Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Popularity of Bullying Remains High

--by Mike Adams

After my last post on bullying, I decided to check the thesaurus for synonyms. The thesaurus always seems to make words more interesting and this occasion was no exception.

The verb “bully” is synonymous with “intimidate”, “bludgeon”, “bulldoze”, “coerce”, “harass”, “oppress”, “terrorize”, “threaten”, “torment” and “torture”.

I don't know about you, but for me that list doesn’t summon the image of a schoolyard ruffian wearing a scowl. Rather, I envision robed KKK militias closing in on besieged African -American families who dared to stand and demand their rights. I think of the terrorist bombing in Oklahoma City or the acts of Ted Kaczynski. I am reminded of the current "war on women", and Bush's statement that "either you are with us or you are against us".

That list of synonyms has forced me to conceive of bullying as more than simply a traumatic experience, limited mostly to our fragile childhood and early teen years. Rather, bullying has taken on a much broader meaning. It reaches brazenly into every aspect of life, stealthily injecting malice, causing rot and decay, spreading animosity, hurt and distrust. It invades what was once vital and beautiful, causing blossom to wither and fruit to spoil.

In fact, it seems that perhaps we are just a little bit "in love" with bullying! Crazy talk you say? Doesn’t everyone hate bullying?

I don’t think so, popular TV shows like “The Apprentice” or “Survivor” actually encourage backstabbing, deceit, cruelty—bullying! Our entertainment industry thrives by actively rewarding bullies and selfishness.

It is so pervasive that I suspect bullying is woven into our very fiber as social creatures. Perhaps it’s as natural as breathing or eating. In truth, research suggests an evolutionary advantage to bullying behavior. According to Hogan Sherrow's blog article for Scientific American, “The Origins of Bullying,” animals in nature, use bullying behavior to promote group conformity and maintain a cohesive community.

But with humans with our mastery of abstract ideas, our complex use of language, our ability to remember and convey ideas long after an event has taken place. With all of that, bullying has a profound capacity for harm. It is a devastating weapon, which can permanently damage its victim.

So while we publicly disparage bullying, we are perhaps duplicitous. Our society tends to justify bullying, except we call in something else. One group might claim to be defending “traditional values” while to another it is “encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit.” In fact, if we get honest, bullying is encouraged in business, politics, religion and even the management of our children and youth.

We excuse it, saying “Boys will be boys” or “Let the kids sort out their own difficulties.” We actually encourage and reward bullying in some form in virtually every important venue of life. Then we pause, exasperated and ask why it continues to accost our children.

Here is why:

We are teaching our kids how to be bullies.

We are teaching them that it is appropriate to bully people when they hold an obviously “wrong” opinion.

We are teaching them that it is OK to bully people online, especially in political or religious discussions.

We are setting the examples that our kids follow and thus encouraging bullying in “appropriate venues,” where we call it, “lively debate” or “an impassioned view.”

We are teaching the next generation that poverty, starvation, and cruelty are impossible blights, and that anyone who tries to change this is a “doe eyed idealist.”

We are teaching our children that bullying works,that aggressive behavior is profitable and that selfish profit is respectable.

We are teaching the next generation that anyone who is different or who disagrees is fair game for ill treatment and contempt, that it is OK to try and humiliate someone if they favor a political figure we dislike or their sexual orientation is “wrong” or they want to have an abortion.

In short, we are actively teaching our children to be bullies.

So my question is whether this is truly what we want?

Are these the values we want to manifest in this world?

Do we want to perpetuate the ‘dog eat dog’ world of today, or do we want a world where people are expected to show empathy, where we truly believe and act like all people are created equal and endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?”

How do we want our children to grow up?

What kinds of people do we want them to be?

How to we want them to remember us?

How far are we willing to go in service of manifesting our vision?

How critical will we be of ourselves to get there and can we handle what we find?

Can we forgive someone who is “undeserving” in order to build the world we want?

Can our kids count on us to live the values we claim to believe in?

Can we count on ourselves to do what we know we should?

I don't have any answers or suggestions for action. I have only questions and a desire to generate thoughtful discussion and honest feedback. Thanks for reading.


  1. Thought provoking. I'm not half the person my parents are, but when I follow their example of good will, curiosity and open acceptance, I'm at my happiest.

    1. Thanks Gene Pool Diva! I think I know exactly what you mean with this! Open acceptance can be so challenging (when I don't think someone deserves acceptance). Other than that, it is easy! LOL

  2. To answer your question, yes I can count on myself. I disagreed on a couple of your points with respect to me personally and what I have taught my own children, but there were a few where I had to reconcile what I think with reality. I am a very much a live and let live kind of person and this I strive to gift to my own two children. I know my ideals are not shared and I as I wonder why they are not, I accept the person who is different in thought processing than I will ask the same of me. Should be an interesting discussion.

    1. Thanks for you thoughtful response. I hope this will generate discussion. It can be a pretty tough topic. I'd agree that not all of those points could apply to everybody. I was trying to encapsulate a more collective (from my point of view) set of societal deficiencies, which seem to encourage bullying behavior. Thanks again for stopping in to read and especially to comment Brenda!

