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Ways & Means of Bullying

Nicole Shaw

Author: Nicole Shaw


Mandala Artwork by Nicole Shaw

Bullying is a form of abuse. It involves repeated acts over time attempting to create or enforce one person’s (or group’s) power over another person (or group).

- Wikipedia

“Can this truly be serious?” My spouse and I read and reread the first letter we received from the District of Lantzville in September of 2010. Quoting an Unsightly Premises Bylaw, the letter told us to “remove all piles of soil from our property” or it could be done at our expense.

“All piles of soil? Do they really mean for us to remove our gardens?”

A month later, we received a second letter ordering us to “cease all agricultural activity” on our 2.5 acre property, citing the zoning bylaw which states residentially zones properties cannot be used for agriculture purposes.

Since that time, the issue has made headlines in newspapers throughout North America and as far as India, hundreds of letters have been sent to both Lantzville’s Council and the Regional District of Nanaimo and residents have mobilized in various ways to support “urban agriculture” in our very non-urban community.

Along with this support, on the flip side of the coin, my spouse, Dirk, and I have been on the receiving end of lectures, negative assumptions, veiled and overt threats, goading and taunting.

Unfortunately, our situation is not unique. We are probably most familiar with bullying in the schools. Although there are policies in place to address bullying, it still persists. Many young people have ended their lives through suicide as the daily harassment becomes too much to bear. What we do not hear about as often is bullying in the workplace, or in the “adult” world. In a culture where money, greed, image and status are rated highly, those who choose to live simply and sustainably can experience intolerance, contempt and even outright hostility. In our case, things have devolved to bullying tactics.

These tactics began long before we received letters from the District of Lantzville. We have an unhappy neighbour who has deliberately and systematically employed acts of intimidation and bullying toward us, anywhere from several times per week to several times per day. Contrary to what it seems, this behaviour has nothing to do with us growing food. This is simply the current tactic for what seems to be an ongoing, personal vendetta.

Since the “cease all agricultural activity” letter, our neighbour seems to have been emboldened by the attention and has escalated the harassment to the point of us having to involve the police. (The neighbour informed the officer that he had checked with his lawyer and everything he was doing was considered “legal”.)

So what is bullying?

Barbara Coloroso, author of Kids are Worth It and Extraordinary Evil explains that bullying is a far too common system of behaviours learned in childhood. “…Bullying is arrogance in action. People who bully have an air of superiority that is often —though not always— a mask to cover up deep hurt and feelings of inadequacy.” She describes that bullying always includes three elements:

  • An imbalance of power (older, stronger, higher up the social ladder, etc.)
  • Intent to harm. The bully means to inflict emotional and/or physical pain, expects the action to hurt and often takes pleasure in witnessing the hurt.
  • Threat of further aggression: both the bully and the bullied know the bullying can and probably will occur again. This is not meant to be a one-time event.

When bullying escalates unabated, a fourth element is added:

  • Terror. Bullying is systematic violence used to intimidate and maintain dominance.

Coloroso further explains that once terror is created, the bully can act without fear of recrimination or retaliation. The bully counts on bystanders becoming involved in participating, supporting the bullying or at least doing nothing to stop it. Thus, the cycle of violence begins.

In our case, the main imbalance of power is money and the cultural, societal conditioning of what is considered “status”. The threat of further aggression is promised, as an example, by the neighbour recently yelling, “I’ve got plans for you Dirk, you dickhead!” (he didn’t notice there were witnesses… a family with three young children were visiting us). The enjoyment is apparent by the grin he displays when either goading or while having a Lantzville councillor standing on his property, taking photos of ours.

And this last point is what has become increasingly worrisome over these past seven months: the power and energy this neighbour has been given by our local, elected officials. The bully seems to have become increasingly emboldened by the attention and support he has received and has continued to escalate his behaviour. From the beginning of our public issue, I saw the mayor visit the neighbour three or four times. Since then, we have witnessed at least two more councillors visit. Most recently, mid-April, a strange exchange ensued between a councillor and I (see our urban agriculture update – bullet beginning with “April 13th”) while he was walking along the neighbour’s side of the property line, taking photos of our property. And when the neighbour swaggered over, he was grinning ear to ear.

