What I Learned From Bullies

A viral video from the Youtube Mormon Channel called “Bullying – Stop It” has gained a lot of attention in some circles. Having faced some forms of harassment growing up, I just can’t get myself to watch more than the start. The reasons for my hesitation are varied and internal; and not all about relatability. Part of me believes those who are on the bullied end will hopelessly latch on, those who perceive themselves bullied for disagreements will use it as a political bludgeon, and the true bullies will ignore it and think themselves impervious to the message.

A certain fascination with stopping the “bully culture” has crept into the public mouthpiece sections of society. You can’t turn on the television for long without watching the horrifying advertisement showing a bespectacled thin boy getting torchured on a bus. All of these seem to ask students and teenagers to get involved when they see the actions of a bully. For me what comes to mind is the question where are the responsible adults. Without backup from authority figures there is no stopping kids from bothering other kids mercilessly. Its not in most of their nature or power.

Looking back, my experiences weren’t all that bad no matter if not fun. Others had it much worse than I did. Saying that now is no consolation for a young boy going through his own crisis years ago. I did learn a few personal lessons from those experiences that I would like to share. For the record, I admit these are my own ideas gained. Making it personal is the very core of how the bully is successful.

There are no adult bullies. Leaving high school was a blessed relief. I was no more forced to associate with people I didn’t want to be around on a daily basis. College turned out to be a nearly 180 degree difference. It wasn’t because I gained lots of new friends who did things with me and I with them. No, it was because people left me alone if that was my choice.

Some might argue that the idea no adults can be a bully is false. To a degree that is correct, but one weapon missing is lack of consequences. Very few can get away with what minors do against others. Most adults who act like a bully end up in trouble. There is government and law to fall back on if things get out of hand. Perhaps even a century ago this blanket statement would be considered questionable, but the formation of mobs has been highly curtailed. Call someone a name and generally talk back or ignore them. They continually get in your face and harassment charges can be brought up against them. Physical contact results in possible jail time. That includes abusers in relationships. Nothing gets legally far enough? Move or get a new job in rare cases. Kids don’t have that freedom of mobility.

Minors should have access to legal action same as adults. Like mentioned above, the advertisement showing a tortured boy on a bus in the “real world” would result in prosecutions. Instead, the bus driver just carried on doing the duty of driving them all around. No power of the State granted the bus driver to stop and do something about it if they wanted. Intervention might have resulted in the bus driver going to jail for abuse against minors.

The same laws that protect adults against libel, harassment, physical violence, and other criminal acts should be available to minors for their protection. That doesn’t mean there aren’t serious reservations with this approach. Taking advantage of the legal system is a time honored tradition among all humans. Yet, if not this way then what else is possible when teasing becomes physically and emotionally destructive?

Adults are not to be trusted. The main argument has always been if a minor is bullied then take it to an adult. This never works as hinted at above. First off, the adult is not given any legal authority to do anything to the abusing child other than put them in time out. The law has even made it harder because old fashioned corporal punishment has been outlawed. Calls to “stop it” have no force. Parents aren’t exactly the best source of punishment because there is no guarantee who will do what about the situation. The bully’s parents more than likely will defend against accusations and the bullied kid’s parents can’t retaliate. That leaves it in the hands of the kids where “Stop it” is at best a slogan. Of course, in the end that means no one is taking responsibility. Those who are capable won’t. Those who are least capable are asked to.

Punch a bully in the nose is the best way to land in the hospital. I really hate the advice that if you punch a bully in the nose they will leave you alone. That is the dumbest thing to do in the real world. The assumption is that the bully is secretly fearful and a coward. Not true.

what really happens in nine out of ten times is the bully turns around and “teaches a lesson” the now attacker will never forget. They know they are more powerful. That is why they do it. The bully reminds themselves daily by the act of just how powerful they really are. Insecurity is part of this, but they are not usually dumb enough to go after those stronger than them. Anyone who gives the advice about punching a bully in the nose better equally teach them competent self defense and possible consequences of getting into a fight.

Schools are not the best place to learn social skills. The argument against homeschool that says the kids will be stunted socially cannot be taken seriously. Public schools are a mess. I personally will stand any homeschooled student’s social skills up against any public student any day. Dare I say that public schools are where addictions, fear, hatred, and psychological pathologies are developed like weeds in a garden? The tools that used to be in the hands of adult teachers, for good or ill, have been largely taken away. Sending kids to public schools is slightly better than to a jungle or prison. One could argue they learn how to take the hard knocks of life. There is that I guess. Better to teach them how to interact with and act like adults.

