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About "toughen up" - Input Junkie
February 23rd, 2011
09:33 pm

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About "toughen up"
rm mentioned that she's had enough of writing about bullying, and I was thinking about saying that I hope she writes about the badness of "toughen up" at some point, but I wasn't sure there was any polite way to say it, and then it occurred to me that I had a few ideas of my own on the subject.

If you take "toughen up" literally, it seems to indicate that the annoying-to-infuriating people who use it have the bizarre premise that they should be able to insult people and just get exactly as much response as they want-- I think what they have in mind is acclaim from people who agree with the insults, and silence or compliance from the people who've been insulted.

However, I suspect it isn't intended to be taken literally. It's a classic bullying move to poke someone literally or metaphorically, and then attack them again for having a normal response to harassment.

I've spent enough time on time online and enough time thinking about what I've seen that I have toughened up to some extent. Damned if I know whether it's entirely an improvement.

And it's taken enough time and been enough work that I can't believe that anyone who who says "toughen up" as a snap command for their own convenience (and, by the way, the "toughen up" contingent are apparently at least somewhat affected by signs of dislike, or they wouldn't be telling people to stop it [1]) is thinking at all about what they're asking for.

Also, if you take the "toughen up" model seriously, I think it implies that people should be unshameable. Or at least not reflexively shameable, and I'm not either would be an improvement over the human race as now constituted.

You see, much as I despise a lot of what's done with social pressure, I'm uncertain that the average result would be better if people were invulnerable to it. The crowd isn't always wrong.

[1] In other news, if you spend a lot of time talking about how other people complain too much, you're complaining.

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From:asakiyume
Date:February 24th, 2011 05:33 am (UTC)
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In the main, I agree with you, but I do have one side thought. It's not "toughen up," but it's more, "relax; laugh; shrug shoulders." I think my husband and the Japanese daycare my kids were in got me to see the benefits of this--and I do think this is distinct from "toughen up." "Toughen up" implies callousness, being inured to injury, but what my husband and the daycare were promoting was a giving up of a degree of amour propre, maybe? Along with a general relaxedness that doesn't jump to the assumption that small incursions or unfortunate happenings are deliberate assaults. Say Child One knocks down Child Two's tower of blocks--suppose even intentionally, but (this is important) not with apparent malice. One route you could go would be to talk about hurt feelings and not destroying things other people make. Those are important lessons, but when you're very young and not with the most motor control, and at an age when many of your number (maybe you, yourself, too, under certain circumstances) love seeing things come crashing down, then to put all the emphasis on sadness and the wrongness of breaking things and being careful can have some dire unintended consequences--and may just not be understood very well. Whereas, if you laugh, and say "Wow! The tower went bang! Let's all build it back up again!" then the child who broke it isn't stigmatized, the child who had it broken has a means of reinterpreting the negative event less negatively, and everyone gets to work at building a new tower. Towers come down, but then we rebuild them--it's natural and positive.

... It's not to say that all the time this is the approach to take. At some point, the other lesson is valuable too. It's just that if there's a way to UNproblematize a situation, to lessen the number of things that are cause for upset, that can be a benefit all around, I think.
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From:nancylebov
Date:February 24th, 2011 12:39 pm (UTC)
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That sounds reasonable-- that is, if I take as you've written it, it sounds pretty good. If I take it from another angle, it's saying that other people get to mess with me, and I'm supposed to learn to like it, but since I don't like messing with people, I don't get anything out of the rule.

You did put in caveats, so I'm wondering whether you've got general principles which for when to say "loosen up" and when to say "that's too much, stop doing that". I'm not saying there have to be articulatable general principles.
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From:asakiyume
Date:February 24th, 2011 12:59 pm (UTC)
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You're completely right that it's open to just the sort of abuse that you describe: "Hey, lighten up, nobody means anything serious here; you're such a wet blanket." And as a child, I haaaated being told that.

Part of it I think really does depend on the tone of the message. When it drifts toward "Hey, lighten up," there's a distinct flavor of aggressiveness and criticism. When it's done--as it mostly was in the daycare--with sincerity and friendliness, then I think it *can*, precisely, help the child who might be tempted to see themselves as a victim have another way of interpreting events, and THAT can be a very useful life skill.

But even when it's done with sincerity and friendliness, it can still go too far. I do think you want people to learn not to knock over towers, too.

I don't have articulateable general principles on when the line is crossed. I think the only general principle I want to observe is that teaching care and sensitivity--which I definitely approve of and which I wanted more of as a kid--is not always the only or best approach. Possibly, if I had been dealt with more the way the Japanese daycare dealt with my kids, I would have felt less like things in life were attacks or hurts. I try to learn and live that lesson now, as an adult.

On the other hand, as I say, I do think it's important to learn care and sensitivity as well. If you had written a post expressing the sorts of ideas that I've expressed in my reply, I'd probably have responded with something about care and sensitivity--I really do think people need and deserve both.
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From:richardthinks
Date:February 24th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC)
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it seems to me that "toughen up" is mostly a kind of armouring: the one who says it does not want to deal with the sad fact of the other's hurt, so they place the burden of concealment on the victim not necessarily in order to bully them further but merely to distance themselves. Perhaps because they themselves feel they should be tougher.

It's a difficult business, related I think to your discussion about banter or teasing: some kind of acceptable arena is necessary for these behaviours to propagate, and "toughening up" is supporting the arena that makes the performance of teasing (or casual bullying, for that matter) possible.

Ås an aside, I really, really hate the powerplays of "reality contest" TV shows like America's Next Top Model and Project Runway, where the programs are openly and structurally abusive and the judges get to simultaneously play prison guard/torturer and Milgram as interpreter for the audience. If someone commits the terrible faux pas of crying on camera they are told that "in the real world they'll have to be much tougher than that" - regardless BTW of their experience outside the studio. It is then up to the contestant to re-establish the abusive power dynamic of the show in order to be able to carry on - to show that they are capable of "toughening up" sufficiently.

In a small way I think the calls to "toughen up" you flag are basically this: they demand that the one visibly affected reconstruct the environment in which their hurt happened so that further "tough" interaction can happen. They demand an act of submission, making the hurt one complicit in further hurt.
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From:goodbyemyboy
Date:February 25th, 2011 04:29 am (UTC)
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it seems to me that "toughen up" is mostly a kind of armouring: the one who says it does not want to deal with the sad fact of the other's hurt, so they place the burden of concealment on the victim not necessarily in order to bully them further but merely to distance themselves.

I think it's partly this and partly magical thinking. I.e., bullying shouldn't hurt, therefore it doesn't hurt, and anyone who says differently must be lying.
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From:nancylebov
Date:February 25th, 2011 02:22 pm (UTC)
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It's weirder than that. If bullying doesn't hurt, then why would anyone do it? Or that might be the wrong question. Why do people torture Sims? They have to know that the Sims can't feel pain.

It's plausible that most bullies don't know how much damage they do, but I don't think that's the whole story.

I think I need a little history here. Have people always said that bullying shouldn't hurt (people being bullied shouldn't show signs of pain), or that a modern development?

I suspect the latter.
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From:goodbyemyboy
Date:February 25th, 2011 05:50 pm (UTC)
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I think you answered your own question. People are more likely to do something perceived as fun if it has no real consequences. I think people in general are more narcissistic than sadistic: it's not that they bully because it hurts, but because they don't care whether or not it hurts because it doesn't hurt them.

As to whether the idea that bullying shouldn't hurt is modern, I have no clue.
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