On Bullying, Opinions, and Pitchforks

beinganasshole (1)

My dear Internet, it appears we have a lot to talk about, doesn’t it? First, let’s clear up some definitions.


Bullying isn’t what’s happening when someone expresses an opinion that’s different from yours. Not even when that person is expressing it in an aggressive manner. Nope, not even when their choice of words isn’t the most polite, or when you think they should have more tact.

Bullying isn’t (necessarily) name-calling, arguing or putting people down. That, my friends, is being an asshole. And that says a lot more about the person (or people) doing it than about the one they’re name-calling.

Bullying occurs when there is a (real or perceived) imbalance of power. It is a repeated behaviour, meant to drive a victim down, to do harm, with force or threats. This is why it happens a lot to children, not as often to adults. It is intimidation, it is abusive and it is habitual. It is not an argument on the internet or a disagreement on the schoolyard. Bullying tears off layers of self-respect, harms esteem and pushes people to the brink. It is a terrible, terrible behaviour that we must work hard to eliminate, most certainly, but the word is so overused that I fear it is losing any of its real meaning.


An opinion is a view, or a judgement, a belief. It does not have to be rooted in fact, although it’s often confused as such. The confusion of fact and opinion is at the root of much conflict — religious, political, even scientific. No matter how much you believe in something, it doesn’t make it a fact. No matter how many people you have on your belief team, it still doesn’t make it a fact. Opinions are just that: opinions.

Arguing vs. Debating vs. Fighting

I know, I know, we’re talking semantics here, but the words matter, don’t they? The meanings, at their essence, may be the same but the connotation is what matters here, and it’s crucial we understand the words before we get to labelling.

To argue is to try to convince someone of your beliefs or point of view. The aim is to present all the reasons why you’re right, and fight to the death to convince the other person of this.

To debate is to present, logically, your points of view and lay them on the table without necessarily demanding others agree. A debate is more logical and intellectual, with less emotion and more fact.

And to fight is to put all sense of propriety aside and start verbally or physically attacking another person. Oh, you don’t agree that my religion is the best one? Well, you’re fat, ugly and stupid. Haters gonna hate! That’s fighting. It’s infuriating, immature and it’s enough to make you want to pull your hair out.

The Heart of the Matter

I spend a lot of time online, so I live in a world where words absolutely matter. Tone and intonationย are removed when we rely on text, tweets and emails to communicate, so the definitions and connotations absolutely matter.

I hear the word “bullying” being thrown around daily, and people seem to think that our interactions with one another have somehow degraded now that the internet is present, but I don’t think that’s true. Yes, there are certainly trolls who can leave hateful, anonymous comments, but this isn’t really what we’re complaining about. We’re complaining about people expressing opinions that differ from our own, for the most part.

Those assholes! How dare they argue with me? How dare they express (so loudly!) their points of view? Those bullies! There are so many who disagree, look at them with their pitchforks, all banding together to disagree with me! That person was rude to me on twitter, that bully! I made a comment and promoted my opinion on the internet and now a lot of people disagree — they’re ganging up on me with their pitchforks! Wah, wah, wah.

Oh, please.

When it comes to adults and bullying, there far fewer instances when the word really applies than there are with kids. Though I absolutely think adults can use bullyish behaviours towards one another, unless there’s some kind of power imbalance, then the whole thing is just a bunch of adults behaving poorly. As adults, we have the tools and abilities to call people on this kind of behaviour, remove ourselves and/or protect ourselves physically and emotionally, though so many seem to enjoy playing victim. It is admittedly far easier to hide behind the word than to stand up for ourselves.

If someone disagrees with your blog post and calls you on it, that’s not bullying, that’s disagreeing. If you tweet something that rubs people the wrong way, that’s on you. It doesn’t matter if your words have incited the rage of one or many, it’s not bullying to have someone respond negatively.

No matter how rudely they call you to task, or how many insults they throw your way, unless somehow you’re beneath them on the power totem pole, there’s absolutely no bullying taking place. You might not like it, it may give you a terrible feeling in the pit of your stomach, but that’s the price of having an opinion, and it’s a worthy price to pay to have the freedom of sharing our opinions. If you believe so strongly in it that you spoke it aloud or wrote about it, stand up for it.

Stand up and defend your opinions! Tell the world why you believe in your points of view. Being different is what makes us grow. Questioning the world is how we progress. I’m not encouraging hate speech here… if that’s your jam, keep it to yourself because hate does no good. But as I teach my kids: never be afraid to let your voice be heard! And listen to the voices of others. Debate not to convince, but to learn.

It may seem like I enjoy arguing, but that certainly is not the case. I never, ever seek to fight with people, but I also will never, ever, shy away from standing up for what I believe. I debate to know more, to share my point of view, and to seek out knowledge (and spread it, too). Last week, Sharon said something about me that I absolutely loved: “Alexandria Durrell has an opinion.” I hope that the world always knows that I have one, and that I’m happy to share it.

