Tag Archive: bullying

Vol2_Col3_countering-media-influenceAmanda Todd. Canadian. 15 years old. Dead. Another bullied, angst-ridden, self-abusing depressed teen to add to the list of those whose lives were cut too short. In a word: tragic.

Upon release of the news, discourse from concerned parents relating to the risks of social media use and the increasing need for “internet policing” abounded. While these concerns are most surely valid, Todd’s suicide is not merely an indication that bullying in the 2000s has escalated to a new level that we, as a society, have yet to come to grips with. Greater than this, is what lies at the deeper root of the problem: the motivations behind the very actions of Todd that served as the impetus to her “cyber-bullying” conundrum.

“Why”, we should be asking ourselves, “would anyone go to such an extent to seek validation from a complete stranger in regard to their physicality?” What does this say about what we’re teaching our youth? More importantly, what does this say about our societal standards for appearances and sexuality and the high value we seemingly place on both?

While a debate on consumerism and its mandate to make us all feel inadequate so that we buy more and more items to fulfill the very voids it leads us to believe we possess would prove illustrative, again I’d like to delve deeper to get at the origin of why “industry” seems to have such a hold on us…well at least some of us, that is.

Now I’m sure all of you are at least superficially familiar with the pervasive “nature vs. nurture” debate. Further, I’m sure you’ve all heard that the current consensus in social science academic circles is that both elements are said to influence us relatively equally throughout our initial stages of socialization. In other words, it’s not simply WHAT we’re born with (ie: our DNA/inherited genes) nor WHERE/HOW we’re raised (ie: our environments). But instead, it’s how these two factors work together symbiotically that make us into the individuals we become. Allow me to explain more in-depth:

Let’s say there was a child who was born with an above average IQ “potential” (ie: nature). Due to unfortunate financial circumstances however, he was raised in a ghettoized neighbourhood where he attended primary and secondary schools that lacked guidance counsellors, extra-curricular activities and additional support resources.

His parents both worked multiple jobs that just barely allowed them to cover the household expenses; accordingly, they were frequently exhausted when they got home at the end of the day. As a consequence, the little boy was commonly alone without positive adult supervision. Moreover, even when his parents were physically present, he likely was not receiving the support, love and guidance he required from them.

While this child started life out with the “potential” (ie: nature) to achieve strong grades that could lead to a university education and an associated higher end career, because of his environmental upbringing (ie: nurture), he was never able to fully flourish.

At this point it is worth clarifying that the term “environment” as defined in the nature vs. nurture paradigm encompasses far more than just the tangible physical spaces one occupies throughout his/her life. As the above example demonstrates, one’s environment too consists of the people with whom we interact, the kinds of interactions that take place and the messages we receive. Whether our interactions are direct (ie: someone speaking with us in person), indirect (ie: receiving information from a tv commercial), one-way (ie: a lecture), reciprocal (ie: a conversation between friends), verbal (ie: someone saying they love you) or nonverbal (ie: someone giving you a hug after a bad day) is irrelevant – ALL of these modes of communication can and will influence you, if you allow them to. That my friends is the key: the concept of “agency”: the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.

Now, as you reach adolescence, the impact of “nurture”, especially as it pertains to social and media influences, shifts into high gear. The cause? Quite simply the fact that this is the first time in your life you truly get a chance to establish your own sense of identity! Part and parcel to this process, of course, is a pressing desire to rebel from all sources of authority, particularly that of your parents and their belief systems (Ah we have so much to look forward to when we become parents ourselves!)

In other words, as you reach this age, you become psychologically “primed” to pay close(r) attention to messages that relate to concepts of “self-expression”, “self-discovery” and “self-fulfillment” given that these topics are particularly relevant to the pressures you are experiencing in regard to “making something of yourself” and/or “finding out who you are” and “what cliché you belong in.” Wouldn’t you know it? These are the VERY SAME concepts that so many advertisements and media images try to sell us!

In reference to females specifically, the media teaches our girls that being “beautiful”, “sexy”, “desirable”, “attractive”, “sexual” and so forth are the NUMBER ONE KEYS to success, independence and confidence (Don’t get me started on the equally disturbing and damaging messages that we indoctrinate onto our boys). With all of this in mind, what I’m getting at is that it’s easy to see why young adults oftentimes find themselves falling into the “wrong” crowds and/or participating in questionable popularity/validation-seeking behaviours that may come back to bite them in the ass as was the case with Todd. No disrespect intended.

When we become adults, the hope is that we’ve grown past this stage and have a fairly strongly established sense of personal agency. For those of us born with more “follower-oriented” personality types, do not fear, agency and self-assertiveness can be taught and developed. There will, of course, always be “structures” to contend with in life that will limit our choices to a certain extent (ie: social class, religion, ethnicity, legislation, gender etc.) HOWEVER, in NO logical way that I can consider do said structures play a role in whether you allow yourself to buy into much of the advertised b.s. messages that are out there. Moreover, these structures also do NOT in any way prevent you from ditching people in your life that really only bring you down. The only thing that prevents either is an UNWILLINGNESS to practise introspection and “rational choice”. YOU are empowered with the choice to select when it’s worth your while to “tune in” and when you should quite frankly just “tune out.”

Rational (albeit mature) people, when presented with new information/messages, make the decision whether to incorporate or discard said information/messages based on a cost/benefit analysis. With this in mind, the next time you find yourself in a situation pondering whether you should allow yourself to be influenced (because remember it is a CHOICE), you need to ask yourself the following:

1) How can this information/influence help me in regard to my life, my goals, my dreams?

