August 1, 2019 in Dag

Today I’m officially hot under the collar

I’m usually a laid back sort of person. I don’t get too caught up in big issues. And if I do, I try to keep it out of this blog. I like to keep things light.

But every so often, something happens that really makes me upset. That not only makes me hot under the collar, but that actually makes we feel the need to express that outrage. So like it or not, today I’m going to get a bit heavier than normal.

This situation relates to some words from another author. And far be it for me to criticise my writing fellows, but sometimes I just can’t hold my tongue. I won’t name this person, but I can say they occupy a very different space in the writing world than I do. They are one of the most prominent writers for young people in Australia and hold a position as some kind of guru – film and television adaptations have been made from their works.

To be honest, this person is not someone whose opinions I hold in high regard. There have been other times when I’ve disagreed pretty strongly with things they’ve said. And hey, we’re all entitled to our opinions. But given their status in the community and how potentially damaging these new statements are, I feel like I need to have my say.

What this person said relates to the topic of bullying. Apparently, in most cases, bullying is nothing more than ‘feedback’ given to a person based on their unlikeable behaviour. And anyone being bullied should look at themselves and try to figure out how they can change what they have done to become more likeable.

Yes, you did hear that right. I had to check further myself. I didn’t want to be another person jumping on the outrage wagon. But after consulting several sources, it seems pretty undeniable that this is what was said.

So that’s it. If you get bullied, it’s not the bully’s fault, it’s yours. And there’s no need for the bully to consider their behaviour – the onus is on you. Having been the target of bullies myself (both at school and in the workplace), and having seen the effects of bullying on others (not to mention bullying’s apparently more benign but possibly more pernicious cousin, exclusion) I can’t say how much I am horrified by these statements, particularly coming from someone who as a writer should have some kind of empathy. It represents victim blaming of the worst kind. And it absolutely denies the reality of bullying, compressing all of the torment suffered by the victims into some shallow assessments about likeability.

What is the message being put out here? Don’t be different. Don’t be quirky. Don’t stand up for things that are important to you if they go against the grain. Because, from my experience, these are the things that cause people to be bullied. It’s nothing to do with how likeable you are. It’s because for whatever reason, you don’t fit in with the rest of the group, and there’s nothing that bonds the rest of the group better than finding an outsider to pick on. And once someone gains that outsider status, there’s very little they can do to change that perception. Putting the blame on them and saying they’re the one who needs to change will only do irreparable further harm.

But then again, in these times we live in, what else can you expect? Brutal trolls prowl the internet. We have an Australian government whose main policy approach is to heap welfare upon the better off, while simultaneously cutting off the less well off and excluded (because if you’re less well off or excluded, it’s your own fault). And in the US, the so-called leader of the free world is a bully beyond compare.

So what can we do in a world where bullying seems to be celebrated as not just normal but actually desirable behaviour? I guess all I can do is keep raising my voice, little as it is, and try to write stories for all the rest of us ‘unlikeable’ people out there.


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Julianna August 1, 2019 at 7:30 am

Thank you for speaking out like this. I was also bullied growing up, and at a couple of jobs early in my career. Bullying is definitely NOT the bullied’s fault. We not-average (whatever that is) people need to continue to try to educate people against such lousy behavior – if for no other reason than to reduce the number of kids like us who were profoundly hurt by it. I hope this famous writer will at least decide they should speak no further about it.

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Jonathan Gould August 1, 2019 at 9:33 am

Thanks Julianna. Couldn’t agree more.

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