Having a different opinion doesn’t make you an asshole. Being an asshole makes you an asshole.

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29 thoughts on “On Bullying, Opinions, and Pitchforks

  1. You have just (most eloquently and professionally) stated exactly what so many people NEED to read. Yes, adults are allowed to have opinions. No, it does not make them a bully. Sometimes, it seems that if you have a difference in opinion, a point of view or gasp – your own ideas about something that goes against the norm – you are automatically labeled a bully or someone who “doesn’t support others”. And then, you’ll more than likely be told to keep your opinions to yourself – because if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it at all. But wait – what does being “nice” have to do with politely disagreeing about something? Like you said – being an asshole makes you an asshole. Having an opinion makes you an individual.

  2. Great post, Alex! And very well written.
    This is an issue that I have had for many years because quite frankly, I’m too am not afraid to voice my opinions. I do like to keep others’ feelings in mind but at the same time, if I believe in something very strongly, I will not hesitate to pipe in with my 2 cents.
    Can’t please everyone.

    And yes absolutely, there is a HUGE difference in being a bully and being an asshole.

    1. What are we teaching our kids when we don’t speak up for what we believe in? We need to focus more on the how than the do-or-do-not. Thanks for chiming in, Carol. xo

  3. I like it Alex! It seems that sometimes the internet brings out the worst in people. What I can’t stand is how some are so quick to ‘protect’ one but then so quick to ‘bash’ another. So much hypocrisy in the world. Bottom line is that we can’t always agree on everything and that is a GOOD thing! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Totally, Sandy. That kneejerk reaction to immediately protect-and-bash is pretty scary. It’s THAT mob mentality that can do damage, for sure.

      One of the things I like best about you is that you always speak up, and discuss things rationally, even though you don’t always agree. I appreciate discussions with you.

      1. That means a lot Alex! Thank you! I feel that way about you too. The best GNOs in my opinion involve lots of wine and healthy (sometimes heated) debates. It keeps us learning. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Well said! I don’t like that sometimes I feel as though I shouldn’t voice my opinion out of fear of a debate. I too have strong opinions and I shouldn’t have to apologize for them. I never knock others for their opinions. It’s what keeps things interesting!

  5. This is a great post. You have so eloquently stated what many people feel. I think it is so important that people learn to “argue” their points and debate things they are passionate about that when Thing 1 & Thing 2 were teeny we encouraged them to “argue” their points of view when it came to choosing movies or activities – if a conflict of opinion ever came up.

    It is a fantastic skill to have. Logic. Calm. Here’s why I think what I think. It also helps children to *really* think about what matters most to them from a young age.

    We *do* adhere, often, to the “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” adage, but not when it is something worth defending or honouring with your helpful opinion.

    And I swear to you, I believe so deeply in the idea of *always* saying what you need to say. I also believe that it is possible to temper those things with kindness.

    I love this post!

    1. I love your “tempered with kindness” motto, that’s so, so important. There is a definite difference between speaking one’s mind with whatever crosses it (just because something is “true” doesn’t mean it should be said), versus speaking our minds to stand up for our beliefs, for sure.

      I tell me kids to always speak up, always question, and always ask. In this life, those skills will take them far, and protect them, too.

  6. Yes. The word bullying is used way too much when people display less than nice behavior towards others. More often than not, in the adult world, it is just people showing their asshole side. Thanks for writing about it and putting this out there.

    1. I really think we need to maintain the actual meaning of the word, because it’s insidious, awful and unacceptable to bully.

      But merely unsavoury to be an asshole.

  7. Okay, like the post but I’m not sure if it is a reflection on your readership or just what I am about to say… Being a male, I’m more on the asshole side of things. There is no shame in saying or taking a stance that you may or may not believe.

    When this is done in male company, generally, I get called an asshole and it gets laughed off or they question what I really mean. I find that women will often not put forward a defense or question what I said. I’m a diminutive man who puts a strong position forward but may not agree with it. It is a way to throw something at the wall and test it out.

    Methinks that this might be a cultural learning. I feel a little sexist suggesting it but maybe women and girls are not taught to speak up strongly for their opinions. I’ve only met a handful of sassy girls. The women whom I have grown up with seem to grow into their confidence and become “assholes” as they get older. I enjoy that broadness or dameness as they age.

    So, a long comment short. Is this assholeness a part of aging or sex role stereotypes? Just asking for a friend.

    1. I think you have a very valid point there, actually. And take note that you said, “sassy girls”… what does that mean, really? It would be “opinionated guys”, right?

