any ammunition 

2.  How To Communicate - Develop Real Relationships

Technology is fantastic and is an integral part of our culture and society.  However, it has its time and place.  It should not a replacement for real human interaction.  People have lost the ability to communicate, they simply don't know how.  They know how to have a relationship online, but when it comes to human interaction, it's a lost art.   It's something that is still very valuable and needs to be learned.  

How do we teach a skill that seems to be a dying art:

  • Limit screen time - It doesn't mean screen time doesn't exist, but parking someone in front of a video game, Netflix, or their phone for hours on end does more harm than good.  
  • No phones at the dinner table - Meal time in general should be a time for conversation and enjoying the company you are with.  If that phone comes out, it kills a conversation and tells someone you're not interested. 
  • Get involved - Whether it's clubs, organizations, sports, music, drama, religion, etc. get involved in organizations you are passionate and excited about.  You will meet people with similar interests and form a network.

3.  Conflict-Resolution 

It's simple, people don't know how to argue anymore.  Just because you don't agree doesn't mean you have to be mean.  There are way to resolve a conflict without resulting to cruel words, texts, and public shaming.  Many times big fights can be completely avoided if people would ask for clarification.  Maybe they heard and interpreted a comment incorrectly.  Instead of asking, "what do you mean by that?" they go and stew for days, weeks or months.  Then they'll come back with this big elaborate story and how you are the absolute worst.  You may have idea what they're even talking about. 

Unfortunately, it usually doesn't just stop there.  People are brave when behind a phone or a computer, so they'll post on social media in hopes that people will like or comment and take their "side."  Now a simple misunderstanding has turned into all out war with two parties equally heated.  

How to solve a conflict:

  • Ask for clarification on the spot
  • Talk to the person directly, either via phone or in person....no texting, a lot gets lost in translation
  • You get 24 hours to talk about something that bothers you with the affected party, do not stew or hold grudges
  • Keep other people out of your business, you don't need to build sides 
  • Talk with inside voices in a respectful manner, no swearing or name calling

4.  Learn How to Use Social Media 

Social media was a fabulous idea.  Its intended purpose is to unite people, share in each other's good fortune, keep in touch with people who have moved away or you don't get to see on a daily basis.  It was not intended to be used as a platform for hate or public shaming.  Unfortunately, some people use it as a platform to vent their anger, frustration or hate for other people.  They'll put their personal business all up for others to see and comment.  The innocent party now has to watch as others decidedly say not nice things about them.  These comments are out there and permanent, as a constant reminder of what people think of you, or how many people have turned against you. 

The problem is you're only hearing one side, and passing a judgement while filling in blanks that may or may not be correct.  You're potentially slandering someone's name or reputation all for what? 

I tend to pass a judgement on the person who posts these hateful comments.  My personal belief is that they don't have anyone in their lives who think highly of them, so this is how they get their validation.  Their friends or personal validation come from virtual people.  Many times these people struggle functioning the real world. 

How to ignore someone who is harassing or bullying on social media:

  • Don't engage 
  • Decide how these person has effected you and choose between the following:
    • Block them - this will make your profile non-existent to them
    • Unfriend them
    • Unfollow them - if you're not ready to cut the cord, then you can still remain friends, but not have any of their posts show up in your feed
  • Always put good vibes out - Keep your feeds positive, don't engage in drama, others will see who you really are and who they really are, you don't need to prove anything to anyone

5.  Bullies Have Issues 

Many bullies have issues of their own that they project onto other people.  They are usually very broken.  As adults they may have a lot of regret and failed relationships.  They may have suffered a great deal of loss or even abuse.  Many times they are incredibly unhappy people who's life hasn't turned out the way that they wanted it too. 

Have you ever found that you have that one person who always seems to rear their little head every time something positive happens in your life?  This was recently pointed out to me by some friends and family members.  It didn't occur to me, until I took a step back and realized that every time something good happened in my life or that of my little family we would receive countless mean messages or comments from an individual.  They didn't seem to stop until the person was slightly satisfied that they had knocked us down a bit.  

It definitely bothers me, but it also made me feel kind of sad for that person.  How sad a life they must lead.  

This in no way gives them an excuse or a free pass, but does give insight into why they can be so cruel.  It's easier to cope as the one receiving the brunt of someone else's hurt when you have an idea where it's coming from. 

How to cope:

  • Be grateful for your life and the positive people in it
  • Try to understand or find the source of where their rage comes from 
  • Don't instigate them, but at the same time, you don't have to just take it, try and be calm and collected if you have to deal with them
  • Offer help, or tell someone who might be able to intervene to get the person help they may need
  • Don't take what they say to heart - this is easier said than done

6.  Set Boundaries - Your Home Is Your Castle 

A positive and loving home life goes a long way.  When you come home you should feel safe, protected, loved, and provided for.  Each individual home has their own set of rules.  The rules and guidelines are important to those families.  Everyone's family is different.  Something that is important to one, may not seem that important to another. 

If a parent or guardian shares an opinion with you or says that they don't feel comfortable with a certain situation, it's important that you back them up.  If a child sees that other adults are diminishing what their family puts in place it's easy to cause a divide.    

Ganging up on parents is not cool, and trying to impart your own parenting on someone else's kid is not appreciated.  You don't know what's going on in someone else's life and why they might chose something, so instead of passing a judgement and putting your own morals or set of standards in place simply back each other up.  It's important to respect each other's home and family. 

How to support each other:

  • Ask permission from a parent without the child standing right there
  • No means no, don't keep asking or switching to another parent 
  • Don't try and persuade someone to do something they are not comfortable with
  • Learn from each other 
  • Advocate for each other 

7.  Surround Yourself With Positive People

If you're a positive, happy person, you need to make sure you surround yourself with other positive, happy people.  You'll build each other up and help each other succeed.  You'll develop more meaningful relationships that will last.  You'll also notice that you don't give negative people the time of day anymore, they're not welcomed into your circle.  The old saying, "like seeks like."  Negative, mean people want everyone else to feel just as crappy as they feel.  Keep them out of your social circle, and deal with them when you must.  

There is so much good in this world and so many amazing people to share it with.  Don't waste your time on those who can't see that.  

When I was working at an internship in college, I was told by my boss that I had a zest for life, passion and not to ever let anyone take it away from me.  She told me this was unique, many people don't have this and always keep that because that's what makes me special. 

I never really understood that, because I couldn't imagine seeing the world in any other way.  Now as I've grown older I understand what she meant by her comment.  There really are people who try and steal your passion, situations that will test your positivity and strength.  You have two options you can fold and crumble, or you can stand firm and press on.  

I've chosen the later.  I try to be a beacon of positivity and encourage others to see all the good the world has to offer.  I get hurt and knocked down just like everyone else but I chose not to set up camp and live there.  A concept I talk about in my book "Have Your Cake And Eat It Too."  I'm very selective about the people I let in my close inner circle and am looking for positive influences for my daughter.  I also look at negativity as a teaching tool, what happened here and how has it affected this person's life?  

At the end of the day, the ball is in your court.  You get to decide how others will treat you.  You decide what you will and will not allow.  When you stop allowing people to hurt you they lose their power.  They can talk all they want, but when they see that their words don't have an effect on you anymore it loses some of that fire for them. 

What situations are you dealing with or other ways that you have learned to cope with bullies?

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