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Bullies and Trolls October 17, 2010

Posted by nrhatch in Mindfulness, People, Spirit & Ego.

In a recent blog post, someone said, inter alia:

“If you witness [potential] bullying, as an adult, you have an obligation to intervene and find out [whether it’s teasing or bullying].”

Wikipedia ~ Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms (in Public Domain)

I responded:

Hmm . . . I don’t think that ALL adults have an “obligation” to intervene.

Parents, teachers, principals, ministers, neighbors may have an ethical, moral, or legal obligation to look out for kids they know or for kids entrusted to their care.

But that obligation does NOT automatically extend to every adult who happens upon a potential situation involving bullying or teasing.

Parents need to look out for their kids, talk to their kids, and supervise their kids ~ whether their kids are bullies or victims.

The author of the original post, shocked by my response, immediately set out to cross-examine me . . . after changing the hypothetical in question by elevating the scenario from “potential bullying” to actual physical abuse.

My response:

This isn’t about what I would or would not do.

You made a universal statement that ALL adults have an obligation to look out for kids.

I challenged your statement and stand by what I said.

Just because someone chooses to have kids doesn’t impose an obligation on ALL other adults to watch out for them.

The author responded by saying, inter alia, that “Anyone that chooses to ignore situations like this is choosing to contribute to the harm of a child.”

I replied:

A parallel statement would be: Anyone who chooses to eat meat is choosing to contribute to the UNNECESSARY suffering of animals and the environmental destruction and devastation wrought by factory farms.

In my view of the world, EVERYONE should become a vegetarian. I believe that eating meat is a disgusting, unhealthy habit ~ and also morally and ethically wrong.

But just because I BELIEVE that doesn’t mean that everyone else has to look at the world the same way that I do, or that I can stand up and tell them that they ALL have an “obligation” to stop eating meat because “I say so.”

Too many parents bring kids into the world, expecting someone else (the government, the schools, the neighbors) to raise them, educate them, and look out for them. IMHO, that reliance on paternalism has to stop.

Raising children requires time, energy, money, an even temperament, and common sense ~ sadly, many parents are lacking in one, or all, of these areas.  People need to think long and hard about whether to bring children into a world that is already bulging at the seams.

In response, the author ran back to his posse to gather reinforcements for HIS view of the world.  One of his buddies came back and said, “Do NOT feed the troll.”

My response:

“Application of the term troll is highly subjective. Some readers may characterize a post as trolling, while others may regard the same post as a legitimate contribution to the discussion, even if controversial. The term is often used as an ad hominem strategy to discredit an opposing position by attacking its proponent.” Wikipedia.

Subjectively labeling someone with a different viewpoint as a “troll” (or a misanthrope) is akin to what bullies do when they feel threatened by opposing views held by others. 

When bullies BELIEVE the views and actions of others are “morally repugnant,” they resort to ad hominem attacks on the PERSON rather than civilly discussing the difference of opinion. 

They round up their posse and collectively tease, taunt, ridicule, finger point, hurl epithets, and apply JUDGMENTAL LABELS. 

Be the change you wish to see in the world. ~ Gandhi

Maybe, when adults learn to engage in civil conversations about opposing viewpoints (without ridiculing their “opponents” or applying judgmental labels), our children will learn by example.

Until then . . . the world is apt to be filled with bullies.

Related posts:  Five Ways to Defeat Blog Trolls and Cyberstalkers * Tired of Paternalism * Free to Be Child-Free


1. Richard W Scott - October 17, 2010

What fun this one was. Convoluted, complicated, knotty… one of those words must surely work. In any event I have to agree with you, for the most part… but it is a fine line.

Much like my comment some weeks back about the firemen who let the house burn without checking to see if there were people trapped inside… I wonder if we have any more or less obligation to stop (or attempt to stop) one person from harming another?

I’m not sure I believe I should jump between a shooter and his target just on general purpose. I do not recommend “taking a bullet” out of context. But, what if you can prevent someone from being hurt? Should you? Is it our–as strangers–busniess to intervene? Should we say something? Should call for help? It is a very difficult question. The grubby gun-holder who is waving a weapon at a well-dressed person may be a police officer, and the clean person a villain.

How can we know? How can determine the best action? Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

Nancy, your point is made clearly and compellingly. I just wish real life, real on the sidewalk, breathing the smoke, tasting the grime in the air life, were as easy to read.

nrhatch - October 17, 2010

Actually, that had something to do with my original position. Many situations ARE difficult to read. People tend to “rush to judgment” rather than taking the time to find out what is REALLY going on.

And in the original hypothetical . . . there was NO VIOLENCE.