2) How can this information/influence hinder me in regard to my life, my goals, my dreams?

3) How would those significant in my life (ie: parents, friends, peers, teachers, spiritual advisors etc.) feel about this information/influence? Why do you think they’d feel that way?

4) Would my life be missing something valuable if I chose not to accept this information/influence?

5) Is this information/influence something I’d be comfortable passing onto others? If not, why?

Unfortunately in Todd’s tragic case, the life has already been lost. In your own and those of your future children however, you can make a difference. Teaching “(social) media savvy” isn’t enough. Negative influences can and will impact your life through a variety of sources. What needs to be taught more importantly is how to recognize these influences for what they are and how to make the “rational choice” not to allow oneself to get sucked in.

Vol #1, Col #23: Lost in Translation

Col23_HypocrisyMeterAh, the art of conversation. If only it were as easy to navigate as it’s defined: simply, two or more individuals engaged in dialogue. The problem is that people don’t always express what they’re truly feeling; worse (and what seems to be an ongoing occurrence in my life), some seemingly deliberately attempt to mislead you. Allow me to explain:

A number of months ago, I found myself in a very unfortunate conflict with an individual that is significant in my partner’s life. I dislike being in arguments with anyone, but it adds a whole nother realm of complication to the mix when your partner feels like they’re being torn between two people they really care for.

For obvious reasons, I’d rather refrain from getting into the nitty gritty of our falling out. What I’d like to focus on instead is everything that unfolded after our initial disagreement which only proved to escalate the situation to ridiculous proportions.

To reiterate, I sincerely dislike fighting in ALL capacities. However, I am a very confrontational person by nature. That may sound like a contradiction to you, but what I mean is that I don’t like pussyfooting around situations. I believe in being honest, upfront and trying to solve things as soon as possible, as I know from experience that the longer you leave things unattended, the more they simmer and have the potential to lead to clouded resentment-filled bitchfests.

With all of that said, as soon as the proverbial shit hit the fan between me and this individual, I immediately tried to diffuse things. I explained my side of the story as I felt my intentions had been misinterpreted and I tried to display empathy toward the other person’s case. Despite being told directly by the party in question that everything would be resolved if I’d just “be myself” and “be honest”, I was accused of using “psychobabble”, being condescending as well as disrespectful.

The first thought that crossed my mind of course, was well I do have a Hons. degree in psychology so I kinda have a natural inclination to analyze situations and people’s motives in order to gain a better understanding of this crazy mixed up world we live in… but I digress. Beyond that, I couldn’t help but feel both offended and extremely confused. I mean in my mind, I gave this individual EXACTLY what they asked for, AND YET somehow doing so made the situation worse?!

Now this is classic passive aggressive behaviour: seemingly playing nice only to pull out the claws when you least expect it, and honest people who take others at face value, such as myself, fall for it EVERY single time. Passive aggressiveness commonly develops in childhood in reaction to overbearing/controlling parenting and is ultimately rooted in feelings of EXTREME insecurity.

Three key behavioural characteristics displayed by those who have taken on this form of maladaptive coping are:

1) Victimization (ie: the belief that one is constantly being unfairly attacked by others and is always innocent in the equation)

2) Blaming (ie: the inability to acknowledge responsibility for one’s own actions/consider the perspective of others) and

3) Hypocrisy (ie: inconsistency between one’s expressed thoughts/views/attitudes and one’s actions). It is the latter of these qualities that is of our interest today.

According to Dr. Michael J. Hurd, psychotherapist and personal life coach, “hypocrisy is a symptom of intellectual dishonesty.” In other words, hypocrisy is rooted (surprise, surprise!) in the inability and/or unwillingness to practise introspection. Hurd goes on to elaborate, “an intellectually honest person, confronted with a gap between what he thinks/preaches and practices, will immediately hold a meeting with himself: ‘What’s wrong here? Is there some mistake in my idea? Or am I simply not walking the talk, even though I can?’” Given this interpretation of hypocrisy, it’s not surprising that pathological lying (both to others and oneself) is frequently another symptom of passive aggressiveness.

Moral psychologist, Dr. Robert Kurzban, in his article, “A Mind Designed for Hypocrisy” takes the argument one step further. In his view “our minds are designed to identify and even point out other people’s moral failings while, at the same time, pursuing our own interests even if doing so means violating the very same rules we want to punish others for violating.” Hypocrisy therefore is “just one way that we [as humans] try to gain strategic advantage in the social world; pursuing our own interests while at the same time trying to stop others from pursuing theirs.”

So perhaps it all comes down thinly-veiled insecurity in the form of “power plays” and bullying yet again? In support of this hypothesis is the fact that it has been noted by many that there is a distinct parallel between holding feelings of superiority/authority and displays of hypocrisy, in that the higher up you are/you perceived yourself to be on the feeding chain, the higher likelihood there is you will engage in hypocritical behaviour.

Kinda makes you wonder whether honesty is truly valued as an admirable quality or rather we just “say” it is? Maybe this calls for a social experiment. The next time you find yourself in one of those daily, “hello, how are you?” interchanges, answer the question unabashedly. You’ll know by the other person’s reaction whether said query was purely propositioned out of obligation to honour what society prescribes as “polite conduct” OR worse if they only asked you so they could be asked in return and have the opportunity to proceed in bragging/ranting about their own current affairs.

In other words, this week’s lesson: psychological maturity is neither selfish nor self-serving. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. And don’t initiate a dialogue if you’re really only interested in listening to the sound of your own voice.