The Dark Side of The Power of We: Cyber-Bullying

By Posted on 23 Comments 4 min read 413 views

Millions of bloggers around the world will be blogging today on Blog Action Day (Oct. 15, 2012) about The Power of We. You’ll see all sorts of great stories about how groups of people made a difference.

Because I’m a crime fiction writer, I wanted to take a different angle – The Dark Side of The Power of We. The power of groups to wound or destroy.

Coincidentally, October is also Anti-Bullying Month.

Most articles and studies about bullying deal with bullying among children, but little is said about bullying among adults. In this article, I’ll focus more on horse people, but bullying is an equal opportunity offender.

Is there bullying among horse people?

You bet, especially cyber-bullying in online groups, forums and social media.

The odds are good that no matter what you do with your horses – or any animal under your care – someone out there will take issue with your choices. Nowadays with social media, strangers have the capability of taking you to task in public.

Do we learn this from horses?

We horse people revere a herd animal with a genetic predisposition to live in groups with individuals ranked according to status. The Boss Horse is the horse that tells the others where to stand and when they can eat. The Boss horse enjoys the first and best resources, like food and water, or access to the strongest mates. A trade off is expected – the Boss is expected to lead and even protect.

I believe herd animals aren’t alone in this kind of programming. Human bullies get to the top by any means necessary, especially through intimidation, and forget about the part in which they’re also expected to protect.

What are we really teaching?

A lot of bullying happens in the guise of education. Yet, bullying only turns off the intended audience.

Yes, there’s a lot of sloppy horsemanship and horse keeping out there. A lot of people who care for horses don’t know as much as they need to know to keep everyone involved healthy and happy. Or they rely on old ways that may provide short-term rewards but set up for later long-term heartache and expense.

Yelling at them, calling them names, threatening them, generalizing and even stereotyping them isn’t going to help. My mother always told me, “I stopped listening when you raised your voice.” Unfortunately, a quiet voice is drowned out by many voices shouting at each other.

So, how do you know when you’re bullying?

You might be a bully if …

  • you refer to any group as “they,” “them” or “those people”
  • you engage in name-calling
  • you have to type in all caps to express yourself
  • you feel a little zing of power when you write
  • you make people feel they can’t express a dissenting opinion
  • you’re proud you get kicked off loops and websites for expressing your strong opinions
  • you don’t care that you have a reputation for not getting along because you “tell it like it is” because living, feeling beings like your beloved ones are at stake

See? No wonder children can’t get it right, either, when the adults in their lives believe forcing their opinions on anyone is acceptable behavior.

We live in interesting times, and they’ve been a long time coming. Not that long ago, someone who’d “get up in your face” was the new spunky. We listen to “shock jocks” every morning on the radio. We used to watch a game show in which the loser was told, “You are the Missing Link. Goodbye!” A TV talent show judge minces no words and becomes a cultural icon as a hatchet man. Now, regular people shout politics at each other on social media just like the political pundits on TV. (I’m revising this post a bit four years later. The US presidential candidates are now infamous for bullying.)

So much popular culture elevates bullying to entertainment. We all have to watch ourselves. It’s easy to be a bully, even with patience and a deep sense of right and wrong. We’ve lived on the slippery slope for so long we’ve forgotten we’re out of balance.

Back to horse people. If we bicker and bully among our own, will parents send their children to us for lessons and summer camp? Will non-horse owners vote along with us when laws come along that could benefit or be detrimental to us?

Then again, parents are subject to the same cultural waves as we are. Some may want to teach their children how to be dominant. I can’t help but think of that scene in BEETLEJUICE (1988) in which a mother storms up the stairs to confront the ghosts haunting the house and tells her teenage daughter, “Lydia, I have a chance to teach you something here: you have got to take the upper hand in all situations or people, whether they’re dead or alive, will walk all over you.”

Even if it isn’t in our personal natures, the need to dominate has become such a large part of our cultural landscape that it seems to be the norm.

