The Impact of Bullying

This is about more than just kids.

I’ve talked about the Heavyweight podast recently. Today I wanted to briefly discuss an episode that really had an impact on me - both on a personal level and as it relates to my profession.

The episode involves, Julia, a woman who was bullied as a young girl back in the 8th grade, to the point that she left her school and clearly carries the emotional impact some 20 years later. It turns out that the bullying had other, even more serious consequences. Some of the more fascinating aspects of this story are how a culture of bullying can become pervasive within a social group to where no one feels safe. In addition, there is an impact on the teachers in this case that I think is rarely ever even considered.

On a personal level, this episode touched me as I was (to a much lesser degree) bullied as a child. I always struggled with my weight growing up and, at varying times in my childhood, it was the subject of much name-calling and ridicule. It is a topic that I think about a lot, as well, because my kids are currently working through 5th and 8th grades. These are ages not only when kids can be mean but where their behavior can have lasting impact on the recipient of that meanness.

However, it also got me thinking about the industry that I work in. I was able to build my career in part through being active in the community and participating in social media. As part of my role on the developer relations team, I continue to maintain a fairly heavy presence in social media as well. It comes with the job.

However, the community that was once a source of happiness for me, is now one that I personally am fearful of to some degree. There are portions of the community, and in particular certain outlets, that I could say have a culture of bullying. It is a culture that is all too free to use public shaming as a weapon to get its way (who sets these norms that need to be enforced? I do not know). It is a culture that often is quick to ridicule (look at almost any Hacker News or Reddit thread for example - and often many blog post comment threads). It is a culture that I feel got worse in 2016.

Personally, I have responded by stepping back to some degree. It is partly why I have tended to speak less frequently and even write less frequently. My writing, in fact, has been mostly confined to these posts, which I choose not to promote. Sure, that means that very few people read my writing, but my fear is that, if they were, I might say something that may cause me to be the target of one of these public shamings…which would then detroy the catharsis I get by feeling free to share my thoughts here, without ridicule.