What about just being mean?

20 Mar

Here’s a trailer for the documentary Bully, which comes out March 30th (see 3/8/12 post): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjjeHeAzZZM&feature=player_embedded.

I’m both moved by the clip and wondering whether this national dialogue on bullying is kicking sand over social aggression before its reaches the point of bullying.

The social justice organization GroundSpark defines bullying as the persistent aggressive behavior of a person or group with the intent to cause distress or harm to someone who has less power or status (GroundSpark, 2004). I know, I know… such a lot of words for a pretty straightforward E-Z to understand concept. And I think the words matter.

There’s a lot of behavior that bullying doesn’t describe, like isolated acts of aggression between people of equal status (think Real Housewives type behavior) or acts that are unintentionally, but nonetheless, aggressive (for example, outing a crush someone has, thinking it’s no big deal… but it is to them). These socially aggressive behaviors are at least as rampant as bullying–if not abundantly more so.

And while they may fail the tests of persistence, intentionality and power difference, they matter. So as the nation appears to be paying more attention to the extremes of aggressive behavior among youth, I wonder why other forms of aggression are still socially tolerable (back to the Real Housewives, a franchise built on peer abuse).

I absolutely believe that it’s imperative that we address bullying and its dire consequences (for the bullied, the bullies and the bystanders). I also think we need to recognize other instances of aggression that veer past the zone of healthy assertiveness without eliciting protest (or documentaries). Because all those other acts of meanness, whether we enact or receive them, shape us.

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