For the generation of boys and girls reared almost exclusively by women, I have been thinking about how to explain, to borrow from the character of Tyler Durden, what bullying is and what one can do about it.
In Australia, March 20th is the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence. Participating schools are to run workshops on the matter and there is a government website Bullying. No Way! (BNW) offering graphic materials and lesson plans to facilitate this event.
The workshops include sensitivity training, a wristband and the school gets a certificate of participation. Toxic masculinity is not mentioned anywhere, though it all sounds like feminist incompetence anyway, more-so because the core message is institutional intervention. Institutional responses cost taxpayer money, but are they being operated on the right premise? This article uses the Laser of Occam to dissect and cauterize the issue of bullying in Australian schools.
When I went to school in the 80’s and 90’s bullying was an ordinary occurrence and I and some of my friends were frequent targets of it. Reflecting back on it now, I realise that whilst painful then, this experience was a necessary one. It has not destroyed our lives and appears to have been at least partly instrumental in making us what we are today – fully functional members of society, sometimes quite successful in career and business. It grows thick skin and teaches one to deal with personal conflict.
Bullying is a common theme in online media and much has been made of organised efforts to root it out in Australian schools. A so-called National Safe School Framework (NSSF) has been established and dates back to similar initiatives reaching as far back as 2003.
“Cyber bullying“ has been in the news a lot. Meanwhile, overseas, the Columbine School massacre in the United States in the late 90’s looms large in the public discourse and is the 9/11 of bullying. It is a problem with sometimes fatal consequences.
I can say from direct personal experience and of many of those around me that bullying can have a lasting negative effect on a person’s life…yet, I can also say that overcoming bullying on one’s own terms is a positive and empowering experience. Whilst the Australian government’s efforts to do something about this problem are well-meaning, they will be ineffective and may do more damage than good in the long run, producing a generation of kids too reliant on institutional intervention in their personal conflicts, with bullying still alive and well somewhere outside of the reach of schools and governments.
Reading through the BNW site, I get a clear sense that a lot of it was written by people who have never been bullied in school, and if they were, did not succeed in overcoming it. Alternatively, bullies are natural leaders and the case may also be that government leadership in tackling this community concern is taken up by people that may well have been bullies themselves.
As such, the advice they offer is ineffective and is in general terms in line with feminist archetypes in society and public education – moral panic, social engineering and failure/incompetence redefined as success and personal uniqueness. They elevate victimhood as “inspirational” and fail to offer any solutions to the underlying problem or attempt to explore the causes in any detail. Their conclusion is unanimously to allocate more taxpayer resources to tackling the problem, which means jobs for civil servants. But does it equate to a reduction in bullying?
The most important point that is consistently missed in anti-bullying rhetoric is what it means to the child. It is a character test and a lesson in overcoming adversity. Failure to cope with it successfully is a personal failure and not that of any system educational or otherwise.
School is a place of learning and this too is learning. A child who encounters bullying will not benefit from being completely shielded from it and unlike an adult, has no choice but to find a way to exist an adverse environment.
An adult who is being bullied in a workplace always has the choice to leave. Going to school is not optional. This is the fundamental “disconnect” between the central message of anti-bullying campaigners, “just ignore it.” They must have forgotten what it is like to be a school child. The most effective way to ignore bullying is to stop going to school, but since that is not an option, bullying should really not be ignored on a personal level, rather, it must be confronted sooner or later. Luckily, the child is offered multiple chances to do so and it is up to the adults in their life to guide them through this wilderness.
The second fundamental failure of anti-bullying campaigners is the, “listen to your child” message. Once again, it is as if they have forgotten about this aspect of the childhood experience where much is held in secret from the adults. “No snitching” is a firm rule and, as with the point made above, is different to what adults can do in their lives.
If a child cannot stick to this, they will never grow up to be independent. As such, asking the child to suspend this rule is contradictory to the expectation the adults have of them to grow up and become independent of constant care. The law does not apply in the same manner to a child as it does to an adult, therefore something like “rough and tumble” play is not the same as assault in adult life.
The third aspect of this matter is the polite fiction some, if not most, parents envelop themselves in: that their child is special and precious and nothing bad or violent may ever befall them or of them – how could it? Bullying is first a failure of parenting – those of the bullies and the bullied alike. Your child holds up a mirror to you alone.
Let us look at the core precepts of the Australian anti-bullying campaign and attempt to draw some conclusions that may illuminate the issue beyond tax-dollar spendthrift government rhetoric.
The definition of bullying
The government’s definition of bullying is interesting, not so much in the substance, but in nuance:
“Bullying is when one person (or a group of people) with more power than someone else, tries to upset or hurt them. This power can come from being more popular, stronger or part of the group. They might repeatedly try to hurt them physically, socially isolate them, or say and do mean or humiliating things to them. Bullying can happen in person or online, and it can be obvious or hidden.”
This definition confuses intimidation of adults in the workplace, or citizens by corporations or government (both categories outside the scope of this article) and bullying in school. The difference is that any perception of power discrepancy between students not based on physical size is purely fictional.