Instead, there was a question of whether kids were “teasing” each other or “bullying” one another. That is the hypothetical that I responded to.

I disagreed with proposition that, in such an unclear situation, ALL adults had to stop what they were doing, stick their nose into the situation, and ascertain exactly what was going on.

If I saw someone beating a child, animal, or adult, I would do something. That, of course, is a different scenario than initially posed.

Thanks for some terrific input! I love the (dirty) cops and (clean) robbers example you used. 🙂

2. Julie - October 17, 2010

Yes, if adults can’t figure out how to have meaningful discourse, how do we expect children to do so?

nrhatch - October 17, 2010

That’s exactly my point.

When people who are opposed to bullying (even of the name calling variety) resort to name calling, ridicule and applying judgmental labels themselves (rather than engaging in rational discourse), how can they expect more from kids?

Richard W Scott - October 17, 2010

That brings up another point. Name-calling. It seems so “sticks and stones”, doesn’t it? But isn’t name calling what allows us to go to war and kill human beings? If we first call the target a name, and then allow the name to become the label, we can easily kill a label. It is a process which allows us to dehumanize. In 1944 we could easily kill “japs”, but in 2010 killing a Japanese citizen is a capital crime.

How embarrassing.

nrhatch - October 17, 2010


The author in question (and his friends) labeled me as a “misanthrope” and a “troll” to “dehumanize” me.

At that point, they could “safely” ignore my position because who listens to “trolls”?

Of course, if I responded by applying a derogatory label to them, they would have called me a “bully” . . . even if I was just “teasing” them. 🙂

3. andalibmarks - October 18, 2010

That is a tricky situation to be put in.
It is, as you say, not the issue of physical violence that was brought up, it was the issue of bullying.
I agree, if I saw someone physically abusing someone else, I would jump in. Bullying, on the other hand is something else.
Say, for example, I see a kid being taunted and called names and I intervene. I am not always around that kid to ‘protect’ him/her from being called names. After I leave, what’s to stop the other kids from seeking revenge on their victim and then instead of simply name calling, they start physically abusing the child?
What then?
Was my judgement right the first time by jumping in and then leaving the child to his/her fate? Or would it have been better if I simply let it be?
The name calling would have passed without any violence (as it sometimes does) and the kids would have gone their separate ways, only to start it all over again in the morning (as it sometimes does).
Now, however, because of my ‘obligation to intervene’ I have accelerated the situation.
It is as I say, a different thing entirely if I was to see someone pyhsically abusing someone else. And don’t get me started on the animals! Fuck knows I will do to them what they did to the animal. No bullshit.
It is also as you say Nancy. People are popping out kids all the time and then leaving them for someone else to look after, raise, support.
Do you have any idea how many teenage mothers there are who simply don’t give a shit? Who looks after those kids? Who intervenes with them when they are the ones who start bullying because they have a shitty home life?
The writer of that piece (I read it too) has a valid point but that is HIS opinion. Just like you have a valid point but it is YOUR opinion.
The moment it stopped being about the post that was ORIGINALLY posted and was reduced to a personal ‘I say’ and ‘you say’ complex web of twisting and turning to suit me, I think it lost its validity and became a game of standing in a circle, all pointing fingers at someone else yelling, ‘You’re wrong and I’m right! Idiot!’
Right, I’ve said my two cents worth.

nrhatch - October 18, 2010

I think your comment is worth more than 2 cents. 🙂

You’ve identified a few reasons for my original position . . .

What if I read the situation wrong?
What if I make matters worse?
Do I really have an obligation to stop and figure out if its good-natured teasing or bullying when it’s not clear on the surface?
What’s going to happen after I walk away?
Will I have caused the situation to escalate?

Also, I thought about parents like the teenage mothers in your example who bring kids into the world with no interest in actually raising them . . . unfit parents who look at others to pick up their slack.

And every time we pick up their slack . . . we encourage other unfit individuals to have kids whether or not they have the resources to care for them.

And you’re right in your last paragraph too. As soon as I expressed a contrary viewpoint, it ceased being a discussion about intervening to ascertain whether the situation involved bullying or teasing and became a spitting contest played out on shifting sands.

4. Greg Camp - October 19, 2010

I do believe that we are obliged to do good, but that does not mean that we must do all good. As long as I am doing the good that I am specifically able to do, I’m meeting what I owe to the world. I cannot right all wrongs, particularly when I don’t know what’s going on in the situation.

nrhatch - October 19, 2010

That’s the way I tend to look at it.

Just as we cannot please ALL the people ALL the time, we cannot focus on ALL the problems ALL the time.

We need to pick and choose so that we each are using our talents to their best advantage.

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