Bullies have always existed and probably always will. For whatever reason there are some who are so insecure that they must find someone whom they believe to be weaker than they to push around so that the bully can feel an importance that is born in cruelty rather than in conscience.
I knew a few bullies as a child and several more as an adult. The pattern for the children was always the same – find a victim who was weaker or who was different from most – and launch attacks, physical or verbal – with the hope that their prey would cry or run away in fear.
The adults who were probably bullies as a child have changed their pattern of behavior – but only slightly. They exhibit less physicality but more verbal abuse – particularly if their target was a different color or of a different ethnicity or different in any other way.
In order for the bully to take full pleasure in his torture it is important that he or she have an audience to appreciate him. This gives him validation. And usually those who gravitate in his circle are even weaker than he, gaining their own self-esteem by being in the presence of such a mighty person.
We are reading and hearing more about bullies – from how they harassed a young girl so badly that she took her own life – to a professional football player who left the Miami Dolphins because of his teammates’ incessant jeers and taunts. So naturally, being the caring people whom we are, we will pass laws and stiffen penalties for those who engage in this blood sport. And we will walk away from our legislative chambers with a smug sense that we have done our duty.
It does not surprise me that there seems to be more of this going around today than when I was a kid. If there is one fundamental thing that ran through the bullies I knew as a child it was this – not one of them was ever courteous or thoughtful of others. On the other hand their most noticeable characteristic was rude and loud behavior – as though to shout out to the world, “Hey, look at me. I’m important.”
Perhaps they had to shout that loudly to quash the thoughts that ran through their self-absorbed minds that they were anything but important. These were lonely, arrogant children who almost certainly grew into adults with the same deficiencies and longings to be needed.
It’s interesting that the two bullies who come to mind from my childhood were both from wealthy families, still they were latchkey kids – if you can call a very expensive co-operative apartment with twenty-four hour doormen on Park Avenue a ramshackle shack. But their parents were both too involved in their own lives to pay much attention to their offspring. They had nannies and cooks and servants, but they lacked the most essential elements that can turn a malleable child into a bully. They lacked the love and attention and direction of their parents.
If bullying is on the rise it should surprise none of us. What is left of the family unit is so distracted that it seems that staying together is more a matter of indifference than desire. Obviously, there are many exceptions to that statement – but they are the exceptions rather than the rule.
Passing a law to punish the effects of bullying is about as useful as trying to put a poached egg back into its broken shell. Laws are punitive in nature rather than pro-active, and if we are to address the question of bullying effectively, we need to look at the cause rather than punish the result.
If a person has a good sense of his own self-worth, he or she is far less likely to become the subject of a bully’s malevolence. The bully is essentially a coward and must find someone whom he believes is even weaker than he in order to achieve his goal of torment. I know that in my case I was able to develop a reasonable sense of self-worth through the efforts and love of my parents and teachers.
I remember one particular incident when a kid who was three grades ahead of me began picking on one of my classmates – someone whom I really liked. It was, of course, before Facebook. Back in those days, the bully needed more guts than today and had to confront his victim face to face.
It began with little things like jostling my friend in the hallway. And then there was tampering with his locker. Nothing that you could really point your finger to as being threatening, but a pattern began to emerge and these little incidents became more frequent. It began to wear on my friend and to have an effect on his performance in school.
I think that everyone in our class was aware of what was happening. And we all were silent. And it is in the silence of those who standby from which the bully gains strength. But I’m sure my thoughts were much the same as my other classmates’. “Better him than me.” That is the statement of the ultimate coward.
Well, one day the bully got over exuberant and body checked my friend into a hallway. Enough was enough. I knew what he was doing was wrong. And, more importantly, I knew that what I was doing – saying nothing – was just as wrong. So I finally spoke out – in a loud voice and with a great deal of fear in my heart, “Hey, cut that out.” My body was shaking as I expected to be the next one tossed against the wall.
What happened next surprised me. This kid who was four years older than I looked stunned that anyone had stood up to him. The best he could come back with was, “Yeah, you gonna make me?”
I don’t know where I came up with this but I said, “Maybe I’m not as big as you but with Timmy and me and our gang we can take you. Now get out of here and leave us alone.” And he left – and that was the end of Timmy’s being bullied by him. I was never so scared in my life as when I uttered those words. Neither Timmy nor I were fighters – and we didn’t have a gang.
As I thought about the recent episodes of bullying which made the news, I reflected back on a person who was the subject of a lot of sniggering when she tried to make a name for herself in the world of entertainment. She wasn’t what most people would describe as attractive. Sadly, most people make their judgments based on looks and if they don’t like what they see there, they never allow themselves the time to understand a person’s substance.
This Scottish lady’s name is Susan Boyle, and the video is a recording of her first performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Fortunately, despite the audience’s and the judges’ initial reaction, Susan had the internal fortitude to stand in front of an audience and sing her song – fortunate both for her and for the world.
And that’s a lesson from which both bullies and their would be victims can learn.