Bullying the bullies.

It’s been a long time since I was at school, but I still remember the feelings of humiliation when it was my turn to be picked on by the school bullies. The bullies were kids a little older than me, and their MO was to choose someone to be singled out for ridicule for the day, normally on the basis of the way they looked, or what they were wearing, or simply because they didn’t fit in very well. I am embarrassed to say that I also remember the feeling of relief when it was someone else’s turn, and how I would offer the victim no support at all, for fear of finding myself in their shoes the next day.

The bullying wasn’t abusive or even particularly overt. A look here, a pointed finger there, things only half heard emerging from a huddle of whispering gossips. The tangible effect of all this however was the sense of exclusion and isolation it creates. Bullying has no effect unless not only the victim knows they’re being bullied but other people know it too. The aim is to to render the victim a social pariah, friendless and thus more vulnerable to attack.

Tobacco control has been doing this to smokers for years, and never more so than now. Social media is the new playground and these groups have taken to it like ducks to water. Take a look at ASH Wales #sharetheair Twitter campaign for a mild example, or any of the extremist US anti smoker groups if you need further confirmation. Full of smug arrogance and tax payers money they wield their influence sure in the knowledge that the sheeple will support them based on the exaggeration and distortions of the past. And they don’t give a second thought to the people they are insulting, excluding and stigmatising – the smokers.

It’s never a good day in a bully’s life when his victims group together and fight back. It’s an even worse day when some of his own supporters turn their backs, either because they’ve seen that they are wrong, or because they realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Vapers are fighting back. We’ve been the victims once and we’re sure as hell not putting up with it again. So we also take to social media in order to get our voices heard on the same platform.

But we do have to be careful. We have right on our side but we need support from right thinking academics, the media and the general public. We will not get (or keep) that support if we become something with which decent people do not want to be associated. In short, we will lose if we become the playground bullies. The public loves a victim.

Banter is a natural release, a way of blowing off steam. It’s also a part of what keeps us together and motivated. But we shouldn’t forget that some of the targets of our lighthearted comments are not as thick skinned as we think they are. Sometimes just the sheer number of comments can be intimidating, even if none of them are abusive. What appears to us as a bit of a laugh, or simply fair comment becomes something else when it is continually picked at like a scab, just as it did with those kids in the playground commenting on my poor choice of footwear. It can become bullying in itself.

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