No Bull(ies)!!!

The issue of bullying is a serious one. I myself was prey to bullies in my elementary school years, and it made life terrifying for me. Those experiences undermined my sense of place and safety in the world, and they marred my self-confidence. I learned to inhibit my social tendencies so as not to be targeted, not that this was successful. It only made me more withdrawn, but didn’t help me escape bullies. The impact reverberated well into my adulthood. It’s probably why I also developed a “problem with authority,” in such cases when those in authority used their power wrongly (which is rather more often the case than one might think).

Today this issue was brought to light at my school, in my program. It regards two of my own students and their misbehavior toward another student. This evoked a strong response in me, and I’ve spent the evening researching the topic so I can talk to the class tomorrow. Below is the best compilation of myths and misperceptions about bullying that I found (without having to purchase a book). I’ve provided the myths and brief excerpts from the website, but I strongly recommend you go to that page to read the entire piece.

Update, 6/11/05: This post is very polemic — even over-the-top. My posting the excerpt is a reflection of my own inner turmoil, which was generated when the real-life incident involving my students resonated with my own memories. In a sense, the ten-year-old Kathryn wrote this post. Bullying is a serious problem, and I wish it had been handled more effectively in my life. The vitriol that seeps from this commentary on the myths is not my general disposition. This blog is called “mindful,” but it is also written by a growing human who is imperfect. So if this posts offends or seems to clash with the concept of mindfulness to you, remember I do not make a claim to be an expert on it; I’m not even a declared Buddhist, and certainly don’t claim to be a Buddha! Keep this in mind as you read the following.

