Bullies aren’t welcome. For every bully, there are a dozen or a hundred workers/kids/individuals who would prefer not to be bullied. Given these overwhelming odds, how do bullies continue to get away with it?
Bullying is what happens when an individual with power exercises that power against people who don’t fit in. By threatening to expose or harm or degrade the outlier, the bully reinforces the status quo in a way that increases his power. (Physical bullying is a different phenomenon. I’m mostly writing here about emotional bullying.)
“I will punish you because you don’t fit in, and I will continue to punish you until you do.”
Bullying persists when bureaucracies and hierarchies permit it to continue.
It’s easier to keep order in an environment where bullying can thrive (and vice versa), because the very things that permit a few to control the rest also permit bullies to do their work. The bully uses the organization’s desire for conformity to his own ends.
At the fabulous lab school in Manhattan, they’re making huge progress at undoing this problem. A recent assembly (organized and run by students and volunteers) was created around weirdness, fear, and most of all, “owning it.” (The adults in these videos were only ten percent as honest and risk-taking as the kids that stood up on stage. The kids talked about physical and mental disabilities, lifestyle choices, and the things that made them sing.)
When students are given permission to be their best selves, they take it, just as you and I would like to. Because, it’s true, we are all weird. When there isn’t a race to fit in the most, bullying those that don’t fit in loses much of its power.
This is incredibly brave and risky for those in charge. It involves trusting people to become something wonderful as opposed to insisting that they fit in at all costs.
We’re all a lot weirder than we’d like the world to know. Given the chance, we can share that weirdness and run with it. It’s our best shot at a world with art, and a world without bullies. (More here, but even better, go do this in your organization…)
Seth Godin has written fourteen books that have been translated into more than thirty languages. Every one has been a bestseller. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and, most of all, changing everything.