Ever been bullied? I have and it sucks. Back when I was young (funny how you never think you'll utter those words - when you're young) bullying was accepted. If a kid was tormented in school, the teachers and staff weren't apt to feel sympathy for the victim. And they sure as hell weren't going to do anything to help.
Now, though, things have changed. After incidents like Columbine, where those who were bullied decided to become far worse than the bullies themselves, the powers that be decided bullying had to be stopped. It's always struck me that this was done more for the sake of social order than out of a sense or right and wrong, but no matter.
Today, the subject of bullying is all over the place, both in the media and throughout the halls of power. Even celebrities are out there doing their part (and we all know how informed and sincere they are). Problem is, the fight against bullying has become trendy, and once something becomes trendy, it tends to become shallow.
So here's some facts:
There are two types of bullies in this world: what I call Nazi Bullies and the equally harmful Subtle Bullies. Nazi Bullies are easy to pick out. They're the ones who openly go after those they perceive as weak. If you look like an easy target, your average bully of the Nazi variety is going to come after you in a big, loud way. This sort of bully, however, is apt to go too far. Like a real Nazi, he or she is likely to zero in on someone who in this scenario is the equivalent of Russia or the United States. Needless to say, a serious, well deserved ass-whipping of biblical proportions may very well be in the forecast.
Beware of these assholes. They're coming after you and at the end of the day will be just as ruthless as the Nazi Bully from middle school ever was. You'll soon find their casual requests becoming more frequent. Then, once they feel they've made you their bitch, they won't be so nice with the requests. They'll humiliate you in public, openly say cruel things and generally abuse the hell out of you until you're either dead or somehow out of their lives entirely.
Oh, and they'll always make you feel like you're in the wrong, so that you won't stand up to them. If you do decide to finally stand your ground, though, watch for the expression that comes over the Subtle Bully's face. It's one you've never seen before and it's scary. The true evil will come out at that moment and you'll be greeted with a set of eyes you thought you'd only see in Charles Manson's mugshot.
Standing up to these people is brutal, but it can be done. Just expect a fight. A long, seemingly (and quite possibly) endless war of attrition. Remember, the Subtle Bully is the one who pretends you're in the wrong. Expect those around you to hear what a bastard you've become. How you're no longer taking responsibility for your own bad behavior.
My suggestion is you stand your ground regardless of the consequences. If there's a Subtle Bully in your life who happens to be your boss, get away. Yes, I said it. Get the hell out of there. Try to transfer to another branch of the company. If that doesn't work, take legal action. If that doesn't work...quit. You have no choice. Better to be unemployed than abused. Abused people tend to become abusers themselves, after all. You owe it to your family and to yourself to do what must be done.
Just two more things:
One: If you wish to take action against a bully in the workplace, make sure you have documented incidents where your antagonist has gone too far (don't worry - all bullies go to far at some point. Sometimes you just have to think long and hard in order to discover when and how). It's the only leg you'll have to stand on.
Two: If you wish to not be a victim in the first place, then don't be afraid to be an asshole. Tell the jerk in the office to report you if he thinks your coffee cup is a real problem on the break room table. He won't if he doesn't want to look like a total douche in front of his peers. As for the woman who nicely asked you to get her that drink? She can get it herself and she knows it. Don't be afraid to remind her of that fact - in public, if necessary.
A word of caution, though: make sure the person really is targeting you before you stand your ground. I usually wait until the individual in question makes a second, or even a third, move. When you find the same person making you uncomfortable for the third time with an awkward question or request, that person is probably a bully and you're probably his or her mark. Don't be afraid to look obnoxious. Better you come across as a slob who leaves his keys in someone else's personal space than to find you've become a victim.
Trust me on this.