We have the gift of Free Will, so we can choose to rise above our natures and the times in which we live and accept the risks. We may not be heard among the din, and we may be heard enough to draw the fire onto ourselves. The courage to listen to the voices of our better angels is the everyday version of the power of we.

For more about adult bullying, click on the link

And a big “thank you” to Marian Lanouette, author of the Jake Carrington mysteries, starting with IF I FAIL.

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  • Jennifer I
    October 15, 2012

    Wow, Rhonda, so well said. We could all learn from the animals, couldn’t we? My mother always says “Everybody’s a critic” and now more than ever, I know she’s right. I don’t know when bullying became part of human nature – did we evolve to it as society became more cut-throat, more of a ‘materialistic & I’ll do anything for it’ land of dominance?
    Again, we have a lot to learn from animals. Thanks for the blog!

  • Marian Lanouette
    October 15, 2012

    This article is right on the money. I’m still stunned at how TV Reality shows dominate the screen. I’ve never seen their attraction. I’m also amazed what people will write in an email or social media that they wouldn’t say to a person’s face. You’ve given us food for thought today.
    Thanks for the shout out, Rhonda. Great article.

  • Katy Lee
    October 15, 2012

    Boy, did you get me riled up! I hear so much about “Stop the bullying!” and then see adults on facebook bullying like crazy. HELLO! Where do you think your kids are getting it.

    I meant to take part in the Blog Action this year, but missed it. But I think you spoke for me too!

  • Rhonda Lane
    October 15, 2012

    Hi, Katy – Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to add a comment. So, you’ve noticed it, too – people talking the anti-bullying talk but not walking the walk? 😉 You should have seen earlier drafts of that article. 🙂 🙂 Thanks again for commenting.

  • Rhonda Lane
    October 15, 2012

    Thank you, Marian, for stopping by and taking the time to add a comment. I appreciate the time you took to read that second-to-the-last draft of this post and helping me make things more clear. Some reality shows are nice and make you feel glad you watched, like “The Voice” and Syfy’s “Face Off” with the movie special effects makeup artists, but most others want that killer instinct active among the cast.

  • Rhonda Lane
    October 15, 2012

    Hi, Jennifer Iz – Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I’d wondered a wee bit if I weren’t being old fuddy-duddy in writing that post, but I see that others also have noticed the slide in manners and the decay of discourse.

  • Kate Wyland
    October 15, 2012

    Good post. I agree the current nastiness is just astounding. And the various “reality” shows that encourage bullying are beneath contempt.

    But bullying is not just a human activity. Horses do it too on occasion. We (briefly) leased a mare who would suddenly attack the other horses for no reason whatsoever. They’d just be standing dozing and she run up and start whaling on them. Had to isolate her after she hurt one and then ended the lease soon after.

    Thugs have always existed and right now we seem to be giving them free rein.

  • Rhonda Lane
    October 15, 2012

    Hi, Kate – Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I agree that horses can be bullies in the herd.

    Over here in the human side of things, the thugs don’t seem to be just given free rein, but celebrated. Then again, that’s how it works in a herd, too. The bullies get the freshest water, the most food and, if allowed, the best mates.

  • Gloria Alden
    October 15, 2012

    Good blog, Rhonda. When my kids – all four of them – joined a 4H horse club, I saw too much unfavorable competition and snarking. Some of the elite clubs looked down their noses at the kids belonging to a club that leaned towards contesting even though those kids cared for their horses just as well as the others. Mine belonged to a club that did both. I always thought it was a little unfair that my kids, who took care of their own horses including mucking out their stall, etc. never had a chance against the wealthier kids, whose parents bought state championship horses and had those horses boarded with a trainer, who worked with the horse and the kid. In the long run, though, the ribbons my kids did win they could be genuinely proud of winning because they were the ones who earned them honestly.

    Back to horse behavior. As you know, I have two small pony sisters. The younger of the two is the boss pony. Mostly they get along very well, but I always let the older one out first because if I don’t, the younger one will lay back her ears when the older one comes to the feed bin.

