Bullying or Friendly Banter: Where to Draw the Line With Your Friends

Posted on February 7, 2012

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Editorial | Christina Manero

Recently, students and faculty throughout the school have been wearing black T-shirts as a part of the No Place for Hate initiative.  The message across the front of the shirts is simple: “Just be nice.”  However, it brings up the question, “What is nice?” and then, by default, “What is mean?”
These questions are, at face value, as simple as the phrase emblazoned across the chests of participants of the No Place for Hate initiative.  It is common knowledge that being nice includes holding the door for people, sharing lunch with those who forgot, and helping to pick up dropped books in the hallway.  By contrast, we all have the understanding that beating up kids for their lunch money, playing cruel pranks, and spreading rumors is just indecent.  But in this spectrum of “nice” and “mean,” there are certain activities that remain uncategorized.  Mocking one of your friends for their “epic fail” is not exactly nice, but could one really rule such behavior as flat-out mean?
There is a fine line between teasing and bullying.  We cross this line often and usually without even realizing it.  It is unfortunate, but the effect of our words is rarely realized.  When we call our friends names, send light-hearted taunts toward the less-talented kids in our gym class, or sarcastically point out a flaw in a peer’s statement, our words have a profound effect on those individuals.  The “silly” taunts build up, and what starts as simple teasing begins to wear away the self-confidence of those we mock.
Some may say these individuals should just “suck it up” or “deal with it.”  However, teenagers are rarely able to just “deal” with situations.  Think back on the last time you were in a depressed state.  This depression probably stemmed from something that was not all that important, but at that moment, it defined your life.  Teenagers have not lived long enough to truly understand which events are life-changing as opposed to simply week- or month- changing.  This lack of perspective leads many high school students to see every tease and criticism as a signal that the world hates them. Plus, people are inclined to believe mean statements from others more frequently than their kind counterparts.  These factors are part of the reason small taunts are the silent killers of self-esteem.
Every day, we assail our peers with such destructive taunts, and they cut deeper than we can imagine.  No matter how well you know a person, you have no way of predicting their reaction to a mean comment.  They could laugh it off, or they could burst into tears.  They could be indifferent, or they could have a mental breakdown.  There is no sure-fire way to tell to which extreme they will go.  But a little bit of forethought can go a long way.  All too often our words are said in haste and come out harshly.  Recall the last time you hurt someone’s feelings severely, and chances are a bit of forethought could have prevented the entire situation.  The old adage applies—“Think before you speak.”
But I would like to take that principle a bit further, and stress the profound effect good words can have on a person.  I would like to challenge you to not only think and self-censor, but also work to undo some of the damage harsh comments have already made.   How simple would it be to replace every border-line mean comment with a compliment or every harsh criticism with friendly advice?  Both good and bad words have a profound effect on people.  What effect will you have on others today?

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Posted in: Editorials