Bullying is about the bully…not the target

March 28, 2012

An unarmed teenager in Florida is killed…and a prominent media celebrity blames the hoodie that the teenager wore.

Female law students in Toronto hear a police officer tell them how to avoid being raped…and they are told: “Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

“Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’.  These words, recounted in the Book of Mark, are ancient…yet as modern as today’s headlines. Blaming the victim, unfortunately, is still in fashion.

But some are declaring that fashion out-of-style.

I’m heartened by the people who have worn hoodies in solidarity with the victim…not offering excuses for the person who harassed and killed an unarmed teenager.

I’m heartened by the people who are participating in so-called Slut Walks to remind people that society should be siding with rape victims…not offering excuses for sexual predatory behavior.

I’m heartened whenever people stop feeling like victims and realize that bullying behavior says more about the bully than the target.

In my book, It’s Not Personal, I tell a story about that an event that happened while I was working in corporate media relations. Our department had purchased a table’s worth of tickets for a fun, after-hours party, and I had the privilege of inviting two reporters to join our table for the festivities.

But on the day of the big event, I had developed a sore throat and fever.  I didn’t know the home phone numbers of my guests.  And this was before cell phones were common. So I couldn’t call to tell them I wouldn’t be there. I had to rely on my coworkers to extend my regrets.

When I felt better and returned to work, I wanted to call the reporters I had invited to explain personally why I couldn’t be there. When I called the first reporter, she answered the phone, said I had snubbed her, and then hung up on me. Meanwhile, before I could call the second reporter, I found in my in-box his handwritten note, thanking me for the invitation and telling me how much he enjoyed the party.

Both reporters had been dealt the same hand…but their reactions couldn’t have been more different.  Their different reactions said nothing about me…but plenty about how they felt inside.

Encountering difficult behavior doesn’t make us victims. We become victims only if we respond like victims. And we respond like victims if we take difficult behavior personally instead of realizing that the behavior of others says a lot about them — and nothing about us.

(c) 2012 by Cindy Hampel



  1. Well said, as usual, Cindy!

  2. I remember that story from your book about the two reporters — and really appreciated it. Isn’t that the truth? It’s often about perception, and how we choose to view a situation.

  3. I am re-learning all these lessons now that I’m back in the classroom. Some anxious moments until I remember that I can’t be responsible for how others react. I can just be the best me in each situation. I’m going to write “encountering difficult behavior doesn’t make us victims” in my planbook.

    I’ve been thinking of you, Cindy. I hope spring has been the bearer of light and fresh air.

  4. Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Sharon, I’ve been thinking a lot about you, as well, and I feel honored that you’ve written down a quote from me in your planner. 🙂

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