  • Rhonda Lane
    October 15, 2012

    Thank you, Gloria, for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I always got the impression, too, that the kids who worked at getting their show ponies together themselves had more fun than the ones who let others do it when they only rode. And kudos to you in figuring out your ponies’ pecking order and working around their system. Thanks again.

  • Mitch Mitchell
    October 30, 2012

    Wow, nicely written for both Blog Action Day and any other day. I hate bullies and call out the practice when I can. My target is the local newspaper’s online service, where every day the people who comment on the news stories are bullying, racist, and just downright not nice people.

    When a child dies and all someone can write about is what the mother looks like or how people of a certain race always let that type of thing happen, it shows us all that there’s something wrong with the world, especially because these people are allowed to spout this stuff anonymously.

    I’m trying to get them to make people use their real names. Their argument is that it will reduce the amount of sharing on the site; my response is that what people are sharing needs to be reduced. I haven’t won yet but it’s my goal.

    Great post again; thanks.

  • Rhonda Lane
    October 30, 2012

    Hi, Mitch. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Those local news forums are notorious for bullying. I find it odd that Letters to the Editor must be signed and include a valid mailing address, which isn’t printed but is kept for confirmation purposes, yet newspapers allow and encourage forums with screen names. Granted, Facebook groups with easily identifiable participants can get just as heated, but not so much as those anonymous postings.

    Anyway, keep up the good work, Mitch. And thank you so much for reading and commenting.

  • Fran
    November 12, 2012

    Hi Rhonda, what a thoughtful post. I enjoyed your thoughts on this subject and can’t believe I missed it when you posted it. I found it through Liz’s Blog Carnival!

    I know that Horse and Hound is working on an article on this subject. I think it is very important. Maybe step one is to get people to recognize bullying online when they see it.

    But how to stop it?

    Thanks for writing this!


  • Rhonda Lane
    November 13, 2012

    Thanks, Fran, and thank you for stopping by and commenting. I suppose that the irony behind stopping bullying is that those of us who care probably wouldn’t bully consciously. It’s all a sad twist on the old joke, “If you think you’re crazy, you aren’t.” Those who don’t care won’t consider stopping to think first.

    So, I reckon it all starts with awareness, then application “think first.”) Anyway, I’m glad Horse & Hound is calling attention to bullying. Perhaps COTH might join in from this side of the Pond?

  • Fran
    November 13, 2012

    Hi Rhonda,

    Well, I agree to a point…we might not do it (consciously, at least–it’s impossible to know how sensitive people are to trigger words or issues) but what is stopping us from speaking up about it when we see it happening?

    Maybe time to think through the feasibility of an anti-bullying campaign in the horse world?

    A few years ago there was a public campaign called “Words Can Hurt”. Maybe an equine version?

  • Rhonda Lane
    November 13, 2012

    Hi, Fran – I’ve been thinking a lot about this, too. How do we inspire civility, yet still speak our minds when we see bad dangerous hurtful things happening?

    Maybe part of it is in thinking first about how to express what we feel, observe and know? Granted, that’s not an easy, quick task. Plus, I’ve noticed I have to approach it from a position of respect for whom I’m trying to inform. That said, if we can’t muster up the respect, pulling off the whole educate-instead-of-eviscerate thing is difficult.

    Now that you mention it, I remember the “Words Can Hurt” campaign, so I Googled the phrase to see the associated posters and images. One of the phrases that caught my eye was “Words Have Power,” which made me think of “horse power” and about how much we horse people work to have “quiet hands,” a quiet kind of power. Another old catchphrase was “Words Can Hurt or Heal.” Maybe we could add “Words Can Hurt, Teach or Heal.”

    This is just early brainstorming, but I like the idea of not only talking about the issue but discussing how we can help.

  • Fran
    November 13, 2012

    That’s great, Rhonda. I think the problem is that the hurtful, domineering people believe so strongly that they are right and that it is there mission to get everyone to feed a certain herb or use a certain bridle (or not use a certain bridle), or to be “natural”, “classical”, or whatever…they truly believe they are doing the right thing in bullying people to use their favorite product, or join a cause or trash some rider who’s pictured with the horse’s head behind the vertical.

