Friday, August 19, 2011

What To Do With A Bully

I never knew a bully who could give you a good reason for what he (or she) does. He only knows the power of opposition. And he often carries the day.

Bullying is a hot topic these days. Our schools, the Internet, and our work places are identified as hotbeds of bullying. Psychologists who profess to understand the psyche of a bully, and how to counter him or her, are popular guests on radio and TV talk shows. All the concern being shown seems to have been generated by some well-publicized cases in which teenagers (and occasionally adults too) have lashed out violently against others or have taken their own lives under the stress of bullying.

It is not clear to me, from all I hear and read, that the current phenomenon is unique, or that it is any more prevalent than it has been in previous generations. In my seven decades of life, I’ve been in constant contact with, and sometimes in conflict with one or more bullies. It is never pleasant. It can turn a classroom, a workplace, or a social event into a dysfunctional milieu. Too often the bully goes unchallenged even when all others are intimidated or offended by his or her actions. It is easier to “brush it off” than to confront the bully head to head.

But, as I began by saying, I never knew a bully who could give a good reason for what he (or she) is doing. When asked to defend their actions the response is more bullying, threats, and sometimes actual violence. It would be nice if bullying were illegal and one could “call the cops” when it occurs. Only in extreme and violent situations is that possible.

In a one-on-one situation (a situation in which the victim has no expectation of outside help in dealing with the bully) the only choice is to “out-bully” the bully (some good counseling can teach one how to do that), or to remove oneself from the situation. Anything else will simply allow the bullying to continue unabated.

In a group situation it is possible, sometimes, to organize resistance to the bully. But often the one being victimized is also simultaneously being marginalized by the bully, so the victim has no allies he or she can call upon. That is when the aid of stronger members of the group is needed to take up their case and confront the bully in their stead.

At this time, when the subject of bullying is a matter of public discourse, it can be helpful to tune our antennae to recognize it in places we may not have thought about before. We should be asking:

1) Am I a bully? Occasionally? With certain people? All the time? If you answer, Yes, then force yourself to give a reason for your bullying. If you don’t have a justifiable reason for your actions then stop them. If you have trouble stopping, seek professional help in doing so.

2) Do I enjoy seeing others bullied? If, yes, then ask yourself why that is, and if it speaks well of your character. Does it make you the kind of person you would like others to think of you as being?

3) Do I lend my support to bullies? Do I cheer for bully-athletes? Do I vote for bully-politicians? Do I enjoy bully-commentators on radio or TV? Do I buddy-up to bullies where I work, or in my social groups? Do I allow tough bully-talk to carry more weight with me than reasoned discourse? Bullies can quickly be isolated (perhaps a few “converted”) if they cease to be supported by others.

4) Do I go to the aid of those being bullied? Aiding the weak and the vulnerable does not require one to defend the inadequacies that may make someone a target of bullies. But it says to the bully, “Everyone deserves fair and civil treatment and you are not granting it to this one. I will resist your effort to dehumanize him (or her).”

There is no doubt in my mind that bullying is a serious problem in our society today. It expresses itself in every sphere of our society, our politics, our religion, our entertainment, our economy, our personal relationships. As long as human beings are the degenerate race that we are, it will plague us. We all are bullies in certain circumstances and we need to recognize that fact.

But there are those who make a career of bullying. This essay is an appeal to the rest of us to identify them, isolate them, and make their behaviors unprofitable to them, and onerous to everyone else.

Identify one new bully every day . . . and take some creative action to blunt his or her power.

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