Bullies produce a show of power, but it is paper-thin and only as lasting as the target of bullying or an intervening teacher allows it to be. All students are equally powerless before the infinitely greater power of the school and their parents. Further, harming the victim is only secondary to the purpose of elevating the bully above his peers and establishing a social hierarchy.
Finally, what is this overt and hidden bullying? Does one hurt more than the other and is more or less preventable? Bullying can occur out in the open or in the shadows of some far-away corridor or online. How the teachers respond to it also varies. The NSSF asserts that teachers should always intervene, but in practice that may not always happen, partly because uniting against a victim establishes an order beneficial to the learning experience of the majority. A teacher may choose to go along with bullying of one outcast for the sake of peace and quiet of the rest. They may also choose to do so as a lesson to the victim.
Bullying is also a survival technique, where the odd kid out, too weak to defend themselves, is targeted. It no longer has meaningful biological function in human society, but must be a part of the human animal’s older nature and therefore is not entirely invalid. The message to the target should be: “why am I a target and what can I do to not be one?”
Why bullying occurs
According to BNW and quoting a 2009 survey, bullying occurs because the bully
- doesn’t like the person being bullied
- finds bullying fun
- likes to feel tough and strong, in control
- thinks it will make them popular.
The problem with these points is that it doesn’t really define the nature of bullying. Not “liking” someone is an excuse to justify bullying morally on the part of the bully, who normally has a firm grasp of right and wrong but seeks to subvert them to find justification for immoral action that they enjoy.
How many will remember what the precise issue was, ten or twenty years later? This is because there was no issue.
The survey is correct on the next two points – bullying is fun and makes the bully feel tough and in control, and as for the fourth point, it definitely makes them popular.
However, the most important point about “why” is omitted.
Bullying, like violence. is a learned behavior and must come primarily from the child’s family, often reinforced by the behavior of teachers that use bullying and intimidation (threat of detention, school yard junk duty, etc) to control in lieu of personal charisma and professional discipline.
What the parent can do to prevent bullying
The main message here is that they must talk to the child. The problem is that being bullied is a deeply personal issue. Many children may not show overt signs of being a target and never speak of it to their parents or other adult protectors.
There is definitely something that a parent can do beyond the three rules discussed below and these are mostly common sense.
- Teach your child manners.
- Make sure they are always dressed neatly.
- Do not send them to an expensive school in false belief that the size of tuition fee is guarantee of future success. Rich kids will definitely pick on the pauper’s child. Children are cruel like that.
What can the child do to prevent being bullied
And this is at the core of the matter. Ultimately, the problem of bullying is up to the child to solve but for the parent to instil. The Australian government offers some marginally useful advice, such as “just ignore it”, but consistently fails to frame the issue as first and foremost a personal handicap as well as its most effective and immediate solution – personal action.
The BNW page suggests in its lesson plans that a collective response is necessary – classmates standing up for a bullied person and older students leading younger students by example.
The reality is that in a lot of schools students socialize within their grade only, a year or two apart being too great a difference in maturity levels, interests, etc., and where they do, these interactions tend to happen by subculture – punks, nerds and footies hanging out with their own only. When bullying occurs it is from members of one social group against another, with most people not getting beaten up standing by in fear and aversion of getting involved.
Ultimately, it is up to the parent to instil something in their children’s minds to help them not become a target. They must do this at an early age and continue to reinforce it throughout their life. As a child raised by women, I was always taught to not strike back. I had to learn on my own what really works and how to do it.
Here, on the edge of fatherhood, I have thought, how I would explain this to a 6-7 year old, male or female in the simplest, but most re-interpretable terms, so that these axioms stick with them and continue to guide throughout their life, how to avoid being bullied?
These are as follows:
- Do not show off.
- Do not back down.
- Have fun.
And I explain:
- Do not show off.
Do not overstep your boundaries unless you are prepared to back it up, in which case it is being yourself and not showing off, though it might seem like it to others. In other words, be yourself. Children can sense falsehood a mile off and they will punish it relentlessly.
- Do not back down.
It doesn’t say “never back down.” The reason: if confronted with bullying, you must respond firmly and best do so the first time it happens. If you do not, it will become harder and harder with each subsequent instance. Insult for insult, shove to shove and if it comes to it – punch for punch and make it hurt. Do not be afraid of getting beaten up. Make no mistake – it will continue if you do nothing and it will get worse. You may not recognise it at first and you may chicken out the second time, but you must confront it eventually. When you do, the typical result will be that the bully will become discouraged, move onto another victim and your suffering will stop.
So, it’s true, bullying will never stop, but it might stop for you if you act. The crazy thing is – if you respond in kind, you might end up as friends together for the rest of yuor time at school. Not all bullies are born criminals and some make good friends.
- Have fun.
The most mystical and most important clause – have fun. School, believe it or not, is meant to be the best time of your life, not the worst. Find something to do other than being cornered in the playground and getting beaten up. Find a hobby. Australian schools often have facilities that provide for these interests, be they music, sport or other. All schools have a library, a football oval, a workshop and a computer lab.
Make the best of your time at school as you have no choice other than to attend it. As long as you are smiling you are doing the right thing for this is the most important lesson you can learn – you must become the agent of your own fortune and well-being, which is a principle that will guide you through life.