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Do it my way or else

By John Gore - posted Friday, 26 August 2011

Commonly, the verb to bully is defined as to persecute, oppress and tease, but in some dictionaries a more helpful extension is "frighten into or out of." Let me explain.

You are by yourself on a railway station at night and a large man, obviously having had too much to drink, is trying to raise funds for the trip home by approaching people and speaking loudly and swearing profusely.

Some males tell him in the same language where to go, but an older small single woman feels threatened and yields to his persistent demands, giving him a few dollars. Was she frightened into this action? Maybe, but what if she felt sorry for this man and wanted to give him a few dollars. Was she bullied?


Bullying is one of the most difficult phenomenon to define. What might be identified as bullying behaviour by one person may not be for someone else.

Some people are easily frightened by words, actions and beliefs that they find threatening while others are simply unmoved. Personal fortitude and resilience play their parts, but the persistence of bullying behaviours over time seems one feature of an adequate definition.

Similarly, what is bullying in one context may not be bullying behaviour in another. The vitriolic words of a politician in parliament, even over a long period, is unlikely to move other politicians, but the same tone at a series of local community meetings might be threatening to the audience and frighten them into a decision they might not otherwise have made.

I like the definition that includes "frightened into or out of" because it focuses on change within the person experiencing bullying behaviour. When a person says, does or believes something out of fear of what others might think, do or believe, then they have been bullied, that is, frightened into it.

This definition is not meant to demean the resilience of some who stand firm and do not yield to bullying behaviours, but without a change in thinking, action or belief, it is had to measure the extent to which they have been bullied.

Don't Rely on the Law:


Trying to label as bullying the behaviours that lead to an unwanted change is problematic. The law is of little help, because it cannot deal with every context and individual difference.

Throughout life, we all face bullying behaviours in relationships within the family, at work, at school, in groups, in social contexts, in the community and increasingly for some in electronic communication. Often, how we react to these perceived threats determines whether we have been bullied. Already in law there are prohibitions with penalties that provide some protection from vilification and defamation.

There are restraining orders, including AVOs (Apprehended Violence Orders) for protection against threats of physical and emotional abuse. But how do you stop bullying behaviours? When according to the law do bullying behaviours constitute the offence of bullying?

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About the Author

John Gore is a retired education consultant from New South Wales.

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