Is it getting better?

A number of months ago Moya Watson shared with me her plans to launch an SAP version of the “It Gets Better” Project  “a worldwide movement, inspiring more than 50,000 user-created videos viewed more than 50 million times”  encouraging young people to reach out to get help if they are experiencing bullying and rejection.   Moya spearheaded and fore fronted the SAP film submission to the project featuring the heart-rending and moving experiences of SAP employees  and she has worked tirelessly with many of her colleagues to galvanize support, feedback and spread awareness of the tragic results of adolescents who are bullied, taunted  and even tortured for simply being themselves. 

When bullying is done online, it is called Cyberbullying .  Many of us think of Cyberbullying as something perpetrated on children, teens and youth (as in the tragic case this past week of  Amanda Todd ) but the term Cyberbullying has come to include adult behavior as well.

(from Wikipedia)

“Examples of what constitutes cyberbullying include communications that seek to intimidate, control, manipulate, put down, falsely discredit, or humiliate the recipient. The actions are deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior intended to harm another. Cyberbullying has been defined by The National Crime Prevention Council: “when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person”

With the launch of the new SCN platform, I’d been tasked to rework the “Rules Of Engagement”. While it may seem unrelated, I found myself thinking about instances of online bullying and how to address and incorporate some form of warning and guidance around what I have observed and on occasion needed removed from community posts: namely language that discriminates or defames.  If you are puzzled as to how such conduct sneaks in under the radar, or ever finds its way to SCN, you’ll need to think  or perhaps rethink the following set of examples of bully behavior.

Is there Cyberbullying in our backyard?

Sometimes it starts very benignly with one set of people poking “fun” at the vernacular or language colloquialisms of another particular group.  I’ve been witnessing this over the years even here on SCN.  What I also observed is that often, the very people who are being taunted, will make disparaging remarks about themselves or join in poking “fun” of their own vernacular .  Studies of cyberbullying show that self-denigrating remarks can be as damaging to self-concept or self-esteem as those posed by others.  And in research a correlation has found between cyber-bullying and a lower self-concept, just as there is a proven correlation between traditional bullying and self-esteem.

This week we witnessed an unpleasant interchange in the social channels of twitter, where, as Vijay Vijayasankar pointed out, an unfair assessment was made of people’s reputations.  A group of contributors to the community were referred to as “no names”.  Repeating the denigrating comments made by others, in my mind is as hurtful and damaging as initiating them.   Quoting “others” as being first source of such derogatory reference is not a reasonable alibi or an excuse for untoward behavior.

Such behavior is behavior that should not be modeled or left unchecked or tolerated.  Let’s work together to root out the places where we allow any kind of victimization, whether or not the victims request aid or not.  Often, the victim is too paralyzed or perhaps even fears repercussions.  Let’s work to keep our environment safe for all.  Guaranteeing social health and well-being should be one of our charters.


It is humiliating and inappropriate to regard a group of people as “no names” and as, with children, when people hear such aspersions enough times, those declarations have the potential to have deleterious effect on one’s self-worth or self concept.

Such comments, no matter where they originate from, have absolutely no place in our community or its extended social media channels.

This week saw me thinking and speaking a great deal about empathy in the workplace and also had me seeing empathy as a distinguishing business practice.

I think if we all examined ourselves and our verbal communication, we would uncover instances of inadvertent and  perhaps even conscious examples of online abasement.

Empathy to the rescue

Rather than end on that dour note,  I’d like to add some rays of hope that “practicing empathy” to ourselves first and foremost might give us access into insights about ourselves that could inform us about: what makes us (and by extension) others run and what kind of behaviors causes breakdowns in communication and damage.

I’m thrilled that SAP is giving this topic such exposure at the upcoming SAP TechEds.

Goodnight and goodluck.


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    1. Marilyn Pratt Post author

      That’s the insidious thing about certain subtle forms of bullying.  We become inured to them and de-sensitized.  We don’t recognize them as bullying.  For example, if someone were to use vernacular such as ebonics in a way that would demean another person or group of people, that would certainly constitute a form of abuse.  It’s been much written about in the US in fact.

