When Is It Bullying?

Let’s say there is a person, who doesn’t feel too comfortable when in human interactions. Reasons for that can be e.g. that the person is shy, introverted or slightly autistic or all of the above at once. So, this person has two choices:

He can try and hide. Human interaction can be cut back to the absolute minimum. People aren’t to be trusted. He becomes a lone rock in the water that over time dissolves him to be nothing. At that point he doesn’t live anymore, but only exists invisibly until even that is over. A life with all its talents and promises wasted.

He can choose to try and put himself out there into the world of group thinking and ‘no walls, no boundaries’ and networking that is made for the part of the population that is not him – the extroverts and pseudo-extroverts, who talk loudly and act rapidly whether they have a clue or are right or not, because the best show wins. It’s hard and more often than not it hurts, but it is today the only chance to participate.

If he chooses the second option, he will most probably start online, since the monitor is a convenient additional protective wall. And he might be drawn to try for a part in a role-play. For one thing, he lives in his head a lot; books, shows and stories would be his thing. And, to wear the coat of another means even more protection of the real self.

Well, I did. For the topic at hand it really isn’t necessary to say what role-play or where, as this could have happened anywhere. The group just started out. I was one of the very first characters casted, one that was shy but had a strong partner. I came well prepared. It seemed ideal. And for the first days, when we still were so few that everyone interacted with each other as where wasn’t another choice, things were good.

As the group grew however – we are talking approx. 20 players – things changed. More often than not I found myself left out, even from things that I had initiated in the first place. My partner was busy in real life and couldn’t be the help I might have hoped for. I soon questioned my raison d’etre.

It helped that I found two people, who seemed friendly. One of them – well, I don’t speak or understand human, so let’s say things broke between us. And from this moment on things turned from bad to worse. So far, I had been well liked, though people tended to forget about me when things happened in the game. It is like a teacher is quoted about team culture in corporate America in Quiet by Susan Cain:

“This style of teaching [group learning, team approach] reflects the business community, where people’s respect for others is based on their verbal abilities, not their originality or insight. You have to be someone who speaks well and calls attention to yourself. It’s an elitism based on something other than merit.”

This elitism is now so much a part of our society that it shows up even in something as simple as a role play. You don’t have to be at Harvard Business School to be seen as a less desirable partner in an exercise or to be less likely to be seen because you are calm and reflecting.

Anyway, while I was well liked before the incident I suddenly found myself blocked – not by the person who’d called me a friend before (not for long anyway), but by this person’s partner with whom I hadn’t exchanged and would exchange even a word. It was absurd, but I wasn’t the first group member who had to endure this. Nevertheless, I was shocked.

In the end I did, what I was supposed to do – I went to the administrator with the problem. And it was a problem that not only affected me, but was potential dangerous to the group as a whole. We were both players of the same game in the same world in a relatively small group. Where I am though in an important position so still quiet and shy as my character is meant to be, he is one of the cool kids who can be found all over the place at all times. And once he isn’t around he will sure as hell make sure people will notice his absence. If I made it finally into a conversation with someone and he jumps in (and he did), I wouldn’t be able to reply anymore as he wouldn’t receive the reply. The third party would have to decide with whom to continue talking. First only in this one conversation, but how long before it would become inconvenient to start a conversation with me in the first place? This block was a wedge that started to split the group. And I was the weaker part.

It took me a week until I finally could register the problem with the administrator and in the month after this I didn’t hear back from her at all. I inquired once what was going on and was basically told to shut up. My disappointment grew when I saw other group members thank her enthusiastically for supportive emails they received from her though she denied to me that she had sent them.

Meanwhile, while I kept quiet and waited other people from the group started to distance themselves from my character. I mean the group members have the awful habit to hide in their @s most of the time anyway, it’s the death for people like me, who need repeatedly to overcome the hurdle of addressing another person. But people, who had been friendly to me before, stopped replying to things I tagged them in. And it wasn’t in lack of time, because I saw them reply to things directly before and after, just not to me. Or their replies were practically a dismissal. My ideas, greeted with big hallo when brought up by others, were ignored completely when I presented them. In our group chat threads died once I posted in them or my post was ignored. In one thread about fanfiction we wrote and posted nobody commented after me, but once someone else put up that she was thinking about writing something, she was enthusiastically told that they would look forward to reading her stories. As I’d witnessed on an earlier occasion said person who blocked me warn other RPers about interactions with a certain fellow character of the game and the RP had two others leave because of his behavior, I could fairly well imagine what was going on behind the scenes.

So, what do you say, is this bullying?

Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus says bullying occurs when a person is: ‘exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons’. He says negative actions occur ‘when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways.’ It is done to gain power over another person and involves an imbalance of social or physical power. But it is not necessarily based on sexual orientation, religion gender or race and it does not necessarily involve violence or calling names.

So, by all means I say yes, the example that I brought up above can be subsumed under the term of bullying. And what is so bad about it, other than it is hurtful in itself, is that it is so hard to prove. This mixture of lack of communication, forced isolation and ignorance leaves little tangible things to bring forward and point out.

What to do?

What I perceived as an advantage first, the relative anonymity of the internet, has turned against me. Though it once had been the domain of introverts, it now worships the extrovert ideal as well. The louder someone is, the more presence he shows, the smarter and better he is thought and the more likely people are to believe that he has the truth and the solution. In this environment people who are not just that soon become outcasts.

Does it help to bring it to the attention of all players on the inside? No. For one thing, nobody who is not the direct target does want to know or get involved. As the calmer one and the one people aren’t as accustomed to you are less likely to be believed. Why should these overall nice, normal people do that to you? (The question is why would anyone do this to anyone else.) Plus, in this case of bullying as I showed it, you lack the shiny evidence. You are likely to be called a lunatic and become even more isolated. As I am a sucker for justice and slightly masochistic, I did it anyway and was the one punished for it.

To bring it to the general attention? No and no. This has to be treated like the dirty laundry of your family. People might be into scandals for entertainment, but nothing good will come from it. And in the end no one else wants to clean it anyway. Plus, you started this for a reason. You loved this world. You invested into the group. You want to see the world and the group succeed and flourish and not be smashed under the eye of the public. You would hurt people you still love and admire.

Giving up and leaving? The only one you hurt with this is yourself as you end up to be the one in hiding again. I for one came to love my character. I have not chosen her myself as I was first overwhelmed by her importance and role. But she is the Rosa Parks kind of person. She is shy, introverted and timid; not the kind of person you would expect to stand up and fight (or in the case of Rosa Parks stay seated and fight). But she is highly intelligent, full of love and with a strong sense for right and wrong. From her place in life she wants to do good and wants to set things right. In any position, she is a champion. I don’t want to let her go. I just wish, I had my Martin Luther King Jr. at my side.

What can I say at the end? *laughs dryly* You should listen when the introverts talk, because they thought a long time about what they say. And if they don’t talk, pull them along and into the thick of things, because that’s what they came out to play with you for. But don’t take their apparent weakness – not being able to call the attention on them and not being that interested in doing so – as an invitation to bully them. Just as without gays e.g. the Sistine Chapel would have been painted white, with a roller brush, three coats, without introverts humankind would miss things from Moses to the Laws of Gravity to Apple.


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