  1. There’s no bullying here. It’s in schools which say “there’s no bullying here” that you are most likely to find bullying.
  2. Ignore it. Never ignore bullying; bullies use provocation to elicit a response from their target and if you ignore it the provocation will get worse.
  3. Stand up for yourself. It’s funny how people who simply say “stand up for yourself” never, ever, tell you how to stand up for yourself.
  4. Victims of bullying don’t know how to defend themselves verbally or physically. Society, parents and schools do not teach children the skills of physical, psychological, emotional and verbal self-defence.
  5. Victims of bullying become too flustered to deflect bullies with humour. Laughing at a mugger, rapist or paedophile will not deflect the actions of the mugger, rapist or paedophile. They might kill you for laughing at them though. A bully might kill you too, as in the case of Damilola Taylor.
  6. Victims of bullying typically do not retaliate. Children have it drummed into them from the moment they are born that they must not hit, punch, kick, bite, scratch, pull, push, poke or use any form of physical violence.
  7. Bullying toughens you up. Bullying is in the same league as harassment, discrimination, racism, violence, assault, stalking, physical abuse, sexual abuse, molestation and rape. It causes trauma and psychiatric injury and can, if untreated, cause a psychiatric injury of sufficient seriousness to blight a person for life, resulting in a lower standard of educational achievement, causing a poorer standard of health, preventing them realising their potential and thus being able to contribute less to society than would otherwise be the case – including paying less in taxes throughout their life.
  8. Bullying is a rite of passage we all have to go through. Some people claim that harassment, discrimination, racism, violence, assault, stalking, physical abuse, sexual abuse, molestation, rape and domestic violence are rites of passage but these are all unacceptable.
  9. Bullying is just a part of life, you’ve got to accept it. Harassment, discrimination, racism, violence, assault, stalking, physical abuse, sexual abuse, molestation, rape, domestic violence and murder are all part of life but these are all unacceptable.
  10. There’s no law againast bullying so it must be OK. The fact that the law hasn’t yet been updated to reflect the knowledge and needs of society is not an excuse.
  11. People who get bullied are wimps. People who are targeted by bullies are sensitive, respectful, honest, creative, have high emotional intelligence, a strong sense of fair play and high integrity with a low propensity to violence.
  12. Only weak people are bullied. Only the best are bullied.
  13. Bullies prey on the weak.This myth is popular in academic and some professional circles but the reality is that bullies target people for the following reasons:
    • bullies select a victim who is physically less strong than they are, for bullies are always cowards
    • bullies select victims who have a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue and who won’t turn round and kick the bully
    • bullies select victims who have a low propensity to violence – which is what parents and society instil in and demand of children
    • targets of bullies go to enormous lengths to resolve conflict with dialogue not realising that bullies are too disordered, dysfunctional, aggressive and immature to respond to dialogue
    • targets of bullying go to enormous lengths to resolve the conflict with dialogue often without the assistance of adults and sometimes in spite of the adults who by their failures and inactions condone the bullying (bullies are adept at manipulating the perceptions of adults, especially those adults who lack knowledge, experience, wisdom and emotional maturity)
    • bullies are weak people – normal healthy people don’t need to bully
    • bullies are dysfunctional, disordered, aggressive and emotionally retarded which they reveal by their compulsive need to bully
    • bullies are irresponsible people who refuse to accept personal responsibility for their behaviour and the effect of their behaviour on other people
    • bullies prey on people with a kind heart
  14. Bullies are psychologically strong. Bullies are weak, disordered, dysfunctional and emotionally immature as evidenced by their need to bully.
  15. Victims are unlikeable. Whilst it may be that in a small number of extreme cases the person targeted may have some allegedly undesirable characteristic, this is not a justification for committing violence against that person.
  16. Victims lack social skills. It is bullies who lack social skills and who are emotionally immature.
  17. Victims blame themselves for their problems. Bullies control those they target by using disempowerment and by stimulating artificially high levels of fear, shame, embarrassment and guilt.
  18. Victims are afraid to go to school. This is a correct observation, but is a consequence, not a pre-existing condition.
  19. Everyone is capable of bullying. The difference is that whilst anyone is theoretically capable of any crime, the vast majority choose to not commit these crimes, whereas bullies choose to bully on a daily basis, and when held accountable, bullies choose to deny or justify or rationalise their bullying.
  20. Children who are bullies grow up to be tougher people. Bullying is a form of violence which is designed to cause the maximum physical, psychological and emotional injury.
  21. Bullies are tough people. Bullies are weak, cowardly and inadequate people who cannot interact in a mature professional manner and have to resort to psychological violence (and, with child bullies, physical violence) to get their way.
  22. Violence on TV makes children violent. A lot of people watch violence on TV but only a handful of people are violent.
  23. Playing violent video games makes children violent. A lot of kids play violent video games but only a handful of children are violent.
  24. We operate a no blame approach here. The bully must always be held accountable, which is distinct from punishment.
  25. We follow the academic model of classifying victims of bullying as passive victims, provocative victims, colluding victims, and false victims. This model uses only negative terms to describe “victims”, thus perpetuating the false stereotypes of victims somehow deserving to be bullied.
  26. Children who are bullied are passive. Bullies target children who are calm, dignified, responsible and respectful, communicate easily with adults, and have a level of emotional development which is years ahead of the bully (whose level of emotional development is nearer that of a 5-year-old – or less). Targets of bullying are also non-violent, have a very low propensity to violence, and prefer to resolve conflict with dialogue.
  27. Children who are bullied are shy loners. Children who are bullied are often self-reliant and independent. Their level of emotional development is such that they don’t need to join gangs, form cliques, wear the “in” clothes, sport the latest gadgets, or indulge in classroom politics.
  28. You’re too sensitive. Sensitivity is often wrongly given a negative connotation. Sensitivity is a mixture of dignity, respect, care, thoughtfulness, tolerance, dislike of violence, empathy, care and consideration for others.
  29. You shouldn’t sue for bullying because it prolongs victimhood. Bullying is in the same league as domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape and paedophilia. Many child bullies go on to commit at least one of these offences as well as other antisocial acts. Scandinavian research shows that 60% of school bullies will have a criminal record by the age of 24. Prosecuting the perpetrators and holding accountable those who have failed in their duty of care is very different to “prolonging victimhood”.
  30. Bullies and victims are connected to each other, they are two sides of the same coin. We can think of bullying as a friendship that can’t find a way to work. To say that “bullying is a friendship that can’t find a way to work” is to equivalent to suggesting that “domestic violence is a friendship that can’t find a way to work” and “rape is a friendship that can’t find a way to work” and “paedophilia is a friendship that can’t find a way to work”.
  31. Bullies are popular children. Bullies are often surrounded by other children, not through popularity but through fear. The bully is rarely able to sustain a friendship (which is based on trust, dependability, loyalty and mutual respect) but instead forms alliances which are part of their strategy for power and control.
  32. Bullies have high self-esteem. People with high self-esteem manifest their high self-esteem in enjoying only positive interactions with others. Bullies have only negative interactions with others; negative interactions are a hallmark of low self-esteem and emotional immaturity. The claim that bullies have high self-esteem seems to be a misperception (viewed from a distance) of arrogance, certitude, self-assuredness, invulnerability, untouchability, rule through fear, narcissism etc.
  33. Bullies are tough people and we need tough people to run society. At least six out of ten bullies go on to become criminals.
  34. You’ll never get rid of bullying so let’s concentrate on teaching victims how to assert themselves. It is sensible to teach everybody strategies of self-defence, however, this must not be used as a smokescreen for encouraging bullies by failing to hold them accountable. Any anti-bullying scheme which omits accountability for the bullies is likely to have only limited success, and often no long-term success.

Myths and misperceptions about bullying: Overcoming stereotypes and false perceptions of bullying

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9 Comments on “No Bull(ies)!!!”

  1. Michelle Says:

    Whoa – this is a very comprehensive list! I will definitely pass it on to the principal at my son’s school. Thanks for sharing.

  2. cicada Says:

    Don’t even get me started on this, after the year we had with my son’s school. The school had a “zero tolerance” policy for bullying, which basically amounted to both the bully and the bullied being punished by being made to spend ten (unsupervised) minutes sitting on the curb together at recess. Yet another opportunity for the bully to act out.

    Because of this and myriad other ways that this school chooses to deal with bullying, they effectively promote it. No amount of reasoning can make them see otherwise, because they don’t want to be bothered. I was told that to punish the bullies would damage their self-esteem. From what I’ve seen, this sort of thing has become more the rule than the exception.

  3. Will Says:

    Do they have any advice on how to cope and manage bullying?

