What I'm A Celebrity Has Taught Us About Bullying and Banter
The 2017 series of I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! drew a lot of attenton to Iain Lee, a man known to suffer from depression and anxiety. It was all about the way he was treated by a clique of four: Jamie Lomas, Dennis Wise, Amir Khan and mental health ambassador Rebekah Vardy.
It has made for uncomfortable viewing, but while I feel terrible saying this, it has hopefully taught the nation that bullying really does affect everyone. For me it reminded me of every pratt I've ever encountered in school or work.
Is this the first time I'm A Celebrity has been affected by bullying? You'd think so, but I fear it's just that this is the first time viewers have taken an interest in a contestant's mental health.
Was it bullying or banter?
This is the million-dingo dollar question. If you pull any bully aside and ask them what they were up to, they will hide under the cover of "banter". Maybe I'm naive, but I believe the majority of them are being honest. They think they're having banter. The problem is they aren't.
The difference between banter and bullying is really obvious, and it upsets me that people on Twitter are still arguing over it:
If you're taking advantage of your superior social status, you're bullying. This can include if there's three of them and one of you, if you've got more confidence, if you're a manager, and so on.
This brings me on to the second difference: If you know they can't out-banter you back, it's bullying. This can include if they're scared to reply, if they aren't up to your "league" of banter, or if you've just upset them.
Should we be angry with Dennis and Jamie?
At first, watching Dennis and Jamie's behaviour made me angry. Very soon, I began to feel sorry for them.
When I say I feel sorry for them, I don't mean in that classic explanation you give to your children that "they're only picking on you because they're jealous of you". I'm trying to leave Amir Khan out of this because I don't believe he has any depth to his personality and just says anything that will make him sound good, but Amir is exactly that. He puts others down to distract from his own failures. He's a pityable bully.
No, the reason I felt sorry for Dennis and Jamie is that even though the differences between bullying and banter are pretty damn obvious, I fully empathise that when you're in the middle of it is easy not to realise you've crossed the line.
In my childhood I would have picked on people I viewed as inferior to me. At the time I thought it meant we were all having a laugh but I went on to realise I was only doing it because I knew I wouldn't get any flack back. Fortunately they've forgiven and forgotten now but I haven't forgotten it.
More recently, I've watched decent, friendly adults turn in to horrible people the moment they feel a power trip. It's not right, but it's very easily done.
Here's the important catch with this type-of behaviour: most of the time, the perpetrators genuinely can't see the damage they are doing. They are too blinded by their own power trip ("everybody's laughing at my jokes", "everybody thinks I'm great now") to see the extent or the significance of the damage they are doing to the victim.
In social situations, Iain can be described as inferior because he is, in his own words, socially anxious. An insecure person will see this and take advantage of it.
But in their own twisted logic, they will convince themselves that they're helping him. I fully believe that Dennis and Jamie thought they were encouraged Iain when they patronised him about the trial, and that Jamie thought Toff needed help when he patronised her. They are convinced that they are superior and that everyone needs their help.
But Iain picked on Amir too?
Whenever someone opens up about bullying, the easiest response to give is to avoid the perpartrator. That's helpful advice when you only have to see them at work for seven hours, or when you always share a class of 30 with them. It's not-so helpful when you've got to share a small camp with them.
Iain doesn't want people to feel sorry for him. He wants people to like him. That's why when he spots an opportunity to make Amir laugh, he goes for it.
Another classic description of a bully is that every time you see them you never know if they're going to make you smile and cry. It's a cruel way in which they play with your mind. Of course, the truth behind their multiple-personalities is that it depends who they're trying to impress.
For the victim, they are either about to be relieved or insulted. If it goes well their confidence will shoot up, if it goes badly their confidence will take another knock.
Either way, Amir has given out more than enough stick about others' failings, so a little doesn't breach the 'banter limit' described above. It's about knowing the person you're picking on.
Some more things
The very fact that we're having to pick apart, analyse and explain to strangers on the internet why having three testosterone-filled, traditional alpha-males ganging up on one isn't a good idea gives a depressing insight in to why the suicide rate among young males is so high. I'm not optimistic that the way we as a nation deal with this is going to get any better any time soon, but I am immensely pleased that at least we are talking about it.
Samaritans: phone 116 123.