Hello and best wishes for a very happy new year! It’s been quite an active month in the news media and on social media, with several debates (or “Twitter wars” in some cases) springing up about the activities and actions of the Royal family. I was personally very surprised at the response to the article I wrote last month concerning the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit to the National September 11 Memorial in New York City. Thank you to all the readers who wrote in with their comments and shared their opinions, both on this site and on Twitter!
The majority of the comments over the past month in regards to the MULTIPLE debates that have taken place have been wonderful expressions of opinion, whether in agreement or disagreement, that serve to create an open-minded dialogue of a variety of viewpoints. Unfortunately, a few comments seemed to come from a negative place, leading me to wonder ‘What Would Kate Do?’ in these instances. What determines when a voiced opinion crosses the line from a polite expression of disagreement to a more personal attack…AKA bullying? And what would Kate do about bullying?
Let’s start to explore these questions by looking at bullying. According to the American Psychological Association (www.apa.org), bullying is “a form of aggressive behavior in which someone intentionally…causes another person injury or discomfort.” I would also add that bullying behavior has the potential to be repeated (so it is sometimes a one-off event and other times is a recurring problem). Further, bullying involves a real or apparent imbalance of power. Examples of a power imbalance include being physically stronger than someone else, being more socially popular (having more ‘social power’), or even having more legal or financial power.
There are three distinct types of bullying behavior: physical bullying, social/relational bullying, and verbal bullying. It is important to note that the three types can happen together, or individually. Physical bullying consists of direct unwanted physical aggression against someone. This can include hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, and tripping, as well as destroying someone’s property (tearing clothing, ripping a favorite book on purpose, keying someone’s car). Physical aggression tends to be very overt, as such actions leave marks on the victim and cause physical pain, and anyone who witnesses physical bullying usually is aware of what they are seeing.
Verbal bullying includes threatening someone with harm (not in self-defense, of course), name-calling (“fool,” “moron,” “stupid”), and maliciously teasing or insulting someone (saying someone is “too fat” or “too skinny’ might fall under these category). Finally, examples of social/relational bullying include excluding someone from social activities or sport teams, social ostracism, spreading cruel rumors, and causing public humiliation. Unlike physical bullying, verbal and social bullying can often be more covert and sneaky, making it much harder to accurately identify as a bystander. Interestingly, physical bullying is found most often among boys and men, while social bullying is more often seen among women and girls (and is often minimized as girls just being “cliquey” by nature).
The Duchess of Cambridge has been reported to be a victim of bullying herself. The Daily Mail and The Express (among other newspapers) published stories in April of 2011 stating that Kate was bullied by her peers while she was a student at Downe House from 1995 to 1996, and that these experiences caused her to leave the school after only two terms. Supposedly, this bullying focused on Kate’s physical appearance and her shyness. It should be noted that the source for these reports was an old “school friend” of Kate’s and that Kate herself never issued a statement confirming or denying these reports. Regardless, whether or not she was actually bullied as a teen, the Duchess of Cambridge has demonstrated an interest in the prevention of bullying.
William and Kate provided a list of charities as part of their request for charitable donations as opposed to wedding gifts for their marriage in April 2011. One of the organizations included in the list was Beatbullying, an international charity that worked with youth to create anti-bullying campaigns in schools and also provided mental health support via helplines and online information. Unfortunately, Beatbullying UK suspended services in October 2014 due to financial difficulties.
Kate’s interest in preventing bullying was also notable during her visit to the Resilience and Emotional Strength in Schools Forum in November 2013. This forum was organized by one of Kate’s patronages, Place2Be, and included discussions on cyber-bullying (bullying via the internet or other technological means), sexting (sexual bullying via text message), self-harm, and addiction. Apparently these topics resonated so deeply with Kate that she stayed at the forum for an additional hour.
So, as the title of this blog asks, “What Would Kate Do” about bullying? We’ve seen Kate ignore the heckling and the provoking (bullying?) comments that some members of the press use in order to get her to turn around for photographs. I think that Kate would not engage in bullying behaviors and would know how to express her opinions with grace and kindness. Further, I think that Kate would never use the power that she has as a member of the Royal family in any negative way. Most importantly, I think that Kate would realize that while an opinion can be uninformed, it technically cannot be wrong unless facts are presented that demonstrate the opinion to be incorrect.
So, whether you consider Kate to be perfect or perfectly boring, you consider her coat/dress/shoes/whatever to be stunning or dowdy, you think Kate works hard all day as a full-time mother or that she sits at home online shopping and eating bon-bons, it’s all just an opinion. And, in turn, it’s neither factually right nor factually wrong. It also doesn’t mean that whoever voices an opinion that you disagree with is a “moron” or that they are “ridiculous” or that someone is a “fool” because you disagree with one of their choices (all of which are examples of verbal bullying). We all are human, and thus we are all VERY opinionated! In fact, I’d even argue that it’s a good thing that we all have such different opinions and I’m thankful that we are allowed to express them freely. There are societies in which freedom of expression is severely limited and I think human interaction in those places suffers for it.
Thus, when faced with comments or opinions you don’t agree with, try to think of how Kate would react. Would she ignore the comment? Would she dispute it? Or would she use name-calling and shaming of the speaker in order to get them to retract their statement? I think we can all hazard a guess as to what she’d choose.