Today I decided to do a post on bullying and verbal harassment because I think, although this subject matter is currently on the rise for receiving more attention, it needs to be talked about and split open a little bit more.
A few days ago, at one of my workplaces, I was victim to verbal harassment and bullying. I usually hate using the word “victim” in any scenario because I always want to keep in mind that there are two sides to any fight and usually two to blame, but in the case of bullying, it’s usually clear that there is a bully and there is a victim. Anyway, as you might know, one of my many jobs is a retail job, and as you might know, retail is one of the most thankless jobs there is, infamous for the difficult customers one encounters in any retail position. I had a particularly awful customer a few days ago and among other unpleasant things she said to me, she called me my number one most hated word for a woman— twice. In front of her two young daughters. Why? Because I asked her youngest child politely to stop soiling the clothing that was on display in the store, which she had been doing (among other obnoxious and unsafe activities) for about an hour.
At this point I was offended (obviously) and so I talked back to her, trying to explain what I asked her daughter to do and also to comment on how inappropriate she was being. I was bullied more, at which point I excused myself to our back room and waited until she left, no longer helping her older daughter. This daughter had become so embarrassed by her mother’s scene and language that she actually asked her to stop talking (the one ray of hope I felt for humanity that day) .
The next day, I decided to tell one of my superiors about it, and I expected to have a constructive conversation about it, wondering what our policy was if an employee was being verbally harassed by a customer. At other places I’ve worked at, we usually had a no-tolerance policy for harassment, meaning that if a customer was behaving in such a manner, the managers had a right to refuse service to them altogether and ask them to leave, and if they refused to leave, they were escorted out of the store by security. When I told one of my superiors about it, she informed me that I should not have talked back to her and should have given her service anyway and that was the end of it. She was callous, not understanding, and honestly, pretty harsh about it, which completely blind-sided me because we were good friends before this. I didn’t feel validated, I didn’t feel defended, and I didn’t feel protected.
What shocked me the most in this entire situation was that it even occurred at all. It surprises me everyday the deconstructive words that people let spew from their mouths, without a second thought to the damage they could inflict simply with their word choice. And I’m not innocent from this— we all use words in hideous manners at some point, or various points, in our lives. I do it too, all the time, without even realizing it. But what I think is so key to the entire subject of bullying and verbal harassment is, simply put, our words. If we’re not using words to build others up or to benefit those who hear them, they should not exit our mouths— period. There is no excuse to verbally harass anyone. Once we start using our words for pride or hate or simply harshness, we rob words of the beautifully priceless potential they have for positive impact. If all we’re going to use words for is crassness and pride, then we don’t deserve the privilege of having words at our disposal.
Another thing I think is important in the sphere of verbal harassment and bullying is all of the bystanders in harassment situations. If we are bystanders (aka, not actually involved but witness to an event of harassment), we must not simply be bystanders. Where is the unity in humanity if we aren’t brave enough to stand up for (and to) our other brothers and sisters? It’s cowardice and irresponsibility to do otherwise. We need to be actively seeking to end bullying and harassment of all kinds, and sometimes that means standing up for someone for their own benefit. We need not be useless bystanders, but brave and active ones.
Point of the story is that words are important. And we need to be brave enough to use them in good ways and stand up to those who aren’t using them in good ways. We need to protect each other from the knife that is a negative word, and call each other out accordingly when we too use words with flagrance and thoughtlessness. Let’s be brave people, not petty. Words can make all the difference in the world, so let’s use them to build up, not to tear down.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. ~Ephesians 4.29