Saturday, August 17, 2013

For Tiffani

This is that question Tiffany asked yesterday:
So... today in class we were having a discussion on bullying. Having been bullied as a child I made the comment that I was against it and stop it when I see it happening. A girl turned to me and said that bullying happens, its normal, and to toughen up because there is nothing wrong with it and it never goes away. While I agree it never goes away, I disagree that its normal and there are no adverse effects from bullying. Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller, I'm curious of your perspective on this. Is bullying harmless and how do you deal with a bully?

For the record, what to do about bullying is here.  Two lines in the second paragraph covers everything that works.

This isn't as clear as we would like.
Part of it is the way Tiffani subtly reframed the questions.  If something never goes away, then it is the normal state.  It will take an act of will to create an unnatural state where this doesn't happen.  And her arguer never said that there were no adverse effects.  Nor that bullying was harmless.

So, clearing up, there is no bad guy in this disagreement.

Is there "nothing wrong with bullying?"  There's all kinds of things wrong with bullying.  Does anybody like to be bullied?  Barring certain personality disorders, I mean.  But there are some benefits.

Augustine, in "The City of God" was trying to explain why good things happen to bad people.  One of his arguments was that it is not the event that is bad.  Olives and olive leaves both go into the press.  The olives come out as pure, valuable oil and the leaves come out as mangled garbage.

Everyone has been bullied.  Everyone.  And the reactions to it are critical to who we become as an adult.  Tiffani didn't like it and won't let it happen for others.  Her reaction to bullying, whatever age it happened at, cemented one of her most admirable traits.  I went through a progression as a kid.  I would fiercely defend any of the littler kids on the playground, but it was years before I realized I had the same right to stand up for myself.  Then I went a little too far the other way, making a point that I could bully big strong people who liked bullying the small and weak.  In hindsight I can see I was just as bad, and felt fully justified because I only bullied bullies.  But I bullied them, I wasn't merely assertive or just trying to get their behavior to stop.  I wanted them to feel what others had felt.

That's still stronger than I like to admit in my psyche.

So, "toughen up."  That's actually good advice.  Discipline, strength (physical and mental), whatever it takes so that other people can't control your emotions is a good thing.  And it is woefully hard to get tough or strong or brave or compassionate or even loving if those qualities are never challenged.

The most formative thing in high school for me was football.  My school was small. Graduating class of six.  My junior year, for the first time in almost a decade, they had enough boys to field a B-league (eight man) football team.  If I went out for it.  As a junior, I was almost the smallest kid in the school.  I didn't break 5 foot tall or a hundred pounds until the summer before my senior year.  (I did basketball and track, too.  Really small school.)  It was a lot of pressure, but we had a team and I played.

And I learned more about human dynamics, and power plays and politics and bullying in that locker room than any academic could ever dream.  As did damn near every male (I have no idea how women's team sports are) who has been through the same thing.  Most importantly I learned that size was not a tenth as important as the willingness to stand up.  And knocking people down was not as important as getting up yourself.  And stepping in to help others is noble, but expecting people to step in is stupid.

And there is a qualitative difference in every aspect of life between the men who have navigated that experience successfully and the ones who have not.  I see most of the anti-bullying industry as weak people who failed at overcoming it as children fantasizing about a solution from the distance of adulthood.

Sometimes I see anti-bullying causes as wanting to create a world where it is safe to be weak.  And I get that.  I like the idea of a safe world.  But I virulently despise the concept of a world of the weak.  The mild.  The insipid.  And that is one of the inevitable unintended consequences of making a world too safe.

Much of 'good' is unnatural.  It takes a sustained act of will.  It would take an enormous and coherent act of will to make bullying go away, and even then it will keep cropping up. But if we were to raise children in that perfect environment, would we make them incapable of dealing with adversity?  Would the weirdness of people who believe that hurt feelings are are more real than spilled blood, spread?  Would our society become a hothouse flower, beautiful but incapable of surviving without the charity of others?

If people never learn to stand up, they become dependent on others to stand up for them.  It's personal, but dependency is one of my core sins.  It is the other half of slavery.


Kathryn Scannell said...