      And yes, I do see this behavior in the forums when someone makes fun of others for their vernacular use of expressions (meant in a serious context)  such as  “do the needful” or “I have a doubt” or “gurus”.  These are location specific phrases because they are a local form of expression.   But they can be twisted and misused by people for whom these are not natural phrases to make fun of someone’s way of speaking or communicating.   I admit too that I may have witlessly and wrongly participated in such conversations.  And no, they are not benign fun.  They have a core of racism that is so subtle that we often overlook our own doing of that.  Again awareness is a first step to remedy.

      And it’s not just cultural “subtle” racism.  We also have ageism and sexism.  My colleague Gali Kling Schneider reminded me this week that it is self-abasing and self-denigrating (abusing onself) to constantly negatively refer to oneself as being old and senile in the derogatory sense.  My doing that might stem from wanting to make fun of myself before someone else does.  So often fear drives someone to say disparaging things about themselves.  It doesn’t serve any of us well.  Women are often doing that too.  So it is a subtle form of participating in a bias or judgement that just perpetuates the bias.

      I know, long response to your short comment.

      But glad to have the opportunity to expand.  It’s been something that glares at me since I began to work with SDN 8-9 years ago.

      1. Navaneetha Krishnan

        Hi Marilyn

        This is awesome piece of writing, expressing clearly the thoughts characterised by subtle emotions. Not always easy even for experienced linguaphiles. Probing a topic as contentious as this needs the dexterity to handle and convince the contradictions.

        There are people who are extremely good in communicating and I think all those people learnt it from you.

        A good comment on a nice blog. I wish I had these skills.

  1. Moya Watson

    Such a crucial piece — I appreciate that you are unafraid, Marilyn Pratt, to call out situations that others may just note and not be able – for whatever reason – to speak out about, even here in our own backyards.

    Thanks for your recognition of It Gets Better. Yet after all the work, all the thoughts, all the stories I’ve had the honor to be engaged with this year, I often feel no wiser and no closer to the power to stop this real harm. 

    In that spirit, I’m so looking forward to discussing this Wednesday evening during the Role of Empathy event in Las Vegas next week.  Slightly before, at 4:30 that day, I’ll be exposing some of my own wrestlings in the mentor lounge – we’re a technology company. In fact — we state we make the world run better. It’s my feeling that empathy is a must-learn, but we also absolutely must employ technology as part of the solution.

    thank you.

  2. Ajay Das

    Anonymity (relatively speaking) and perception of control (I say what I want to say, without anybody objecting/interrupting, at least not in real time) on internet fits very nicely with our baser instincts.

    Moreover Twitter is the most opinionated, shooting-from-the-hip crowd where you often get points for being first (than right).

    Looking at the internet conversations it is hard to say that bullying has much to do with age. Some may be more sophisticated (commenters on nytimes/wsj) than others (an FB or twitter), but the urge to put the perceived adversary in his/her place is fairly omnipotent (both omni and potent) and in some cases more prevalent among adults (probably because they grew up in times when such behavior wasn’t that uncommon).

    In Sanskrit, there is a teaching which goes ‘Satyam BruYaat, Priyam BruYaat, Na Bruyaat Apriyam Satyam’ – loosely translated it meant “Speak truth, speak kind words. Do not utter words that are hurtful, even if true’. I always struggled with it, thinking it counters what we value, that truth shall always be spoken. However, I now understand that there are a number of truths which serve no purpose, are hurtful, and better left unsaid.

    Above is not to equate bullying with ‘truth’, but just another reminder to ourselves about judging when to shut up even if we have an opinion.

    I know it firsthand (having not practiced it at times).

    1. Marilyn Pratt Post author

      Ajay, thank you for sharing that Sanskrit teaching.  Thank you as well for being humble about one’s own practice.  I join you in acknowledging that I certainly have not practiced this teaching at all times.  But some awareness of that is a good first step!

      Part of what drives shouting matches is the need to show one is right. The need to “look good”.  I work to remember Gerald Jampolsky’s point that “you can be right or you can be happy”.  Sometimes those things are indeed mutually exclusive.  I remind myself when I get fixated on “being right” and “looking good being right”. 

      If I find myself arguing about how “right” I am, I usually need to step back and understand why I need to shout that.  That’s not to say we should not speak up for what is right or what we believe to be right, but understand first whether or not those truths serve, not just our own agenda or purpose, but a higher purpose (healing, helping, educating others). 


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