  4. Kathryn Says:

    You might look at their website. They have lots of links. Clicking the link at the bottom of the article will take you to the site.

  5. Tom Says:

    Kathryn,

    I would be curious to know what you definition of “mindful” is.

    While I think that bullying is fully as terrible as what you describe, the bullies you are writing about are primarily peers of little kids; thus, little kids, themselves.

    I think that the issue of bullying can be handled in a more-mature manner than what you are demonstrating. While your anger is understandable, a capable absolute end to bullying can be achieved [and can ONLY be achieved] if pupils, teachers and everyone is taught to respect one another and to recognize themself in others.

    Very young children who behave as bullies do not need to learn from you that they are terrible people; they need to learn how to be good people.

    — Tom

  6. Tom Says:

    Kathryn,

    I have had an opportunity to look at the website from which you got your information. While there are certainly a few valid ideas and information at the site, a great deal of what is there is preposterous.

    We should not seek merely that which is most hateful toward bullies, but that which is the truth. We should do those things that protect targets/victims and make schoolrooms and the work environment happier, more productive places.

    I have some vague memories of being bullied in elementary school. More recently, I remember having a boss who was most certainly a bully. Does she meet the profile of the boss bully I see at the bullyonline website? NO!

    My bully boss [I’ll call her “Sue”] was *certainly* not incompetant, as bullyonline insists she would have to be. In fact, she was brilliant and used her speediness and all-encompassing knowledge to belittle others.

    Her victims/targets were not these select special persons, but instead anyone who worked for her — though I think it is generally true that subordinates who were most apt to challenge her, were especially apt to be bullied and quickly left the workplace for one reason or other.

    I think the case with Sue, and other bullying bosses but not all, is that she/they are very competent and knowledgable. It seems that in the minds of these bosses’ bosses they have skills that compensate for their harshness.

    I think those of us who continued to work for Sue came to appreciate her brilliance and its benefit for our company — even as we saw clients/business leave because of the difficulty of dealing with Sue. In the workplace [as opposed to the schoolyard], we learned that the harm that came to us was almost entirely bruised egos. While we, Sue’s underlings, were stressed out of our minds, we did come to see that overall our department accomplished a great deal.

    However, had I been Sue’s boss, I would quickly have canned her ass, or fixed things such that she had no subordinates, or put her into an enlightened management seminar. A happy workplace is important.

  7. Kathryn Says:

    Very young children who behave as bullies do not need to learn from you that they are terrible people; they need to learn how to be good people.

    I agree. That is why, when dealing specifically with children who bully, it is important to remember they are probably experiencing the world as unsafe as well.

    What I posted from that website was worded polemically. It caught my attention because it positioned the issue of bullying in context of cultural mores. Bullying has been taken less seriously than it merits.

    My point in posting the myths and rebuttals was to present something to think about. It seems to be doing that.

    Thank you, Tom, for sharing your perspective.

  8. Pat Says:

    Some of the remedy is SO SIMPLE.

    I was bullied a lot by one classmate during a couple of years of elementary school. Day after day.

    I never wanted this person punished, or “made into a nice person.” I just didn’t want to be knocked down and hit every day.

    The problem is that there was no effective supervision on that playground. No teacher or other adult walked around out there.

    Frankly, some of these bullies will never “learn to become good persons.” What is needed is protection of innocent students from other students who are not well socialized and — yes — can be actually dangerous.

    Let’s take an example from the adult world. Should we refrain from incarcerating so-called “class 1 felons” because it might hurt their self esteem? Heck no. Just keep them away from us.

    Hang in there Kathryn.

  9. Stormwind Says:

    I agree that it is a problem and that some schools are not taking it as seriously as they should. But every thoughtful parent trying to raise responsible but not automatic rule follower children has probably come across this issue and in many cases been frustrated by the ‘group everyone into the same category to give the appearance of fair’- solutions that most educators seem to impose these days. There are no one size fits all solutions.

    Comparing children to adults is not the way to work on the problem- though it has the shock value of making those adults who have never thought about the issue sit up and take notice; indirectly suggesting that different age groups of children are equal is also not the way to solve a problem.

    Though it should seem obvious, the causes and solutions for differently aged children and different individual children are different. No matter how much society might be leaning right now towards thinking of children as little adults, they aren’t.

    Closer supervision and actually looking at the individual situations to craft an individual intervention is the only way to possibly change/help an elementary aged bully and prevent long term damage to his/her victims. Pre and teen aged children require more effort as the mindset and payoffs for the behavior are well entrenched by that stage. But once again looking at the individual situations in each and every one to craft individual solutions and give the right help for everyone involved is the start to eliminating the problem. Only by taking one situation at a time will anyone be helped.

    A “Zero tolerance” mindset that throws common sense out the window and refuses to look at the individual situations is not the way to solve anything. Zero tolerance can also be a bully, teaching bully children who have already begun to learn from home, that once again if you are big enough and have enough power you can make the rules and impose punishments in any manner you please and teaching those who are the victims of bullying situations that there is no justice or fairness to be found anywhere-a further deflating self esteem lesson for every child involved.