Coloroso clarifies that bullying is not about anger; instead, it is rooted in contempt for another human being “who has been deemed by the bully and his or her accomplices to be worthless, inferior and undeserving of respect.” She writes that contempt has three characteristics:

  • A sense of entitlement.
  • Intolerance toward differences.
  • A liberty to exclude.

Once a person feels contempt for another human being, they can do anything to them and feel no compassion, guilt, or shame; in fact, they often feel pleasure from the targeted person’s pain. The process of dehumanizing that person is then normalized. Because we have different values, we have been targeted. It doesn’t matter if we used to work as “white collar” professionals with good wages, or whether we are considered “poor”, “weird” or “dirty farmers”. With contempt, different equals inferior and thus not worthy of respect. Excluding is to isolate and segregate a person not worthy of respect or care. This has been evident by our mayor continuing to repeat our neighbour’s words on television and by more council members visiting his house and not ours. To me, this is our council advocating on behalf of the neighbour.

The media can become complicit in the vicious social arrangement created by bullies. As described by Coloroso, “It is easy for a bystander to become invested in the logic and practices of the instigator and become not just complicit, but ‘owned by it’. They find that their acts enhance their reputation with the bullies (planners, instigators and perpetrators) and among their peers. They then act less out of compliance and often initiate and flaunt their own tactics.” We’ve found that complete strangers, who have never visited our property, suddenly believe they are “experts” on our situation – tossing rude remarks when they see us in public.

Cultural attitudes toward farmers and farming have helped fan the flame; in our case, manure. Not only has the media made hay (pun intended) with the fact we use horse manure from within Lantzville, one of our elected officials has been reported as retorting to local supporters of urban agriculture, “Do you want a pig farm beside your house?” Such statements are tactics designed to manipulate. This is a slow erosion of social status —which is how exclusion works. And now, rather than simply “dirty farmers”, our status is lowered further to become “dirty, stinky farmers”. The vast majority of strangers driving slowly by our home on a daily basis (which is on a dead end road) to see what all the commotion is about, have stopped and expressed genuine surprise that the place is tidy and doesn’t stink. They are also surprised at the amount of space between the houses. They have said that by the way we’ve been portrayed, they expected to see a row of houses side-by-side and one in the middle with hillbillies, broken down cars and the stench of liquid cow manure. See how powerful imagery can be? How powerful positioning and the strategic use of words designed to manipulate can be?

So how can we stop bullying?

There are certainly “do’s and don’ts” when dealing with such behaviour. With children, we immediately intervene and show the bully that their behaviour is unacceptable. We teach them empathy and friendship skills. We ensure the bullied target knows that it isn’t their fault and we certainly don’t minimize or trivialize the bully’s behaviour.

However, with adults, people seem to be less willing to intervene. Attempting to stop bullying by having “positive thoughts” and sending the bully “loving energy” —which is advice we have received from countless people— is futile, naive, and ultimately dangerous. It refuses to recognize inappropriate behaviour and even rewards hostile behaviour by allowing it to carry on unchecked. Action must be taken. But what action?

I don’t purport to know the answers, however I do know that we have a responsibility to create a community where we want to live. A place where we all feel welcome, safe and secure.

So then, how can we as a community, as a society, respond to bullying in general? How can we become more open and willing to engage with each other concerning this issue?

“When one finds an imbalance of power, intent to harm, and threat of further aggression, combined with contempt that is propped up with its apparent psychological advantages of sense of entitlement, liberty to exclude, and intolerance toward differences, along with an experience of pleasure from other human being’s pain, you have the makings of a bullying that is absolutely distinct and a far cry from mere conflict.”  – Barbara Coloroso

For our urban farm story, see’s-fight-for-the-right-to-grow-food

Among other things, Nicole Shaw is a farmer, feminist, artist, founding member of the Bowen Road Farmers’ Market, and volunteers her time to publish this magazine.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, May 21st, 2011 at 11:31 pm and is filed under FEATURE. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 Responses to “Ways & Means of Bullying”

  1. Thank you, Nicole, for that excellent summary. Bullying is bullying, whether active or with passive complicity. Keep us informed. Jo-Ann

  2. Judith says:

    Well-written, Nicole. I would love to be able to answer your question about how to respond to bullying in general… However, this is not a ‘general’ case of bullying — it is specific, directed, and simply unacceptable.

