Monday, December 03, 2012

Bullying as Human Behavior

I was asked a while ago to put something together for Bullying.  It's getting a lot of press.  There are a lot of programs, and people seeking more.  I refused.  The simple fact is that the people who want those programs want a magic solution and there have only ever been two things that work in preventing bullying:

1) Not being interesting enough to be targeted in the first place or
2) Being too expensive to victimize

That's it.  Not making friends or telling jokes and definitely not complaining to a teacher, especially in an environment where the teachers can do so little.  Be invisible or make the bully pay.  And no one wants a program that advises little kids to band together and beat the bully up on the way home.

There is a lot of bullshit about why bullies are bullies.  I don't think it's complicated.  Bullies are bullies because it is fun.  The sense of power may be working on some Freudian security issues, but we don't have to look all that deep.  Expressing power is fun.  The perfect judo throw.  Center shot out of a target.  Overhearing people talk about something you've made.  Putting up a bookshelf.  Anything that affects the world is inherently fun.  Including making weak people scream.  We have to learn to get over that (a toddler doesn't automatically know that squeezing kitty is bad and if the kitty makes noises but doesn't use claws, the toddler will continue to squeeze)  and whatever needs are fulfilled, we learn to fulfill them another way.  This is maturity and growth.  But don't assume it is natural.  It is an act of will and rarely an internal act.  We are taught to be kind.

 That's a lead off.  Last month I witnessed a superb act of bullying.  It was targeted, organized and even orchestrated... and not one of the people hurting others for fun realized they were doing classic bullying.  Bullying is not just the strong targeting the weak.  The weak will bully too, if they get the chance.

Can't go into too many details here, so bear with me.
A certain organization had organized an event to talk about a community.  They had done this many times in the past, very successfully and were very well received by people in that community.

Another group of self-appointed advocates for that community demanded to know who at this event were in fact members of that community.

The organizers didn't know.  And you know what?  They couldn't know. HIPPA prevents even asking the question.

The self-appointed advocates (I think I can safely say I'm at least on the fringe of that community and I sure didn't appoint them) started a massive (for this area) e-mail and tweet campaign.  And they got what they want.  The organizers cancelled the event.

Bullying worked.  But it wasn't enough.  That one sign of weakness triggered more vitriol and demands for an apology.  And that's the thing, whether the bully is weak or strong and whether the bullying is done with messages or fists, the purpose is to hear the victim squeal.  To revel in the power of forcing the victim to obey.

And some of the scheduled participants, on their own, held an informal talk anyway.  Because they didn't like being bullied.  And you know what?  They weren't bullied.  None of the ones who stood up.  But the complaints and slurs and bullying redoubled on the ones who had given in.  Bullies hate being defied.

You get the idea.  It's easy to look around and see all the bullying behavior done by people who label themselves 'victims'.  And it works on compassionate people.  It hurts the people who are most inclined to help.  But whatever they say, whether protester or community activist or self-appointed spokesman, it is about reveling in the power to coerce others.

Much harder to look at yourself and see where you do this.  But you probably do.  It's human behavior.  It's also human behavior to grow out of it and find the thrill of power in protecting and helping.  Or so I hope.


mbailey7 said...

I'm interested to read this, because I wanted to ask you about bullying the last time you were in London (ON). I agree with your assessment on what stops bullying, which is why I find zero tolerance policies so frustrating.

As to the motivations, I've always wondered whether there was a social element in play. I was bullied as a kid (until I became too risky a target), and it was always a group activity. I wonder if it's closer to a group monkey dance than a process predator. I wonder if it's a bonding thing, if maybe that one child is being designated whipping boy/girl to provide a sense of unity to the group.

Or maybe I'm completely over thinking it. Just seems like every person I've talked to whose been seriously bullied was bullied by a large group, not an individual.

Jennifer said...

Nice analysis. Really nice.

Neil Bednar said...

Lately it seems like bullying has had way more attention than when I was a kid. Somehow it seems almost impossible to have much of an affect with telling kids not to do it. Their told not to do a lot of thigns and they still do those. Also, couldn;t it be argued that this behavior is related evolutionarily to how many animal species treat the smaller and weaker of the litter ?

Wayne said...

Great analysis of the bullying environment. Sharing it with others.

Adventure Nickel Farm said...

There is a wonderful fiction book by a man called Bryce Courtenay, called The Power of One. The protagonist was severely bullied as a minority in South Africa in the middle of last century. He had a three pronged approach to defeating the bully in a school environment.
You could either blend in and hope you never drew attention. You chances were as good as anyone else. You could become one of the bullies and hope they didn't turn on you eventually. Or, you could become so well known and stand so far out in front of everyone that any bullying would be seen immediately.

Your analysis was probably more accurate, but I still liked the book.

Josh Kruschke said...

