I recently read an article online (I'd link to it, but it made me rage-quit the Internet, without copying the page address), the gist of which was basically "everyone who behaves badly has a reason for their behaviour and we should be considerate and support them through it."
Now, that's a nice idea on the surface, perhaps, but this article was using bullying as their starting point. It was suggesting that all bullies act the way they do because they're suffering some kind of great pain, or living with issues that they don't know how to deal with. The unspoken message was that we should excuse bullies, because they only act badly because they're going through their own trauma.
And excuse me, but...
I've written here about my experiences of being bullied on the school bus and so this is a deeply personal subject for me. I don't doubt that the people who made my life a living Hell were acting out because they had issues going on in their lives. I'd like to think that no emotionally healthy person would ever spit at someone, or urge them to kill themselves, or tell them they're so ugly they don't deserve any form of love. It's easier for me to believe that they were battling their own demons and that their behaviour came from a dark and unhappy place. Otherwise I'm left with the knowledge that they simply took genuine enjoyment from pushing a twelve year old girl to a suicide attempt, and frankly, that's too evil to contemplate.
So, sure. I'll go along with the "bullies act badly because they're going through their own crap" line.
But it's not an excuse.
I'm not going to sigh and shrug my shoulders, absolving abusive people of any responsibility (and bullying is a form of abuse, after all). We all go through things in our lives that shape us and which sometimes cause huge emotional disturbances, but it's up to us how we deal with them. We have to make a choice about the kind of person we want to be, regardless of what's happened to us in our history, or what's happening to us right now. Sure, there are situations, illnesses and moments of emotional stress that cause us to lash out and snap at someone, or behave selfishly, or otherwise hurt someone's feelings. But when that happens, it's up to us to recognise our own behaviour, apologise for it and make amends. That is, if we choose to.
The thing with using any kind of personal trauma - be it illness (mental or physical), or just going through a really crappy time - as an excuse for bad behaviour is that a) it doesn't make it okay for a person to repeatedly behave badly without any kind of remorse and b) it assumes that becoming a lousy person is just the natural response to trauma. Which is rubbish.
When I was being bullied, I was subjected to disgusting behaviour which caused me to fall into a deep depression, during which I lost all of my self-confidence. Years later, I was still in a spiral of self-hatred and regularly dragged the pins from the badges I liked to stick on my bag, across my arms, leaving bumpy red scars, because I felt worthless and needed to feel a pain that was physical, rather than emotional.
Regardless of what personal trauma my bullies had endured, I was now traumatised as a result of the way they treated me. The difference between us is that I made the choice to try to never hurt another person the way they had hurt me. And frankly, had I decided to become a bully myself, I wouldn't have deserved to be excused for it, because I was well aware of what it felt like to be on the receiving end; I would have had no excuse whatsoever for doling out that kind of abuse onto another person.
Fast forward into my twenties and I ended up in a relationship with a man who abused me. And guess what? He blamed his past traumas for his behaviour. He expected me to swallow it as an excuse and, for a long time, I did just that. But the truth is, whatever sadness was in his past, no matter what hurt he had experienced, he still made a choice to abuse me. It wasn't inevitable. And there isn't an excuse.
I have had enough of hearing reasons why we should excuse people when they behave in a manner that is selfish, inconsiderate or downright hurtful.
Yes, we should feel sympathy for a person who has experienced something sad or traumatic. Yes, we should try to understand that there are certain circumstances in which a person may be under such stress that they snap and say something cruel, or behave selfishly; we should make some allowances for that, because frankly, if we didn't, then we could never expect anyone to make allowances for our own mistakes and let's face it, none of us are perfect.
But those allowances only stretch so far. If a person is overly critical or cruel towards us and expects us just to take it because they have "issues," we're allowed to say "no, that's not okay." If it's not just a one-off mistake which the person apologises for, but a prolonged catalogue of hurtful behaviour that said person seems to think they're entitled to exhibit, we are allowed to stand up to it.
Nothing - and I really do mean nothing - gives a person the right to treat people badly and yet be consistently "let off." We all have to take responsibility for our actions and own up to our mistakes.
We may not have a choice about the demons from our past that have shaped our character. But we do have a choice as to the way we treat others.
Let's make the right one.