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Controversial Words on the Bullied

Bullied Antelope small croppedFirst, let me say that we need an easier way to speak of those souls who find themselves on the wrong end of a bully’s attention. Bullies get the easy to spout label, it’s like an automatic membership to a special club… Hi! I’m a bully. They should get jackets with jabbing fists stitched into the backs. But their victims?  No… they are disadvantaged even in this regard; they get far more cumbersome titles, discouraging lazy conversationalist from even wanting to bring them up; it’s so much easier to just keep talking about the bullies. Victim, which has the advantage of two syllables, is too whiny, and too vague. And frankly, who would want to belong to that club. It might draw a measure of pity from empathetic souls, but it won’t engender admiration. Instead it draws sympathetic and misguided aid from those who need to fix every problem with minimal effort and minimal thought on their part and without requiring anything from those they hope to help. So, I will just call them THE BULLIED… but, if you read my title, you already know that, making my big reveal sooooo 30 seconds ago… assuming you are a slow reader.

Without defending bullies (which if you read my post Controversial Words on Bullies, you will know I don’t) we should ask ourselves the grand question, “How do we help the bullied?”… for real and not in some misguided-unthinking-busybody-do-gooder way that worsens their situation… like Zero-tolerance policies…or what I prefer to call Zero-intelligence policies.

How do these policies make the situation for the bullied worse? And what can we do to make it better?

1. Zero-tolerance policies attempt to flatten a playing field between bullies and bullied that will never be flat by supposedly punishing all aggressive exchanges between them, no matter what direction the aggression is moving. Since bullies are notoriously good at flying below the radar of authorities (We might call this the Eddie Haskel technique… and if I’ve dated myself by the reference, feel free to find Leave It to Beaver episodes on one of your many new technological wonders and watch for a while… you’ll get it.) the policy for intolerance frequently ends up focusing on the bullied, punishing them for reacting. Their very existence as the bullied almost guarantees that they are far less adept at dealing cunningly with aggression.

2. Zero-tolerance policies eradicate the need to deal with the complexity of the dynamic between the bully and the bullied, by merely crushing anyone fool enough to get caught aggressing. A friend of mine’s father (there has to be an easier way to say that… it just sounds so German) used to tell his children, “I don’t care about justice; I want peace.” We hand off misbehaving kids to the police, or toss them for a few days, but we don’t deal with them as people caught in a difficult situation. We pitch offenders into the pit of zero-tolerance and congratulate ourselves on being tough defenders of the weak even though we just tossed the weak into the pit with their tormentors. Sorry for the overly stretched metaphor. We need to roll up our pant cuffs and wade wisely into the mire that is school yard aggression. We can’t claim to be teaching children if we don’t teach each of them how to get along in the world… the weak and the strong.

3. Zero-tolerance policies focus on punishing aggression, and by the very ham-fisted way they do it, fail to equip the bullied to take their own situation in hand. I am no evolutionist, but I am a hack naturalist, (meaning I love national geographic shows… the more graphic the better) and I recognize that predators don’t pick their victims randomly. I am not “blaming the victim” as some will accuse, but having been a Bullied, and later, after getting tough, having taken more than my fair share of lumps protecting the bullied, I am aware that one’s manner, attitude and socials skills do much to contribute to the dynamic. Being smaller and weaker or unattractive or emotionally threatening in a dozen ways may start the ball rolling, but these are conditions for which the bullied need to learn to compensate in the real world. Spouting daydreams of a world in which everyone lives in a blessed harmony where the strong compensate for the weak and the smart compensate for the stupid and everyone is deemed beautiful by dint of being alive won’t help the bullied in the real world… neither will creating mindless programs to quell all aggression, nor trying to fight every battle for those who need to learn to fight wisely for themselves. We need to love and support them through all their struggles, but we also need to help them understand the way of things and to equip them to deal effectively with it.[1]



[1] When I was a high school tutor, one of my students, when pressed over her despondence, spilled the beans. A group of girls in her school who had already driven two other girls to suicide through a well crafted escalation of bullying tactics to criminal abuse, had begun targeting her as their next well chosen victim, someone insecure without strong family support. After each suicide the girls and their boyfriends would high five each other, laughing, and mocking. Then, they’d pick another. This situation went well beyond typical bullying situations. I notified my boss of the situation. We called her grandmother immediately. My boss put his lawyer on the case. Each of the girl’s parents and the school were notified that if they did not get control of the situation that they would be sued. It stopped immediately.

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