08/13/2014 05:18 EDT | Updated 10/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Let's Stop Whipping Out the Bully Card For No Reason

Unless born with a psychopathic disposition, for the most part, bullies are not born, but rather made. Bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and colour. They are people of either gender, every socio-economic class, holding any political and philosophical mentality, are found at any age, and come from all walks of life. People can be bullied in any medium: in person, online, in print, and over the phone. They can be bullied professionally, academically, athletically, personally, publicly, or privately. They can be friends, neighbours, family, coworkers, or strangers. One hallmark characteristic of bullies is that they are proud of their behaviour. Another observation I've noted about bullies is that many of them can dish out their nastiness, but if ever on the receiving end of a reprimand or a slight insult, they cry victim. In other words, they can dish it out, but can't take it.

Growing up, it was really easy to pick out the bully in the playground, during high school gym class, in a social clique at university or college, or even on the job. However, in the last five years, it seems that pulling out the bully card is de rigeur, and the label of 'bully' tossed around nonchalantly. For example, more often than not, if anyone disagrees with something that is said, quickly one person is labelled a bully in that disagreement by the person with the weaker position. But, what is a bona fide bully?

Per the Oxford dictionary, a bully is "[a] person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker," and to bully someone is to "[u]se superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something." Schools, workplaces, and governments have tried to make the definition more precise by adding elements to the legal definition of bullying so that the behaviour is more clearly identified. The hallmarks of bullying are that it is aggressive and repeated behaviour having the effect of causing harm, fear or distress to a person, including physical, psychological, social or academic harm, harm to the individual's reputation or harm to a person's property in an environment where the behaviour takes place where there is a real or perceived power imbalance.

Even with a narrowed and clarified definition of bullying, the bully card is pulled so frequently, as if those drawing it are channelling their inner soccer referee when doing so. At one time or another, most people do find themselves in a position of power, and use that position to get what they want. Any employer, spouse, parent, teacher, political official, fiduciary, doctor, lawyer, police officer, soldier, or other professional of any kind is in a position of power, superior strength, or influence. Heck, even a parent of a toddler or baby might say they've felt bullied by their child who happens to hold all of the power and influence in the relationship dynamic. However, it is that use of power that will ultimately define whether a person's conduct falls into the realm of bullying or not.

Although, the bully card is whipped out everywhere, I've witnessed firsthand how the bully card is whipped out most often amongst mothers, simply because that is the realm I live in now having become one myself. The word is kicked around like a ball without any thought or regard to its meaning or application. Anytime a disagreement takes place, whether online or in-person in a group, the person with a strong contrary opinion to that of the group regarding any parenting issue gets labelled a bully. Let's be honest, everything in the parenting world is up for debate. Everyone has an opinion contrary to that of another on every single thing about child-rearing: whether one should breast or bottle feed, use disposable or cloth diapers, have a nanny or send a child to daycare, work or be a stay-at-home mom, send your child to "x" amount of programs versus none, and the list goes on. For example, I read a thread wherein a mother aggressively conveyed an opinion that formula is poison and that breast is best. This started a war of words, furiously typed on many computers and smart phones by dozens upon dozens of women decrying the statements made and labelling the original poster a bully.

The original poster was not a bully. She merely held strong views and used strong language to defend them. By repeatedly restating her opinion in a forum filled with women, who tend to shoot first and then ask questions later, some of whom are still very hormonal from their pregnancies, the woman who'd sooner choose famine over formula, is called a bully. However, she's not in any position of power in relation to the other posters. She has no strength or influence over the other women in the forum. She's not causing them harm of any kind. There's no real or perceived power imbalance -- these are women sitting at computer screens, all of who are typing their opinions madly and as fast at they can to be the other to the quick. She's not going to these women's homes and putting a gun to their heads to whip out their breasts and offer it to their child instead of a bottle full of formula. She's a stranger to these people, yet for her stated opinions she is now called a bully. She is most definitely not a bully. She may be opinionated and her opinion completely wrong. She may be mean. She may even be called a litany of cuss words. But, she's not a bully.

As a society, we really need to stop pulling out the bully card with such ease and lack of thought to its meaning. More so as mothers, we really need to stop overusing it, labelling each other as one when we don't like what another mother has said. Otherwise, the word and definition will lose all meaning, giving real bullies power to carry on.

For more of Naomi's writing, visit her website, read her satire blog Satirical Mama, read her debut novel Deathbed Dimes, and follow her on Twitter @satiricalmama.


Amanda Todd