One think I think makes a huge difference in the effect bullying has on kids is what kind of support system they have. I had my share growing up, although I confess I can only think of one time when I felt I might be in real danger of injury. I was able to cope in large part because I had family that I knew had my back. That didn't mean they'd fix things for me, but it gave me a bedrock sense of being part of a tribe when I was dealing with outsiders. In a lot of the bullying-related tragedies I read about, that support of knowing someone has your back seems to be missing from the lives of the kids who didn't cope and rise above the problems.

Rory said...

Kathryn-- This is one of the reasons I say it's not simple. It was over this issue and this time (and other things, of course) that I found out that i had no tribe, no family, no support. Hitting that rock bottom set the foundation for everything else.

Fliff said...

Rory, I appreciate your candid response.

I have been chewing on this all day and here is what I've up with:

I think the reason that this initially rubbed me the wrong way is that when she made the statement this morning, she came across as having the intention of saying there were no ill side effects of bullying, and also because she has shown some very manipulative emotional and verbal bullying in class.

After some consideration, I have decide that bullying is in human nature, and of course it isn't going away, (and so therefore by your definition makes it normal). I still don't feel like that makes it morally right. I recognize that's the idealist in me and of course the world doesn't work that way though.

In the comments you mention feeling like you had no support or back up as a child. I never really did either as a kid. I had no friends to back me up and my dad always told me one of two things, 1) your brought it on yourself or 2) if you're gonna get into a fight, you hit them first and you hit them as hard as you can as many times as you can until they stop moving or someone pulls you off of them, because you're smaller and if you don't get the first hit in you're f***ed.

Did I become a stronger person because I got bullied a lot? Absolutely. I got the bullying to stop by the time I hit 6th or 7th grade. At that point most of the kids in my school were scared of me. I had to get suspended to do it, but after that I had a reputation. Do I still have some insecurities I'm working through because of their bullying? Yep.

I think you are spot on with the anti-bullying. There is no magic that will make it go away. People DO need to learn to stand up for themselves. I think that most kids (or adults) feel like they don't have an effective way to fight back... especially from a woman's perspective. We're supposed to just be quiet, walk away, etc. Social and cultural expectations are such that we just take it and deal with it.

I think at the root, what I am feeling the most frustrated with in regards to this issue is that I'm in a professional environment, and a new one. I feel like I have to tread carefully because my instructors are the people who will be helping me get a job in just a few months. So the way I handle myself (and how I deal with snide comments) will be noticed. Therefore behaving like a vicious 6th grader and potentially getting kicked out of school (or worse, getting slapped with a law suite) isn't an option. It makes me unsure of how to proceed with making myself too expensive to victimize, and uncertainty frustrates me.

I tend to ponder for a while before I come to conclusion and solutions for these social problems don't come easily to me. I will continue to give it more thought.

Thank you again for your feed back.

Ben C said...

How do you live without a tribe. As a young man this is a foreign concept but as I get older i see can see the value in it.

Scott said...

Two things.
Manipulative behavior is not the same as bullying. Manipulative behavior is completely trumped by clear and direct statements. But our monkey mind will try desperately to be sarcastic or argumentative, which justifies more manipulative behavior. So to deal with a person or group fixated on being manipulative, one must practice being clear and direct. This works.

Bullying is different. Bullying is a situation where the bully owns everything, the building your standing in, the trees, the shirt you are wearing, and the lunch you just ate. A bully is easily disarmed by simply conceding this imagined "truth." Bullying gets its barbs in us when we resist this false presumption. So always admit to the false accusations of a bully. When a bully says, "Get out of my seat," say, "I was just keeping your seat warm for you" and spread your arms out like a bird.
Bully, "Well get UP!" Yawn and say, "I'm just finishing eating your food, I'm keeping your spoon warm too." A bully doesn't actually care about us, he/she is working the crowd, and his/her status is completely dependent on our denying his/her claims. If we freely give up the seat, the bully will likely intensify the claims or accusations. If we resist the claims, we give them a hook to assert their status.

The best way to understand this is to practice being a bully, and practice being bullied, with some consenting friends.

My mother was just telling me that my little sister's first word was "mine." Bullying is not just natural, it is not just formative, it is at the root of our very existence on this earth.

Unknown said...

"But I virulently despise the concept of a world of the weak."
Like you said in another post - weak people are capable of bullying as well, given the opportunity. From my experience weak person jumps to it much more faster and with more vigor. Probably compensation.