I don't like to use the word victim as it implies helplessness.

Too my way of thinking you are never a victim unless you choose to be one.

Something bad might happen or be done to you, but how you respond/react/deal with it is up to you.

Do you let it define you? Do you capitulate? Do you give in? Become a victim.
Do you learn from it? Do you resist? Do uou say, "I will not let this define me!"

Rory you talked about this before, the power of victimhood.

"You don't want to be known as a bully, so you better give me what I want."

My take on *Bullying*, as a word & as a concept, it is for making those who capitulated feel better about giving in or not standing up for themselves. Not my fault I was bullied into it, or they're bigger, or any number of other excuses we tell ourselves for why we did stand up fir ourselves.

I saw one of those anti-bullying commercials asking that if you see someone getting bullied stand up for them.

I ask, "Why not ask them to stand up for themselves."


Anonymous said...

Was the "certain organisation" you describe by any chance the English Defence League? If so then fair play to the people you describe as "bullies."

It's hard for me to take your word for it that this community struggle was an act of bullying that simply fulfilled a psychological need on the part of some individuals; you don't give any further details or political content so it's impossible.

In fact, correct me if I'm over-simplifying, according to what you're saying it seems that any political or social struggle simply boils down to the psychological desire to bully. So all victors or wannabe vicotrs are bullies regardless of context.

So we should all stay at home and keep the head down or else we become bullies. Problem is, if intelligent compassionate people opt out of struggle, the real bullies certainly won't. Easy to see who wins there

Rory said...

Interesting that you think you need political content to determine whether behavior is bullying or not. That implies you would rank behavior as good or bad depending on the target or the perpetrator. Interesting.

Everything you need to see the bullying was in the description. They did not want anyone except for people they approved to be allowed to speak. When they got what they said they wanted, they didn't stop. When someone stood up to them they did not attack those who stood up but increased their attacks on the ones who caved, the weak.

That's not how intelligent, compassionate people solve problems. No matter how much they insist on their intelligence and compassion, the behavior is simple bullying.

Justthisguy said...

Let me guess. It was about us "excessively earnest and socially awkward" folks, was it not?

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, context and political content are everything. I want to determine whether the incident you describe was an act of bullying or of resistance to bullying.

You yourself claim, and I'd agree up to a point, that a strong stand is the only thing that scares off bullies. Therefore you agree that such behaviour is sometimes the only way to solve problems, regardless of the personal qualities of anyone involved.

For instance, the Harry Potter fan club/EDL were apparently well-received by the community. What elements of the community? Was it elements of a white majority by any chance? Did Black and Asian locals welcome the Knitting Society/BNP with open arms or were they scared for their security and lives? Who are the victims here?

That context and politics are important to make a judgement on a situation is not a novel and "interesting" idea, because this situation isn't happening up in the clouds. If we're talking about most groups or organisations, rational debate would obviously be the preferred option. But when you're dealing with racist thugs, that on its own is usually not going to cut it. So what group we're talking about is vital!

Rory said...

You realize that is the exact same reasoning that calls an action 'torture' if the enemy does it and 'enhanced interrogation' if your side does it. It is a step beyond Evil spreading because 'good men do nothing' and into orchestrated and self-righteous evil. If politics and context are everything, it is only evil if you, personally, dislike the people. The world has seen that road before and will see it again. Someday humans will outgrow it.


Justthisguy said...

Rory, that's one of the reasons I am a professing Christian. I do believe in absolute standards of Right vs. Wrong. (also, I am betting with Pascal)

Oh, the captchas here are almost impenetrable. It generally takes me five or six tries to post a comment.

teja van wicklken said...

It seems the biggest problem with bullying is the way it's handled by the powers that be…. The training isn't for the kids… it's for the adults….

When I was in junior high I had a gang on me. I was weak, timid, afraid of everything and everybody. I was the odd kid who could hardly hold a conversation. Bullies loved me, I was a magnate. So the principal got involved and actually announced over the loudspeaker that no one was to bother me again or else! He actually used my name. I think I was in math class.

The gang just followed me off school grounds after school…. So the principal let me out of school two weeks early for summer break and I never went back. Inner city school.

Good thing I started martial arts soon after. I was a born victim and would have stayed that way, thanks to clueless coaching.

So, I reiterate, it's the handling of each incident that either helps or worsens school situations. And unfortunately teachers either aren't paid enough to care or aren't bright enough to do the proper research and get help kids navigate their own issues and solve them.

Thats where the confidence and knowledge to become and anti victim comes from.

these days, we don't let kids learn, we solve problems for them or send them packing…. And we overreact chronically. Calling someone a name IS NOT bullying! Jeez people!

Ok.. I'm done

teja van wicklen said...

Okay… not Magnate Magnet! You got to love auto correct!