Bullies have rights too. This is the hardest truth to accept. Sometimes what they say is right even if cruel intentioned. A major reason I can’t get fully behind the anti-bully crusade is the politics masquerading as sincerity. Telling people what they can and cannot do or say because it might hurt feelings is tyranny in the name of protection.

More often than not the prescription doesn’t have to do with helping others, but retribution and silencing opposition. The bullied become the bullies with intimidation, shunning, and repression in the name of civilizing the new barbarians. Part of this is because some adults can’t let go and grow up. Once leaving high school there is no reason to stick around or associate with the people who caused pain. Go a separate way and be glad its over. What to do about the kids while they are growing up should be the focus and not after the fact.

14 thoughts on “What I Learned From Bullies

  1. I remember being bullied.

    As the oldest child in a family with ten children, I was sometimes the bully.

    For girls, the “bullying” sometimes includes sexual assault, and all too often the “bully” is an adult.

    So I would quibble with some of the proposed truisms about bullies jettboy cites above.

    I would say the homeschool versus public school business depends very much on where the public school is and whether the parents in a homeschooling situation make a point of exposing their children to social situations.

  2. Children and teenagers inhabit a volitale state of animalistic and tribal instinct, desperately trying to survive and find a place in a cruel social darwinism of school. Bullying of the rejected ones reinforces the tribe, and the place of the bully within the tribe.

    The solution to bullying is simple: to learn the principles of diversity, empathy, and pluralism. This is also the solution to most of civilizations conflicts, which arise from nationalism and tribalism, a lack of empathy for those outside your circle, and a willingness to take advantage of them.

    The sooner children are taught principles of empathy and celebrating diversity, the less bullying there will be. Children are highly suceptible to propaganda, and it should be used from a very young age to get kids to accept homosexuals, ugly or awkward people, the disabled, minorities, nerds, jocks, etc., as all part of a welcome diversity.

    It should also be noted that, as big of a problem as bullying is today, it is probably less of a problem today than ever in the history of the world. Empathy and pluralism have been slowly engulfing civilization for the past 500 years. While children come out of the womb in their Darwinistic state, they are eventually beaten down by the forces of civilization. It’s not uncommon for a mother to yell at her child: “empathy!”

  3. Meg, your example for girls seems to me one that the legal system has caught up with. An adult can get into serious trouble if found out.

    Sorry nate, but teaching, “principles of diversity, empathy, and pluralism” has its own problems that I am personally against. It falls under my “bullies have rights too” section. They have a right to their opinions, both in having and expressing them. I think its better to teach social politeness than empathy, pluralism, and what counts for diversity these days. Political correctness its its own bully tactic for those who want “diversity” when they really mean “pliability” and “submissiveness.”

  4. Jettboy,
    In the short-term, most schools have less power over bullies than they used to because of the current legal/social climate. However, in the long-term, schools still have significant power if someone is constantly bullying others. They can fail out or suspend/expell any student who is repeatedly disruptive to the learning environment.
    In lower grades, most teachers still can influence or control most bullies individually and if not then the administrators should do so. Parents will usually respond in a somewhat helpful manner when informed.
    In high school, students are expected be a little more grown-up and be part of the solution. If teacher or administrator verbal counseling or other first response is ineffective, the bullied student should take some action to help themselves. Leave classes early or stay late to avoid the bully in the halls (tell any faculty who object to talk with the administrator who has heard your complaint). Suggest that the bully get unfavorable classes, etc. so they are not around you. This type of behavior will signal to the school that you are very serious, and something should be done.
    If the problem continues, then you unfortunately have to go to assymetric warfare. Get allies, even if it is only two kids in wheelchairs and go hit facebook if you can’t think of anything better.

  5. jettboy; you give me the impression that you think it’s only bullying if it’s physical. If so, I disagree.

    People of all ages sometimes use intimidation and browbeating to emotionally, spiritually, and verbally bully or abuse people. It happens in the workplace all the time. “Boss from hell” is an example. Adults often do it among peers just to establish dominance, or a pecking order. It’s often part of office politics. It can happen in any club, group, or association.

    30 years ago, the MTC and probably many missions were (at least my mission was), in my opinion, run by a “management by intimidation” principle. As I look back with more experience, I see that a heavy hand was needed to control a lot of those “high spirited” missionaries, especially those who were not prepared, or not committed to the cause.

