Tag Archive: cyberbullying

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.

Col6_DebateAs an editorialist, I tend to walk (erm…write) on the “controversial” side of the spectrum. Touching upon subjects like whether religion or science has caused more human catastrophe, whether certain behaviours should remain gendered and/or whether humans have the right to play “God” via technological intervention, for example…I’m sure you get why I tend to piss a lot of people off.

But, of course this is NOT my motivation, but rather a symptom of the fact that individuals frequently get emotional when one expresses strong convictions about well…just about anything. I must be doing my job right however if I’m at least getting you thinking; after all, you wouldn’t be reacting emotionally unless that were being accomplished. Just saying…

The problem, in my view, does not lay within maintaining opinions nor expressing them. As someone who gets paid to tout her thoughts, I’d be a huge hypocrite if I were not always readily and happily available for a good debate. Instead, the problem rests in our reactions upon hearing something that flies in the face of everything we believe, likely always have believed and/or hold dear to our hearts. When it comes to differences of opinion, what sets apart the psychologically mature and immature then comes down to three distinct characteristics:

1) the former does not cling to his/her values, attitudes and beliefs in ignorance (ie: he/she has strong validation, if not research to which to refer to back up his/her opinions. In a word, such an individual is “invested” into who they are and why they believe what they do. There’s that good old introspection again!)

2) the former is willing to admit errors in judgement upon the acquisition of new information and therefore adjust his/her views accordingly

And finally and most importantly, 3) the former is respectfully accepting of the opinions of others, even when they directly contradict his/her own views (ie: he/she will simply “agree to disagree”)

With all of this said, I hope it is obvious that it is NOT the receipt of impassioned emails I receive from readers pointing out the “flaws” (in their opinions) of my views that bothers me. In fact, I ALWAYS (and you can quote me on this) take the time to read through their arguments and respond in an objective fashion. The issue I have is when my simple expression of a given opinion somehow transforms me in my entirety into an individual characterized by a derogatory comment, particularly when it’s being uttered by someone who doesn’t know a thing about me other than the fact we do not see eye-to-eye in ONE area. This is what is known psychologically-speaking as a “personal attack”. But before I get into that definition, I’d like to point out what I feel are two important pieces of information to consider from my perspective in this equation (sorry for all the numbered lists!):

1) I don’t recall ever forcing anyone to read my writings

Moreover, 2) I don’t recall ever forcing anyone to accept my opinions as their own

Now, in any disagreement with another individual, you always have a clear choice in terms of how maturely you will phrase your reactions. Admittedly, we all get heated at times and say things out of turn, but a huge aspect of developing psychological maturity is getting a handle on one’s emotions (ie: both being able to control oneself and further being able to understand why one reacts the way he/she does).

With all of this said, there’s a HUGE difference in terms of strongly disagreeing with someone on a given subject matter and not liking them as an individual altogether. I should know being the hippie artistic child of a highly successful entrepreneurial businessman father: when it comes to the subject of the value of money or the government’s right to taxation, we couldn’t possibly be singing from more different song sheets. Our difference in opinion however is not “just cause” for me hating my pops nor calling him a selection of profanities. So why has this unduly treatment been issued to me and other entertainers/personalities? Well a few reasons (oh man, another numbered list?! I know, I know I apologize in advance.):

1) when you work under the public’s scrutiny, “the common joe” seems to believe that your feelings don’t get hurt as easily or as much when shit is slung in your general direction, and/or you can or SHOULD be able to take more shit than the average person. FYI this is NOT always true.

2) when a psychologically immature individual is faced with evidence that may cause him/her to re-examine (or examine for the first time) the rationale driving his/her beliefs which is an aspect of his/her self-concept, instead of being introspective, he/she will often react defensively and emotionally as a means of self-preservation (something we discussed last week)

and 3) this week’s discussion: the concept of anonymity. The individuals who send me and others “hate mail” don’t truly “know” who we are as people and therefore have no obligatory ties to us. In sum, unlike if I were to call my dad a dick for believing something I could not even begin to conceive of, the aforementioned “hate mailers” suffer little to no consequences for their actions.

As explained by Rider University’s Dr. John Suler in, CyberPsychology and Behavior: “Anonymity works wonders for the disinhibition effect. When people have the opportunity to separate their actions from their real world and identity, they feel less vulnerable about opening up. Whatever they say or do can’t be directly linked to the rest of their lives. They don’t have to own their behavior by acknowledging it within the full context of who they ‘really’ are. When acting out hostile feelings, the person doesn’t have to take responsibility for those actions. In fact, people might even convince themselves that those behaviors ‘aren’t me at all.’ In psychology this is called ‘dissociation.’”

As you’ll recall, I earlier stated that I always take the time to write back to my “hate mailers” and probe them further to question themselves as to why they hold the views they do, while gently reminding them that a difference of opinion is not grounds for verbal abuse. Interestingly, I NEVER receive responses; a fact that very much confirms Suler’s analysis that those engaged in “dissociative anonymity” do not categorize their actions as an encompassment of who they are. To respond would force them to own up to their actions, whereas failing to carry on a dialogue and actually getting to know me as an individual allows them to maintain their prejudicial views. It isn’t a stretch to consider then that racism is commonly based upon similar foundations (ie: lack of exposure to/ignorance of other groups outside of one’s own immediate periphery).

In sum, while issuing “personal attacks” may allow the instigator of such to achieve a temporary feeling of quasi-“superiority” based on an avoidance to look within, from a psychological stance, it’s a logical fallacy to divert an argument to belittling unless the goal were to determine who is willing to sink to a lower level (see political “muckracking” campaigns if you require more proof). Likewise, it’s a logical fallacy to possess feelings of hatred toward strangers and/or label strangers hurtful derogatory comments seeing as it literally does not make sense to harbour such strong feelings when there is no actual emotional connection (yet another indication one should look within, instead of outward). In other words, and as we’ll cover more next week, by all means go forth and debate, but first learn the art of “fighting fair.”