The problem with weak person they are weak to everything. Their own problems too. So chances for weak person being is jerk much higher then in case of strong one. No one born strong, right? We have predispositions, but we train and overcome to become someone.

The only problem I saw when people who incapable of protecting themselves fall under the pressure. 99 times out of 100 it is about courage and standing up for yourself. But some people just can't do it. And they suffer.

Though I don't see problem with bringing bully into the same state victim were. Becoming the same? I don't know. I had the experience, but it felt... like a job. Duty.

I think your phrase (from another post, nor this neither linked one) about criminals should be afraid of being one is transferable here. Bully should be afraid of being one. It should not be fun.

There are ways to toughen up without being bullied.

RXian said...

Everyone should learn when and how to say "Enough."

zzrzinn said...

Of course it won't go away, which speaks to teaching kids to be spiritually strong and resilient in having a self-image that doesn't revolve around the opinions of others, as well as knowing tactcis and strategies for dealing with bullies. On the other hand, it also speaks to people in authority doing what they can to prevent, or at least not condone shitty, abusive behavior, and hopefully teach to our better angels. Lots of things are "just normal" that don't need to accepted, but should at least be minimized. It may be impossible to eliminate injustice, but that does not mean one doesn't strive for a more just world.

I got bullied like hell growing up, i'm fortunate to have had parents that taught me to have a larger view of the world than the insular social world of most kids.

I also think that this current focus on anti-bullying is needed, even if it's sometimes wrong-headed, as an attitude of simply allowing things to happen because they are "normal" just sounds like a cop out, and one that favors the status this case, bullies.

Good article, you raised some interesting points on a personal level, especially with regarding to what people are like after successfully dealing with bullying.

Flinthart said...

I could definitely do without bullying. Fuck the 'sheltering the weak argument'. Some shit is unnecessary, and bullying is right there.

There are other ways people can learn to stand up. Rory has often pointed out that trad-style martial arts don't really prep people for real-world self-defense. And that's true.

But when taught well, they do a fantastic job of prepping people for dealing with bullies. Particularly in places like schools, and other restricted environments where the 'disengage and walk away' tactic simply can't be used forever.

Having said that: nope, I don't expect bullying to go away. And no: I've never seen or heard of any institutional system which has shown even the slightest hope of a path to prevent bullying. If I thought schools, etc could genuinely prevent it, I'd be all for it, because as I said earlier I think there are other ways to learn to stand up.

But the schools and other institutions can't do anything useful. And so when I teach kids -- well, I teach them about those two lines Rory mentioned in his other post.

And we move on from there.

Charles James said...

Even today, at middle age, there are still bullies out there .... ever sit in a meeting and have someone dominate it with their point of view cutting off any responses to get people to give them what they want?

Bullying, straight and simple. It is just one small step up from a possible discussion.

Isn't bullying in all its forms a matter of dominance in survival of the fittest?

Hmmm, Isn't a strong opinion excluding other opinions as wrong bullying as well?

Does it depend on the effect it has on those receiving the bullying?

Seer said...

Sometimes I see anti-bullying causes as wanting to create a world where it is safe to be weak. And I get that. I like the idea of a safe world. But I virulently despise the concept of a world of the weak. The mild. The insipid. And that is one of the inevitable unintended consequences of making a world too safe."


Josh Kruschke said...

Have we even defined a common definition of what bulling is? Are we descusing this from what bullying means to each of us individually?

A possible definition:
1. Bulling is a label we put on to others, and it comes with an opposite label we attach to ourselves or a precived target.
2. It must be unwanted and unprovoked. 
3. It is to gain specific effect in the target of the bully or gain the bully something undeserved.
4. Not a one time event & it escalates.

I'm remind of  the model of the different levels of violence from "Violence: A Writers Guide" of : Nice, Manipulative, Assertive, Aggressive, Assaultive and Murderous, and how we feel justified at the level we feel comfortable at, and those at the next level up are the ones acting out (The Bad Guy/Bully).

And where does Bullying fit into Maslow's  Hierarchy of Needs? Is there such a thing as Social/Anti-Social Bullies? If a social conflict happens on the playground we call it bullying, if in a bar a Monkey Dance, is there really a difference, or are we just using defferent labels for a different emotional responses?