    But I still haven’t totally resolved the “the end [doesn't] justifies the means” conundrum of verbally abusing or manipulating adults for their own good. Perhaps the church didn’t or doesn’t consider 19/20/21 (and now 18) year old missionaries as adults.

    When you think about it, all that a mission president can _physically_ do in regards to managing missionaries is: a) assign companions, b) assign areas, and c) send someone home. (They used to be able to send to other missions.) Everything other than those things is just _talk_.

    I didn’t understand what ‘unrighteous dominion’ was until I entered the MTC and experienced the management style of the MTC president, my branch president, and listened to other branch presidents talk down to, berate, belittle, and insult the audience of missionaries every week at the assembly.

    Fortunately, I’ve never experienced such treatment in the church outside of the mission and the MTC. Well, I did see a YM pres lose his temper with a youth once. The only other examples that come to mind were a couple of General Authorities a while back who seemed to talk down to the audience at General Conference, but they’re gone, and I haven’t seen any GA’s since do that.

    Now that the church is actually enforcing guidelines about missionary preparation and willingness to serve, I assume that such heavy handed management tactics (ie, verbal/emotional bullying and browbeating) are not used. I assume that the bar has been raised for MTC leadership and mission presidents as well as for missionaries, and that management styles in the MTC and in the mission have evolved and improved.

  6. By the way, I enjoyed watching the video.

    The video makes me super glad no one in my family uses a smart phone.

    The bullying being discussed in the video is not the authoritarian behavior being criticized in these comments.

    By the way, Bookslinger, you experienced a very different MTC than the one I attended. I was in the MTC circa 1984, so it was before the bar was raised. Maybe I attended in some golden era…?

    I remember my husband and I being asked to talk about obeying authority at a time when we were a bit conflicted about the authority thing (1998, perhaps). My husband put together a brilliant historical review of authority through the centuries and millenia. My talk involved a lot of stories where when someone didn’t obey authority, poop happened.

    Like the kid who ignored my friend (the babysitter) when she told them to take cover under a shed because geese were flying overhead. The kid asked what could possibly happen. When told, the kid stepped out into the open, flung his arms wide, tilted his head to the sky, and opened his mouth. Like magic, a turd from some flying goose landed in the kid’s mouth.

    I don’t remember the other poop stories, but at the last minute, we determined our daughter had a dangerously high fever. One of the two of us was going to have to take her to the clinic, and the other one was going to have to give both talks. Since I am an extrovert when nervous, my husband knew my talk inside and out. So he got to perform the fabulousness of giving two major sacrament meeting talks on the same subject.

    At the podium, my husband remembered yet another poop story from my past. I had been 5 years old when my younger brother and I came across a hole in a pile of manure. I looked down into the dark, and made what seemed a logical decision.

    I jumped.

    My first clue this was a bad idea came when I heard the splashing as my shoes hit. Then I realized the walls of my pit in the poop were not hard. And the hard surface of the poop pit was high above my tiny outstretched hands.

    Luckily for me, my 3-year-old brother had been at my side but had not jumped. Once I started screaming bloody murder, he toddled back to the house, where our mother was sleeping. She was exhausted because she and my father had spent all night hauling a cow out of the manure-encrusted end of the field to save its life, kind of like what happens when an animal falls through thin ice into frigid water. Except this wasn’t ice and water.

    To my great relief, I eventually saw my mother’s face. And she was able to pull me out of the hole into which I’d so eagerly jumped.

    So if you drive along Pioneer Crossing near the Jordan River, in the vicinity of 3000 W, think of a little 5-year-old girl in a pit of poop over her head. Think about the things you might be tempted to say to such a girl to prevent her from doing something actually life threatening. Then consider if you might have a bit of compassion for leaders who didn’t/don’t understand that love is always more powerful than coersion.

    And I, for my part, will be glad my 3-year-old brother didn’t have a smart phone and the ability to create an internet meme.

  7. Jettboy, I don’t think the solution to homophobic behavior, for example, is teaching “social politeness” as you say. Someone who holds homophobic attitudes should be challenged for those attitudes, not for the way in which he expresses them. One can adhere to a particular religious practice which forbids homosexual behavior, but to actively present oneself as an affront to what a homosexual honestly experiences as an unchangeable identity, is as bad as racism and should be seen as antagonistic to a pluralistic democracy like ours. Yes, part of that plurality includes protecting the rights of racists and homophobes, but it is not the place of a school to celebrate racism and homophobia, only governing its “polite” expression, but rather to seek to stamp it out. You can be a racist or homophobe outsider of school, but in school there must be consequences. To “educate” also means to civilize, and indoctrinate one into the norms and codes of behavior in Western Civilization.