    If we “are what we eat”, isn’t it painfully obvious when someone is filled with toxic waste, and seriously missing important nutrients?

    Perhaps we, as your extended community of happy recipients of your safe, organic, local food, might contribute to a legal fund with which to deal with your very nasty neighbour and some soon-to-be-replaced local officials.

    We were struck by an important issue mentioned in one of the meetings we attended: If all of the people in Lantzville and surrounding areas who grow and sell food, were made to desist, all of the Island’s farmer’s markets would simply collapse. That would be a travesty.

    I know that a lawyer has stood up for you in at least one public meeting. Please let us know when she has set up such a fund. I, for one, will donate to it immediately. In this way, let the law deal with the bullying, so you two can separate yourselves from it in order to focus on the health-giving blessings you provide for us.

  3. Peggy Pearce says:

    Brilliant Nicole…this is indeed what is going on. Maicious bullying. Mean kids grown up…and apparently don’t change.

  4. AJ Hustins says:

    Nicole and Dirk. This is an excellent article and you have my support. Please, don’t give up! Let me and the rest of your supports know what we need to do to help your efforts. AJ

    AJ Hustins
    General Manager
    ABC Precast & Ready Mix Ltd.
    (250) 753-1223

  5. kenny brault says:

    good article, to expand the theme to other areas in your readers lives. In the work place not just the school yard or neighbours, There are co-workers or managment that will use a tatic called “invalidation”, They try to discredit you personally rather instead of dealing with your points or concerns or suggestions.
    They attack the messenger rather than the message. Adult Bullying

    There is a book about this management strategy click here for an overview of a Book about Invalidation

  6. Titia says:

    We know how it is to be bullied. We experienced a similiar situation in Holland, where we were bullied by our accountant and the bank(!), because, as they told us: we did not belong to their church. The game was played very smart, we could not do anything. And yes, positive thoughts have an end. Keep going, believe in yourself. And if you take action, do not hesitate to be strong and clear. Wish you good luck!

  7. B Hanna says:

    Very well written, I was aware that they were having trouble with Lantzville Bylaw, but not to this extent.

    The neighbour needs to be drawn out and known to the public, bullying is always done behind a wall and in a sneaky fashion.
    when the local public see bullies for what they are and fight back, the bullies supporters generally run for cover and the bully is left standing on their own.

    I agree there should be a fund set up to fight the legal aspects, it is extememly important that we keep our rights to grow food for our survival and those who do not have the opportunity or land to do so.

    I wish you all the best Nicole and Dirk.

  8. Nicole, that was a terrific article and must have been very tough to write. Please don’t allow the Bully to taunt you into an overt response and contaminate your “place” further.
    I find it disgusting that the attack on your Raspberry canes was not treated as a personal assault.
    I pity your neighbour, poison affects the vessel that stores it…imagine how disgusting his life has become.
    It is not easy to be the Angel that heralds change, but you and Dirk have a lofty goal and I encourage you to keep that goal in mind.
    You could literally help Lantzville into the future by leading a significant barrage against the Monsanto model.
    You will eventually have millions behind you and then the Council of the City of Lantzville will have to acknowledge that they are not aligned properly with the RDN Vision.

    I will share my newly found knowledge of your predicament with everyone I know who can affect the changes we all will need in order to survive the greedy Commercial poisoning of our Planet.
    It is very sad indeed that “Monsanto” Farmers now can be charged with theft for planting seeds they harvest from their own crops. The Council needs to look far beyond the complaint of a Zealot who thinks there are no residual problems from using Herbicides.
    You have an experienced and honoured supporter in Guy Dauncey and his wife, I am pleased to add my name to his to drive forward the need for sustainability. Not everyone can afford land, but all of us must afford to eat properly.
    I am grateful that you are able to grow enough to share with Seniors who can no longer farm and live in apartments.