  3. Great piece of well thought out writing Mike. I have often thought to myself as I watch some parents discipline their children with what I see as bullying tactics, how will they explain bullys are bad when the child repeats what he has been shown?
    I remember saying once or twice as I swatted by son in toddlerdome, I will NOT do this when he is verbal and we can talk. His safety first, of course, but the swats did stop when words made sense to him.
    I abhor bullys in my own life and find I am required to stand up to them just to be able to look myself in the mirror and I agree that we have and still are raising them. Makes me very sad.

    1. Thanks Jo, I remember reading something from you about how you stand up to bullies. I can't remember if it was one of your posts, or a comment you left on another blog. But I remember wishing that you had been around when I was in Middle School.

  4. Excellent, Mike.

    I'm definitely one of those doe eyed idealists. I think the solution to almost all problems is simple. Really simple. Be good. Just that. Do what you know is right and everything else falls into place. Poverty, hunger, homelessness, war. All gone. Purposeful meanness? Nonexistent. Edging someone else out because they look, act, or see things differently? Would never happen.

    1. I know what you mean...I'm a mixture between the idealist and the realist. Maybe I'm just practical? Thanks for your very thoughtful post. Excellent points!

  5. I wrote a paper on bullying several years ago, and the thing that stands out most to me now is that bullies need an audience.

    I raised my son to turn the other cheek, until he was in Jr.High and then I told him to wallop the next kid that smacked him for any reason. The answers are not easy ones. The principal had followed my son for three days to see if there was any type of instigating going on before I told him to take action. What he said to me at the end of those three days was, "in school there are sharks and shark bait, unfortunately your son is the bait." I clarified with him that he was doing nothing to instigate the situation, and he said he was not. Then I told him that I was going to tell my son to "smack" the next kid that hit him. I was told by the principal that I could not do that. In this case, it put an end to the bullying for my son.

    I'm not an advocate of violence, but I am also not an advocate of the doormat syndrome. He grew into a respectful man, who also felt he deserved the respect of others.

    Bullies... oh I better stop now. LOL...

    1. I can relate to what you said. My experience with being bullied in Middle School, prompted me to enroll my kids in Tae Kwon Do and I'm glad I did. I'm with you, I don't generally support violence, but I do support self defense. My kids haven't been bullied in school. My next project is to try and convince them to stand up for anyone who is being bullied...a much harder task for most people. Thanks for your experience with this and for weighing in on this topic!

  6. Bullying is an awful thing and somewhere down the line, these bullies were made to be. The opposite of bullying is compassion, consideration and kindness. That's what todays kids need to be taught. It should be an epidemic. Kids now a days are dealing with so much pressure in a fast paced world. They need to stand together and support one another instead of squashing each other.

    By the way, adults can be bullies to children too.

    Nice post.

    1. Agreed, agreed...pretty much I think we agree! :-)
      Today, I heard about a bullying incident at a local theater production (community theater - all volunteers). Apparently, one of the people in charge of the production lost his temper a few times this week and yesterday, he was yelling and berating one of the volunteers, to the point where he began crying. People went and comforted the victim afterward, but people were to shocked and probably somewhat afraid to actually step in and tell the bully to stop. This is a problem that does not respect age. I am trying to figure out how I want to proceed in my community to make a difference with this. Somehow, I'm going to bully-proof this group of kids growing up now and I'm going to give them the confidence to stand up for someone else being bullied too. I just don't know how to do this yet!

  7. I have no tolerance for bullying and see it almost every day it seems in both children and adults. I was on a Gay? Fine by Me! panel a few weeks back as a (straight) parent advocate. One of the other panel members talked about a professor at an upstate new york university that was on mental leave because of the bullying by his PEERS due to his being gay. Broke my heart. I fear everyday for my 23 year old gay son and the bullying he is likely to receive. He is one of the most respectful young men I know and it's hard for him to balance the "turn the other cheek" approach with how to put a bully in his place. He's learning to stand up though (mostly for others) and his strength amazes me.

    1. I agree with you. Bullying among adults is difficult to deal with, because there is almost never any physical aspect to it. I'm so glad to hear your son is standing up for other people. I feel we really need more courageous people like that, those who are willing to stand up and say, "Stop that! It is not OK to treat people like that, STOP!" My best friend in High School was gay and he often thought about killing himself. I didn't know what to do, how to reach out to him. It was very frightening. I hope someone can help the professor you mentioned.

    2. Also...kudos to you for participating on that panel and making sure your son knows you have his back. My hat is off to you! Thank You!

    3. Along these same lines...

      What your post brought up for me is the idea that passive-aggressive behavior is the most insidious pervasive form of bullying out there - at least, for adults. Passive-aggressive people may not physically beat up their prey or overtly harass and torment them, but anyone who has been on the receiving end of a persistently passive-aggressive relationship will know what it's like to be bullied.

      Am I deliriously off kilter with that line of thinking?

    4. Personally, I don't think you are off line at all Jane. It does, in my experience, feel like being bullied. I think, however, that in general, passive aggressive people have the experience of not having power in their relationship, so I don't believe they'll think their bullying anyone, rather they will think that they are being bullied. That is a really thought provoking direction for looking at this topic Jane, thanks!

  8. I so agree with you about our culture encouraging bullying with the so-called "reality" shows and the saturation of violence in our supposed entertainment. How can we expect children not to learn aggression when they see it all the time and see it rewarded? Great post, Mike.

    1. Thanks Elaine, I've spent a lot of time thinking about our society and bullying. Thanks for stopping by to read and comment.


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