  8. Nate, if that is your definition of school then homeschooling is the best solution to remain a free and independent people. The school is not a place for indoctrination of any philosophy (if it has no right to teach religion, then it has no right to teach morality at all). I define bullying as tearing someone down constantly and without context, caring nothing for the outcome or improvement of that individual. I define free speech as the right to make any comment about anyone or anything with the express purpose of sharing opinions or “agitating” for causes both liberal and conservative. What is often defined as bullying today for me represents nothing more than oppression against disagreements. Learning how to be polite allows for differences of extremes. Teaching diversity actually diminishes and threatens that diversity into Orwellian Think.

    My problem with almost all the “Bully” advertisements is that I have only seen one of them, mentioned about the boy on the bus, that is realistic. All the others, including this Mormon Matters video, have moderate to good looking and talented people who are not the usual targets. The impression that is given is that these actors honestly have no idea; they don’t know what they are talking about. It creates feelings of distress rather than hope because it is the in crowd telling the in crowd how to behave, leaving the out crowd once more without say. There should be a real homely person, a real fat person, a real nerd person fulfilling the role of the bullied. Then the message will really be “treat these people decently,” rather than “look how cool these cool people are for making a video about bullies.”

  9. meg, that was the general time frame I was there too. I suppose I could chalk up our differing impressions to different expectations. I was not raised in the church, joined in my early 20’s (after college age) and entered the MTC at age 26. I was always treated as an adult by other church members, and had expected to be treated so at the MTC. I forget where, geographically, you once said you were raised, but I grew up and joined the church in the Midwest. If you grew up in Utah where the church culture was dominant, I could see that as another source of difference in our expectations and interpretations of the experience. I can see how age, adult-convert-versus-BiC, and geographic culture could have given us different lenses through which we viewed/interpreted the MTC experience. The whole leadership/management “style” of the priesthood leadership at the MTC was foreign to my meager 2 years of church experience in the Midwest. If you had grown up with Provo-style (or BYU-style) leaders, I would suppose that you would have not seen them as out of the ordinary. But it was a shock to me. I had not experienced that leadership/management style in the church, nor in my work experience, nor in my previous school experience. Such a style would not have gone over well in workplaces or churches in the Midwest.

    One of my conclusions, arrived at during the mission or afterwards, was that the whole missionary program, the whole paradigm, was very much geared towards those who had grown up in the church, and generally those who had grown up in the church where the church culture was at least common-place if not dominant. Yes, there always have been convert missionaries, even under the late/modern (1960’s and later ) system. But much of human communication and expections rely on shared background between speaker and listener. Example: one mission president belittling a missionary for not having memorized scriptures when they were in seminary, not knowing that the missionary was an adult convert of just one year, and no one in their home ward told them they should memorize the “missionary scriptures” prior to their mission.

    I’m sure my undiagnosed Asperger’s also tainted my understanding, or contributed to my lack of understanding of the MTC leadership too. But looking back, even trying to be charitable towards men who had to oversee thousands of teenagers at a time, many of whom were unruly, I still conclude that their condecension, and treating the whole audience (either the entire branch, or the entire corps at the assemblies) as unruly teens, using guilt-by-association, was not a righteous management or leadership technique.

  10. Bookslinger,
    Although I recognize what you are saying about the leadership styles, it must not have bothered me because I was just used to it. That kind of bossy attitude was something I experienced from non-leaders more than leaders. The reaction I learned when growing up surrounded by that kind of bully tactic was smile and then totally ignore them. To be honest, that is how I became the non-social person I am today.

    You said I give the impression that bullying is only physical. From my perspective of how I learned to cope, words are only as hurtful as you let them and so personally I don’t put as much stock into what people say. That isn’t to ignore words as bully tactics. Its just that there becomes a saturation to the point of numbing. Physical bullying is what I was and am afraid of most because you can’t ignore that. Thankfully I almost never experienced that kind of behavior, although one person in early high school indirectly threatened me and I was very afraid to even see them. To this day I have no idea why he disliked me so much since I never, ever talked to him. There is a fine line between calling out a person’s words as bullying and letting everyone have opinions.

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