Bil Browning

Social exclusion as bullying

Filed By Bil Browning | August 08, 2007 6:25 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, The Movement
Tags: bullying, coming out of the closet, Japan, LGBT youth, schools, United States

zebras.jpgSocial conformity as a concept has always fascinated me. I always wanted to know who set the mark to conform to and the history of the "why" behind it. (I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a scholar in this field and I only know what I think I know, if you know what I mean. *grins*) Consider coming out of the closet in Japan - where social conformity is so valued that students who've traveled abroad for long periods often have troubles reintegrating back into Japanese society.

One can be out to friends, in some cases, but my students agree that if a man's company found out he was gay, while he probably wouldn't be fired, he would definitely never be promoted and his co-workers would socially ostracize him.

This is a very frightening thought for Japanese, for whom social inclusion is extremely important. Bullying is considered a big problem in Japanese schools, and the most common form of 'bullying' is one in which most or all of a class ostracizes one child. In America this wouldn't really be considered 'bullying,' but in Japan, students have committed suicide because of it. It's a very big deal. Gay Japanese know that the more out they get, the closer they get to that.

Is social exclusion bullying? Is it wrong for us to say "You must conform to the group or we will exclude you"? Criminals, for example, spring immediately to mind. Are we bullying them for locking them up away from society? Of course, here in America we have the "hostile work environment" that, I believe, covers cases where the employee goes to work and no one will speak to them. Should I have to be friendly and outgoing and socially inviting to the fundie wingnut that might work in the next cubicle or can we just keep a nice quiet peace? And when does that quiet become hostile - when one party feels excluded? (Then again, think of how hard it would be to come out if all of the US was like this. It wasn't that long ago that it would have happened here regularly! And wouldn't a public shunning be meant to demean as versus mutually ignore?) I have many questions, but not a lot of answers unfortunately. What do ya'll think? Is social exclusion bullying?


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Lynn David | August 8, 2007 6:48 PM

Nonviolent bullying? Or the equivalent of shunning? Do you think Gandhi would approve?

This is a very frightening thought for Japanese, for whom social inclusion is extremely important. Bullying is considered a big problem in Japanese schools, and the most common form of 'bullying' is one in which most or all of a class ostracizes one child. In America this wouldn't really be considered 'bullying,' but in Japan, students have committed suicide because of it. It's a very big deal. Gay Japanese know that the more out they get, the closer they get to that.

Actually, I remember this happening in America too. Like those kids who sit alone in the high school cafeteria or whom no one will pick for a group project in class. It's not organized, but there are kids with no friends. And they do sometimes commit suicide because of that exclusion, although I don't know if the Japanese suicide rate is higher or not.

I think about social exclusion at work that it is a hostile environment if you have to work with other people. Like if they have to go to you to get something done but they avoid it and go around/above you constantly. Some workplaces require people to work with others, and if everyone else avoids you, then you can't get your job done, and guess what, that means you'll be punished.

Oh well. People are by nature social. The second worst punishment that we can dream up in this country is solitary confinement. We know it hurts, we know it drives people crazy, we know that children who don't get social interaction at a young age for whatever reason grow more slowly, learn to walk later, and are sicker. It gets the point across.

It happens here all the time, but in Japan it's very common, and all difference beyond the cosmetic is hidden. Even parents of children who are at all different or not following expected paths or disabled, etc, hide it and are ashamed if their circles at work find out. (i have friends in tokyo, and when i went, i was astonished at how closeted they all were on the whole, and the bar scene too--they explained to me that they don't see it that way--everyone hides everything always, so it's not a big deal to them.)

Amberglow is right... Japanese society is very, very polite and secretive. While in America the social focus is usually on the individual (individual rights, freedom of expression, etc.), in Japan it's usually the group or community that gets the focus (bringing honor to the family, for instance). But as to the subject of this thread, yes, it is a form of bullying. I was one of the kids in school who was "shunned", though not for my sexual orientation. All children do this... if there was anyone who was openly gay in my school at the time, I'm sure they would have been the one eating by themselves in the cafeteria. Every group will pick out the least desirable to "make an example of", it's just human nature. I count myself lucky to have been the one to learn this lesson so early... it gave me a level of maturity the others had to learn much later in life, with more difficult lessons. At one point or another in our lives, we're all "shunned", and that's a good thing. It makes us less likely to judge others by their social status, which is really just temporary.

I guess it's that fine line that makes the difference...

One kid doesn't have anyone to eat with at lunchtime in school. No one wants the kid at their table. No one will play with the poor kid, walk with them, or speak to them. The child commits suicide.

A prisoner is locked up in jail to separate them from the rest of society for a predetermined punishment. Several prisoners commit suicide each year, btw.

Two co-workers of different political stripes pointedly ignore each other at the office while talking bad about the other behind their back.

A middle-aged actor/comedian makes racist/homophobic remarks and suddenly finds himself with a lot less work.

How are they related? When is this bullying and when is it appropriate behavior? We sanction some and condemn others. What's the line?