Rory, the two ways to stop bullying are strategies/goals and I can see the tactics failing or suceding based on what the motivations of the bully encountered are.

How detailed, or even should we, go into the levels of The Force continuum an when it is appropriate to use them with kids and at what age? Kids brains work differently than adults. How does this effect any plans one might make? Do we need to simplify or scaled down the language?

The stated Goal of Bootcamp is to brake you down to build you up, and this can be a very unpleasant process. Is this bullying?

A boss, that has to keep pushing an employee to meet deadlines or just to do any work, goes to the employee one last time to try and motivate them, and says, "If you don't shape up, I'm going to have to let you go." Is this bulling?

Parenting is, or should be, about enforcing rules and providing stability. Is this bulling?

We need to descide what bullying is if we are going to protect ourselves from it,

Anonymous said...

This article made me angry.

MOST discussions of bullying make me angry:

Most anti-bullying programs do not work. When I was in grade school, they taught me a pacifist approach, which never worked. (That's one of the situations where pacifism fails- it only works if your opponent EITHER has a sense of compassion OR cares enough what others think that they don't want to be seen as an asshole. Many bullies enjoy being assholes, as long as they have that feeling of power.) I was such a "good kid," though, that I kept trying to make it work.

I was bullied all through elementary and middle school. In high school, it stopped- I was slightly more assertive by then, but mainly the bullies just lost interest.

It annoys me, the implication that the weak bring bullying upon themselves: Who gets bullied the most? Usually the shy, socially awkward kid. How will that kid react to being constantly bullied? Often by becoming even more shy and socially awkward! (It can be hard to tell which came first.)

I'd say, as a responsible adult, you should teach that kid how to be more assertive (NOT passive,)but also intervene if you see abusive behavior taking place.

Bullying is a phenomenon that will probably never go away. Robbery and rape will also probably never go away, but that doesn't stop us from doing our best to reduce the incidence of robbery and of rape. Police don't quit their jobs, saying, "protecting society will just make everyone weak." We can also teach a variety of anti-robbery and anti-rape tactics. We should be able to teach effective anti-bullying tactics.

nry said...

I suspect for the most part, the only person who can decide if someone is being bullied, is the person who says they are being bullied. What is bullying to one is no more than a bit of a wind-up to another etc...we must teach kids that whilst avoidance and lack of retaliation are ideal, if the bullying does not stop, then 'violence' is a route to attempt if nothing else is working. Wish I was taught that as a kid, I was way too passive.

Josh Kruschke said...

Ever been in that half-asleep dream-state where everything just made sense. 

Just woke up with this thought loop running in my head. 

OODA Loop —> Permission & how you deal with ambiguity is key —> Most errors in life can be traced back to failures in Perception —> Language it's important how we label/Define our terms/world —> How much freezing is due to a lack of confidences in what or how we... our persception of the world —> Logic & Feelings only get you so far it's how accurate our perception are that count —> OODA Loop —>[repeat.....]

Rory said...

This should probably be a post, but let's see if I can be concise.
Anon- Emotion, (anger) is a message for yourself; expressing anger to others is a message, and a manipulation. Manipulation is not always bad, there is no other way to communicate... but I am concerned because it sounds here like you want the conversation to stop. To not be nuanced. To only allow the one point of view that matches yours and doesn't make you angry.
You can't solve or improve any situation by shutting down communication. You can't solve a problem you refuse to look at.
Anyway, last thoughts on bullying for now. Most animal rights activists acknowledge that bullfighting is animal abuse. Also that veal is abuse. At what point is over-protection creating veal? 'Cause I know far too many people who are, mentally, veal.

Anonymous said...

I go with Mr. Dan Djurdjevic on this one - bullying is wrong, as is a lot of covert things people do to try to get one up on their fellows. But what would it cost you to correct/teach every single person you come across not to do this behavior? There's too many mosquitoes to swat.

Unless things get physical, everything that's happening is just a performance for the victim's benefit. I've the experience of getting bullied in the workplace, let me tell you for all the threats and displays they've put on for the past two years or so nothing bad has ever happened to me. My work has not been affected, my liberty is uncompromised, my pay has even increased.

This makes me think that a lot of the time the hell we go through because of bullies is avoidable; the bullies fight a straw man version of us, while we fight in our heads an exaggerated image of the bullies that they've cultivated.