      That said, I know PLENTY of men who rarely (if ever) share their points of view, or waste time debating anything (my husband included), so maybe it’s not so much sex- as personality-related?

      There’s absolutely a cultural aspect to it, too, though, as evidenced by the fact that when I was engaged in a debate on Twitter the other night, someone said it made them uncomfortable and hastagged it “#spotthewasp”… I’m a WASP. I enjoy a good debate. I guess that’s an anomaly?

      I *also* think that with age comes the confidence to express our opinions more freely, so maybe it’s got a little to do with all your points?

  8. Very well said Alex…there are people who just enjoy playing ‘the victim’ no matter what the issue or opinion is…poor me you don’t like what I said… poor me you actually told me what you really thought…Poor me I am being bullied… THROAT PUNCH…that may be too harsh…it’s Big Girl Pantie time in the webosphere…I got mine..Cheers

  9. I love this. I am pretty transparent about how I feel about things and I have had very courteous discourse with people online on subjects that we do not see eye-to-eye on. They have expressed genuine surprise and delight after the fact, that things were so civil. Our country seems bent on us and them, black and white, pro and anti. The living happens in between those things just as much as it does in them.

    Great post.

  10. WOW I feel like you read my mind. Excellent post. So many great points I could write a book to respond!!!

    1. Thanks, Cathy! If you decide to write more about it, I’d love to read. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Ah! I tried to log in, but can’t for some reason. Have to post as guest. I also didn’t finish my comment. This is one of the best posts I’ve come across in a while, Alex! Off to share this now because it’s something everyone needs to read. Standing up and defending one’s ideas is so important to teach our kids. I don’t want my daughter to be afraid of defending her opinions. At the same time, I remind her to be mindful of other people’s feelings, because that is important too.

  12. beautifully written and perfectly said. Being an asshole does make you an asshole. I love when people question my writing and debate with me. I try to do the same and I’m called a troll. I’m not a troll, I just don’t agree with everyone and everything.

  13. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Alex. Unfortunately, by being the voice of this exact kind of reason in my family, I am being bullied. I have always tried to raise my daughters with these values and ability to stand up for themselves being different. My sister, older than me by 13 years and having experience with law, has escalated beyond yelling at me and constantly putting me down for my choices in life, to using her education and experience to attempt to manipulate and keep my daughters away from me. Just because she doesn’t agree with who I am or how I choose to live my life and raise my kids. And I am not over-exaggerating her behavior either. She was a victim of sexual abuse, which as a victim of the same myself, I feel for her for, but I still don’t believe it gives her the right to go from victim to bully when she encounters those who don’t live their lives the way she wants them to. I just wish she could grasp the concept that you don’t have to agree with someone else’s way of life, you just have to accept their right to their own opinions, beliefs and way of life. What works for one person’s life and kids doesn’t work for others, and as their mother, there is no one, not even her, who knows better what works best for them. She has even employed her bullying techniques to her parenting of my daughters while they live with her under a guardianship. I am fighting to get it ended tooth and nail, but it the meantime, me and my kids are forced to endure her bullying that she attemps to put off as teaching them to be strong instead of sensitive. At one point, she even used to call my youngest daughter an asshole, to her face! My daughter was 6 at the time. Now, my oldest daughter, who is 12, has been dealing with my sister trying to drive a wedge between her and I. Because she turns to me when my sister hurts her feelings or upsets her. So, my sister has been telling her that what goes on there is between them and she shouldn’t be telling other people, aka me, about it because my daughter would be violating their relationship. My sister is just their guardian. I am the mother and if my daughter is upset or offended or hurt, I should be who she turns to. And she turns to me because I teach her how to navigate the situations or just give her someone to listen. Unfortunately at this point, I am teaching them more about how to fly under my sister’s radar so they don’t have to deal with so much of the manipulation and bullying. I would rather that I could encourage them to stand up to my sister more, but it just puts them in the position to be her target. I can’t wait until this whole court thing is over with and my girls are back with me where they belong. Where I can teach them how to stand up to their bullies. If it wasn’t for the guardianship and my sister using any difference of opinion from my kids towards her as fuel to convince people that I am the one who is bad for my kids, I would be encouraging them to stand up to her. Unfortunately, I know for a fact that she will use it against me and them by manipulating the way it is perceived, making herself the victim of ungrateful kids and an immature sister who according to her has no idea how to parent children. My kids fortunately know exactly who she is and she isn’t fooling them, though she may be fooling everyone else she is close to. The other reason she is so against me is because she has never fooled me. I have always seen her for who she is and she can’t accept that who she pretends to be isn’t who she really is around me because I’m not afraid to tell her that I see who she is and what her issues really are. Though I guess that part of the problem. People never like being called out, especially when they have been a victim before. But I stand by my opinion that being a victim never gives someone the right to become a bully and make other people into victims.

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