Legitimizing bullying

My 11-years-old son was so shocked a few days ago while watching a dialogue between politicians that he changed the channel to protect his younger sister from bad exposure. As a mother, I was immensely pleased for the responsible young man. The psychologist in me, however, was left wondering. For how long is the constant negativity and impatience going to be the staple of our mass media? For how long are our children to receive this daily dose of intolerance? Such social learning tends to influence young minds and eventually translates into actions.

Writing in 2016, Katherine D Kinzler, pointed out the correlation between what she called the Trump Effect and the increased intolerance for diversity in American society. She argued that his preference for mockery and satire was indirectly generating a sense of permissibility for bullying and refuting people based on their ethnicity, religion, language or disability.

Complex emotions like hatred and jealousy are not innate. They are learned through the process of socialization. Gordon W Allport has explained that bigotry is always learned through a socialization process. A child adopts prejudice either from his parents, family and environment or acquires a suspicious and negative outlook towards people and ends up focusing these negative feelings to out-groups.

Bullying has been around for ever since the formation of human societies. It has often been on display as an unaccepted use of physical power and hurtful words to inflict pain and discomfort on others. Maltreatment can cause physical damage as well as psychological trauma to the one being bullied. Unfortunately, school bullying has dramatically increased in the recent past. According to US National Centre for Educational Statistics, 33 per cent of students in a survey reported being bullied at least once or twice a month. Other reports, too, have indicated that physical, as well as cyber bullying has been increasing rapidly.

Besides their policies and performance, an important aspect that will help political leaders stand out is how positive an image they create through their communication and actions. We will not only remember them for their economic and political decisions, but also for the impact they had on young minds

Social psychologists argue that political leaders, having a lot of screen time on news channels and social media, have become a very powerful agent of socialization. Apart from their political philosophy, their young supporters tend to follow their behaviors as well. This seems so relevant in the current socio-political environment of Pakistan. How can we expect our children to avoid foul language when they are continuously hearing opinio leaders using derogatory labels on mass media?

Albert Bandura’s social learning theory discusses how a child learns from the society by observing the behaviors of others. No wonder, a generation that has been watching physical fights between parliamentarians starts accepting such violence as a norm. Social media is flooded with insulting Photoshopped images and slang coming from all political parties. Like passive smoking, our children are passively absorbing cussing and inflexibility.

It is because the generation is growing in such intolerant times, that we should expect to hear a three-years-old violently responding to a teacher with a “Mujhay kiyon danta?” or a five-years-old telling his classfellows “tum sub ko rulaoon ga”.

We cannot ignore the challenges, exposure and demands of globalization. Alarmingly increasing time spent on social media has restructured the socialization process. It has become more challenging to get children to pick good ethics and manners as they are constantly exposed to contesting attitudes, behaviours and manners.

Given the increased influence of the media, the young are falling for the charisma of star players, actors and media icons and following their lead. Apart from style and fashion, they also take in social behaviours from their heroes. They are impressed by a kind-hearted Angelina Jolie they see shaking hands with an HIV patient. They respect the efforts of deceased rapper Nipsey Hussle who was a social change agent for his community. They do not only idealize Shahid Afridi’s big hitting, they also get influenced by his welfare work.

They also follow the charisma of their political leaders. There were times when entire families used to vote for the same party. More recently, political awareness has allowed everyone to critically evaluate the charters of various parties and vote according to their conscience. Such awareness has also brought political leaders more social influence. Watching their leaders orating hatred and disrespect towards their opponents, legitimizes bullying and intolerance in them.

Considering the important roles leaders have, much work has been done by pychologists on positive leadership. Research indicates that positive leaders deviate positively from the norm. According to Dr Ronald Riggio, a positive charismatic leader is not only an influencer, motivator and intellectual stimulator, but also a very skilled communicator. Besides their policies and performance, an important aspect that will help political leaders stand out is how positive an image they create through their communication and actions. In coming years, we will not only remember leaders for their economic and political decisions, they will also be remembered for the impact they had on young minds. It’s up to them to leave a legacy of “mein sub ko rulaoon ga” or “With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve”.

The writer is a freelancer

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