    If you think you are helping and “teaching”, but you’re really hurting someone’s feeling or coercing people to do something that might actually be too expensive for them, or use a product that might not be appropriate for their horse’s age or exercise level, but you don’t realize that because of your zeal…what can anyone do to soften your message or your tactics?

    One thing I am aware of is the bullying of horse magazine writers and editors. If 50 people write angry letters or post negative comments on a Facebook page, that magazine will think twice before they broach that subject again, even though the angry posts or letters all come from one group.

    Am I over-reacting?

    How about a big photo with an all-gray generic rider, on a generic dark horse without markings, and generic tack, placed in the midst of colorful and unusual breed/tack/dress horse-and-rider combos. Or maybe a whole show ring full of dark horses with riders all dressed in gray, and say “the horse world would be a much less interesting place if we all thought, rode and cared for our horses the same way. Diversity makes the horse world the magical place it is. Keep the magic flowing.”

    Or something like that. Am I making any sense?

    Let’s keep thinking!

  • Rhonda Lane
    November 13, 2012

    I’ve been snooping around the web and saw that there’s a lot of talk about British “yard bullies,” so I don’t think we’re the only ones who’ve been smacked around a bit.

    I like the Diversity angle. A working cowboy next to an impeccably turned out hunter and a competitive trail rider or a thoroughbred with a jockey in silks. A team of drafts, a team of fancy fine harness horses and a stagecoach. (Thinking big here. :-D) Or a polo pony next to a saddleseat horse (ASB, Morgan, TWH, Arab) turned out for rail class or parade. Actually, you see some of that in the Parade of Breeds at the KY Horse Park when the riders line up the horses afterwards for the public meet-and-greet.

    Or the riders in their respective attire could be photographed together relaxed, laughing and talking, as if they’re all big buds around a table having a pint or a cup of joe.

  • Fran
    November 13, 2012

    Wow, Rhonda, I think you hit a home run. That is something I have never, ever seen a photo of–a group shot of differently-clad riders all together sharing a drink or something or dancing together or maybe all working together to lift something? That would be such a cool image–and so much fun to shoot!

    Taking it to the next level, they could all be well-known riders who volunteer for the cause so people would want a poster of famous riders/trainers being candid together? I’m thinking Beezie Madden and Lyle Lovett and Donna Brothers and etc.?


  • Rhonda Lane
    November 13, 2012

    Wow! Yes! Posters! Yea, yes, YES! We’d have to come up with a list of potential “gets,” including photogs. Then, there’d be the Syncing of the Schedules. One of those fake group shots where everyone is photographed separately but put together through Photoshop magic would defeat the purpose of the image. Maybe it could become a pop culture “thing,” like the “Got milk?” ads? Maybe I had too much caffeine at my late afternoon break? 🙂

  • Toni Leland
    November 14, 2012

    Hi Rhonda. Excellent blog post! I enjoyed reading the comments too, and was reminded of something a writer once told me about horsey juvenile fiction. “Young readers love to read about the ‘mean girls’ and ‘bully boys’ in the barn. They are bored to tears by good kids having a good time and playing nice.”

    Wow. So even as far back as I can think, the hierarchy (read: bullying) has been prevalent in juvenile fiction. In fact, this also reminds me of a time when my 14-year old daughter was showing her horse in Saddleseat classes and on at least two occasions, another girl from the same training stable purposely crowded my daughter into the rail during a class. This girl later smirked and said “gotcha”!

    Sadly, these same kids who win by force are the parents who pass it on to their own children.

  • Rhonda Lane
    November 14, 2012

    Hi, Toni, thank you for stopping by and commenting. This bullying has been going on a long time and is a problem all over. I hate to say that it’s human nature, but it seems to be. I agree that children learn bullying and prejudice at home and by seeing it work among their peers. That it “works” is maddening, and so is the apparent side effect that courtesy often has to be its own reward.