Calling Out Bullies: Why You Need to Stand Up for Yourself

“Standing up for yourself doesn’t make you argumentative. Sharing your feelings doesn’t make you overly sensitive. And saying no doesn’t make you uncaring or selfish. If someone won’t respect your feelings, needs, and boundaries, the problem isn’t you; it’s them.” ~Lori Deschene

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the main character Atticus Finch says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

What real courage is.

The message Atticus Finch provides is simple yet poignant and so often overlooked in our homes, communities, businesses, and society today.

A quick search on Merriam-Webster reveals their definition of courage to be “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

That definition fully supports the message Atticus Finch has been sharing with readers and viewers since the early 1960s.

However, what it doesn’t support is our society’s narrow-minded view that courage is about being tough, domineering, combative, uncompassionate, and even violent.

These stereotypes are continuously portrayed in movies and television shows, tolerated in our workplaces, prevalent in politics, and sadly, instilled in our children.

What real courage means to me is the ability to go against the grain — to stand up for what may not be popular, for what may even get you ostracized, for the betterment of others and yourself.

I would say a good representation of real courage are those who make the difficult decision to speak out against the bullies on the playground, who grow up and become bullies in the workplace. Something I sadly know a few things about.

I’ve spent much of my life battling personal insecurities. While professional help has certainly aided in my continual journey to lessen their presence, as anyone who’s struggled with insecurities very well knows, you’re never completely rid of them. You just find ways to manage through and around them.

My insecurities — like a loyal though unwelcome companion — rendered me timid, non-confrontational, unworthy, fearful, and quiet. When compounded with the reality that I was never athletic — a stereotypical and seemingly necessary characteristic when measuring manliness in society — I was often branded as an easy target for bullies.

My grandparents, who were always there to offer a compassionate ear without judgment, offered the following advice when I was being bullied at school: “Just walk away and they’ll leave you alone.”

While my grandparents undoubtedly meant well, their advice didn’t build my self-esteem as much as extinguish what little I had. While their advice did in fact pause the bullying for a short duration, the cycle would continue not long after.

As I got older, married, and matured naturally with age, my insecurities subsided in many areas, and my days of being bullied seemed like another place and time in an existence now void of such challenges.

But it wasn’t long before I started to realize that bullies don’t just exist on the playground.

Sadly, I’ve experienced workplace bullying throughout my career to varying degrees. Through it all, I continually adopted my grandparents’ advice to “just walk away.”

With workplace bullies often influential and powerful in organizations, it seemed like sound advice, especially given that the ultimate purpose for Human Resources is to protect the company, not its employees.

But all that changed recently when I volunteered to take some professional development courses on communication, in order to better interact with my peers, as I’m currently a remote employee.

While we’re taught reading, writing, and arithmetic during our undergraduate education, we’re rarely taught the skills to be an effective communicator.

Oftentimes what we learn comes from witnessing an exchange of dialogue between those around us — in our homes, our schools, our communities, on television and in the movies, and yes, at our places of employment.

However, not all the traits we absorb for being an effective communicator are rational or authentic.