I was bullied at home and at school, and I didn’t like it. Frequently wanting to redeem my savaged reputation, I, too, would engage in bullying. I am not proud of it and, as I had opportunity, I later apologized for being a jerk. Thankfully, the memories of bullying faded along with the sound of the school bell and the smell of glue. Eventually, I learned that the world was a lot bigger beyond the dilapidated walls of a school building.
It amazes me that we have put a bull’s-eye on the back of “bullies” today. The most egregious offenders are often punished severely and condemned publicly. Brave souls stand behind podiums and in front of cameras and confess that they were once (collective gasp) bullied. In our quest to eliminate bullying once and for all, we psychoanalyze the bullies and try to understand how they think. Glee, for one, helped us see that bullying is likely a perverse expression of a suppressed, latent homoeroticism.
The present, rabid hunt for bullies is convenient, in that the investigators are rarely indicted in the investigation. Who cares that the investigators are usually overbearing school administrators and helicopter parents, and the suspects are but impressionable, malleable adolescents? Does anyone else see the absurdity in the fact that those who hunt for bullies have far more power, authority, and influence than the bullies themselves?
This hunt for bullies also largely occurs within the relatively-safe confines of modern suburbia, where Ivy League dreams are brutally interrupted by thoughts of mean-spirited bullies, here to rob prodigies of their God-given right to be a place on their parent’s bumper sticker. While we pursue these bullies, children in many inner city neighborhoods have to present themselves as physically imposing in order to survive. Their parents don’t have the ability to frequent the school and be a nuisance. We won’t talk about those kids, however. They aren’t our precious prodigies. Poor saps don’t believe we think black lives matter. Do we? No, we care more about suburban bullies than hopeless cesspools of despair.
Let’s not kid ourselves that we are doing them a favor with our anti-bullying campaigns. Intimidation is not merely the province of public schools. The world can be harsh and cruel, and there are times when our children will face elements of hostility as adults. Do we want our children to be conditioned to think the world is a utopia?
There is a character-building element inherent to growing up. When a child is faced with a bully—a common element in the real world—he or she is given the opportunity to work out how to handle such situations—fight or flight, hostility or hospitality. Children are also given the opportunity in such inevitabilities to develop thick skin—a necessary trait for resilience. We want our children to be ready to engage the world as it is, not as we wish it to be for them.
If we are honest, we protest too much. In our zeal for anti-bullying, we reveal our own overzealous attitude toward opinions and individuals, which looks a lot like bullying. Bullying is a universal human experience, but we like to think that our parenting and our progeny are exceptional. What if we took the time we wasted in trying to pretty-up the world for our children and instead spent it reinforcing our children’s identities at home?
Depression, for example, is rarely rooted in circumstances themselves, but in “learned helplessness”—a cultivated belief that one is unable to change his or her circumstances. Parents can cultivate in their children contrary patterns of thinking that reinforce responsibility, resiliency, and hope. A child who has a strong sense of identity established by parents is less likely to have that identity compromised by an overbearing peer at school. Naturally, with the erosion of the family in our society, children unfortunately look to their peers more and more for a sense of identity.
The hunt for the bullying enemy will inevitably draw us back to ourselves and our own responsibility. Instead of working to mold our children’s circumstances, we should work to mold ourselves and our children. Rather than “make bullying kill itself,” let us acknowledge our own role in this broken world and aim to lead our children in pathways of redemption and hope.