    I would like to propose a group arrange to meet to set up a fund-raising “Art” sale, I am sure we can attract enough money to look after legal bills.
    On another note, there is a terrific location in Cedar where your efforts would be applauded, it would be a shame for Lantzville to lose you but we sure would welcome you here.

    Patti Grand
    Cedar, BC
    “We become what we think about”

  9. Lee Aldis says:

    Hi Nicole and Dirk, I’m so sorry to see the time you need to spend to defend yourselves when you could be using that time to teach, and support the public in their understanding and eventual accomplishment of self-sufficiency. You should be acknowledged and acclaimed for your accomplishments and the city should be paying you to teach people about the benefits of what you have achieved through hard work, perserverance and love of the land. Jelousy is also a big part of bullying and although you can ‘feel’ sorry for your neighbour it doesn’t help your situation when they have the support of other jelous people who, for whatever reason, have gained a position in the heirarchy that allows them to taunt you. If I can help and/or support you in any way please let me know. I honour you and your ability to handle this situation with such dignity. Blessings, Lee Aldis.

  10. Kate B says:

    I haven’t had enough time to process your post but wanted to acknowledge that I read it and found it to be very informative. I am sorry that this is all happening to you. It is all such a waste of energy to have to deal with and defend oneself when you know what you are doing is right. Strength and peace to you and I hope you prevail.

  11. Your observations are so much a key to what is going on here. People are encouraged to be competitive from childhood. This is reinforced by parents, schools, media, sports, government and the economy. And people are conditioned early to either inflict bullying or to cringe on cue. Unfortunately, by supporting the bullies, many others gain…”benefits”. How this happens in the culture are often so ingrained that people do not see it for what it is. It needs to be explicitly exposed, as you have done, every time it happens. Perhaps you have already mentioned your neighbour’s name in other posts, but I would be happy to write to him personally [and even politely!] if you can give out his name here. And, as for your mayor, we can only hope that he can develop a sense of his place in “history”. What is happening today is now part of recorded WORLD HISTORY. These people WILL be remembered. They may even end up in a children’s story or a song. Hmmm…..

  12. Trinity says:

    From Australia, sending you support and hope that there are people everywhere who are behind you and the beliefs that you are living as an example for us all. I stood up to a complete stranger/bullies a year ago and received a beating (not cool as a 39 year old woman). This resulted in jail terms, which I do not think is the best outcome (in my world) but if this had a butterfly effect of ceasing more violent behaviour, as previously shown by these people, for a period of time, then I believe it was worth it. I stood up for someone else that couldn’t and others stood around and did nothing. It comes down to the simple fact of being able to live with ourselves in a world where we can see injustice and unfairness win because we deny our innate need to do the ‘right’ thing.
    You are right I believe, send him all the lovin’ vibes and a big basket of veggies probably won’t change him. I’m happy to hear of your noting of his visitors and I hope that you have photos and perhaps recordings of his abuse and his photo taking.
    In the end, I have no answers either, but just encouragement. Keep doing what you are doing, accept the love and support and know you are not alone.

    Kindest regards

  13. Bill Jackson says:

    Great piece Nicole! It’s absolutely vital that people learn to have the courage of their convictions.

    I learned a lot from a certain young woman who was 11 or 12 at the time. She cried in her bed because she was being shunned at school. Her “crime” being that she refused to go along with the “shunning” of another girl. Of course it blew over in a day or two, she was a popular kid. But it happened several times and she always made the same choice.

    Folks, if a kid with all the social pressures of elementary school can do it, there’s no excuse for an adult to just privately “feel bad”. Say something. Give your outward, public support to those with the courage of their convictions.

  14. dbray says:

    bullies are cowards… they have lots of psychological problems.. blah blah blah… who cares? there’s LOT’S of people on this planet… we don’t need to ‘figure them out’ beyond the boundries of fashioning effective responses to their insane behaviors… if the mayor etc was visiting this nutjob, then their political asses are on the line.. no? ‘out’ them… get rid of them.. the bully has no power without support from others… ‘evil rules when good men do nothing’ or whatever the proper quote is… where are the good people in your community?

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