The difference between bullying and banter has been talked about for decades. Where does playful ‘joshing’ turn into something hurtful and, potentially, bullying?
Early on in my career I was confronted with this very dilemma within a training session with volunteer sports coaches. At the session, I put a question to the group ‘What is the difference between bullying and banter?’ A very confident hand shot up at a table at the back of the room: ‘The difference is if I call you a bad name when I don’t know you, that’s bullying. But if I call my mate here …’ a sheepish looking man sat next to him started looking nervous ‘a fat [word I won’t repeat], then that’s banter because he’s my mate.’
The room went silent and with it being one of the first training sessions I delivered, I had a choice. Do I challenge what he said and make the embarrassment for his friend last even longer? Or, do I skip over it and pretend it didn’t happen? I’m ashamed to say, being relatively inexperienced, I skipped over it. But it stuck with me and I’ve replayed what I should have said repeatedly since.
What I should have said was: No, what you’ve done is change what might be a joke between two friends by bringing it into a public sphere with a lot of people who don’t know your relationship or the context within it. It actually doesn’t matter whether or not the man thought what he said was just joking around. It was clear from his friend’s face that he was uncomfortable and hurt by it.
This is why at ABA we repeatedly speak about the need for a shared understanding of bullying. In this incident, the power relationship between the two of them shifted when he included the whole room. Bullying is hurtful, repetitive, intentional and involves an imbalance of power. When you are confronted with the decision: bullying or banter? Think carefully about the power relationship between the parties. Has the person experiencing it said they don’t like it? Does it involve numerous people? Does it target an aspect of their appearance or personality?
Banter involves people with equal power, where there is no hurt involved and no intent to cause harm. In no way are we saying that people can’t make jokes but just be aware of the tipping point.
That’s why this year’s Anti-Bullying Week theme is All Different, All Equal where we try to empower young people to celebrate what makes them and others different. Anti-Bullying Week this year is from 13th – 17th November. Find out more about how to get involved here: www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk