I didn’t plan to pen this post, but an event that took place last month on Instagram and the gentle nudging, first by by my husband and later a friend, who made it her mission to convince me to write about it (you know who you are), also made me think that maybe the universe is sending me a signal and I am ignoring it. Bullying is a growing problem and often we have to deal with it because our kids experience it. But if my recent personal experience is anything to go by, adults are exposed to its negative effect more and more too.
I grew up in an area of Moscow, where middle class mixed with lower class, yet people looked out for each other. It wasn’t really about your income (we all lived in more or less similar apartments), but about standing up for yourself. I loved roaming around the area with my friends, playing sports and games, cycling and climbing trees. We climbed roofs too, explored basements and clashed with each other in the dance of roosters. One of the older boys intentionally picked up on me every time we came into contact, but eventually he went too far, sneaking behind me on the ice-skating ring in the winter and ramming me hard into a lamppost. I ended up with a huge bump on my forehead, but let him know there and then what I thought of him. Clearly expecting me to cry, instead of yelling at the top of my lungs at him, he backed off for good after that.
‘Not everyone deserves to know the real you. Let them criticise who they think you are.’
I was left-handed, which made me ‘stand out’ in Soviet Russia, where conformity was the norm and led to an unpleasant situation with my first-grade teacher, who tried tying my left hand up, in order to make me write with my right one, like everyone else in the class. It continued for a while, until I complained to my parents and my father went to school to talk to both the headmistress and my teacher. She backed off publicly, but privately made my life a misery for the next three years she was my class teacher. I refused to be intimidated.
When I moved to London as a teen, I had a chance to study at a public girl-only school, where I easily made friends and enjoyed the multicultural influences generously lavished on me. I also clashed with one particular girl, who tried to intimidate me. When I refused to give her my snacks or lunch money, we ended up fighting and both got detention. I refused to rattle on her, but think she got a message I wasn’t a shrinking violet and treated me with quiet respect after that. All those experiences, as well as love and nurture that my family provided, allowed me to build myself up as a human being from the ground up. I knew who I was and what I stood for and I wasn’t afraid to use my voice to express my opinions.
‘You Never Look Good Trying To Make Someone Feel Bad’
All this helped understand life better and to shape my charachter. To value friendship and to be receptive to differences of opinion. And to always stand up for myself or the others, if they were weaker or not able, wanting or willing to stand up for themselves. Kindness is not a weakness, it’s the best way to spread positivity around you and make yourself a better person in the process.
This brings me to my recent experience. During my summer holiday I checked my social media pages from time to time and one day I saw an image of someone I knew. She was wearing a Pocahontas costume at a party and an Instagram account accused her of ‘cultural appropriation’. She didn’t reply or comment, but other people joined in the conversation, some promising never to buy her brand’s products ever again. I posted a comment saying that we don’t know where the image was taken and that to me it looked fairly innocent. I merely expressed MY opinion. At that point a well-known blogger with a significant following joined in the conversation and started pointing fingers. I ‘made a mistake’ of not keeping quiet, unlike the person who was pictured (retrospectively looking back, she made a right decision from the start). Instead I engaged in what I thought was an open discussion on ‘cultural appropriation’. What happened then was shocking. As we were having a family dinner in a restaurant and I was reading out the post’s comments to my husband, to get his perspective, in case I was missing something, the message appeared from a faceless account, disagreeing with a beauty blogger, who promptly proceeded… to accuse ME of creating ‘a fake account’ to get my point of view across. Not only that, she also called me a ‘white racist’ – all this came from a woman who has never met me in person! I was a bit taken aback and after posting a short reply to her, I did what felt right – I simply blocked that beauty blogger and stopped commenting.
My son listened to our conversation almost shell-shocked, asking me how can someone say such terrible things without knowing me. What was an unpleasant experience for me, I tried to turn into a lesson for my children there and then, explaining to them that social media can often expose two different sides of the same person and that sadly it’s not uncommon in our day and age for people to judge us without knowing us. Everyone nowadays has an opinion and often it is shared, irrespective of whether we asked for it or not. We are judged, accused, vilified, lied about, intimidated, bullied. Social media and hiding behind avatars allow people with issues of their own to harass, upset, humiliate and vilify other people. Or to pretend to be victims, when they are on the attacking side. I try not to engage with accounts on social media that are nameless, soulless and which don’t have a picture of a person. Of course, someone can pretend to be someone else behind an image, but the point is, social media still allows people to intimidate others. We used to emerge into adulthood being sure of ourselves, nowadays more and more people of different ages, not just teenagers, are struggling with confidence and self-esteem. People allow their bad day or mood to spill on to another person just because they came into their field of vision at the wrong time. Yes, we can stand back and ignore bullies, but I think we need to push, not shove, back. Behaviour like that is unacceptable and needs to be highlighted. Not only that beauty blogger has a big following and works for a well-known company, she continued to bad-mouth me to other people on Instagram, once I blocked her (a friend pointed that out to me later, as I no longer received comments from her).
‘They Cant Kill Your Dream, So They Assassinate Your Charachter’
How did I deal with all of that? I was a bit bewildered to start with by the turn of events, but I wasn’t upset, simply because I did nothing wrong and lies about me are just that – lies. I told this story to friends and colleagues. Pretty much everyone had the same reaction – this type of behaviour is not only wrong, but is in fact unacceptable. I hope this post will shed the light on my own experience and give you confidence to deal with similar experiences, if you are unfortunate enough to have one, in a calm and reasonable way. Without getting upset, demoralised or cornered. Bullies are mean and they strive on preying on other people. It makes them feel good to make you feel bad. And those people need to understand that ultimately they are the ones who have issues that need to be addressed. We all have a voice and we all have the right to use it. Having said that, none of us has the right to abuse or intentionally upset another person. We all make mistakes, but we need to learn from them. And if we have anger issues or are intentionally mean to others, we need to ask ourselves why and address it sooner, rather than later, before it impacts relationships and careers. Hurting others will not make you feel better about yourself – it will alienate people, pushing you further down into a dark space.
I could have also reported this person to Instagram, but I asked myself whether it would be more effective, than just blocking her. I report her, she spitefully reports me, our accounts might get frozen and then I would lose valuable time to get it back up and running again. I didn’t want the hassle, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t ready to stand up and say ‘it’s wrong to treat people who you don’t personally know like this and I wouldn’t stand for it’. None of us are perfect, but I don’t hide behind avatars, fakes or glasses – I use my name & face on social media, I am responsible for my actions and words and I would never do anything that will intentionally set a wrong precedent for my kids. Why some people give themselves permission to abuse others and why social media allows this to happen is something we all need to question and address. Publicly and with respect for ourselves, without stepping down to the level of a bully. Oh, and I also believe in karma and teaching my own children a lesson that my parents & grandparents taught me from a young age and that I still hold dear to this day – ‘treat the people the way you want to be treated’.