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This is an installment in a series called "Ten Principles for Moral Discipline." They are meant to form the basis of a moral, effective school bullying policy. These ideas are thousands of years old. I am merely applying them for use in today's schools.
“Give a man a fish and you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
This saying has been attributed to many people, but the true source is probably unknown. However, it reflects the universal wisdom that the best way to help a person is to teach him to help himself.
The following related saying is attributed to that very wise U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln (actually written by Rev. Rev. William Boetcker):
“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.”
This is the inverse of the “fish” saying. If people are capable of learning to take care of their own needs, we are not helping them if we always take care of their needs for them. In fact, we are hurting them. We are preventing them from becoming independent and responsible. This is a basic tenet of parenting and developmental psychology. We are also depriving them of the sense of fulfillment that comes from self-efficacy, the trait that the great psychologist, Albert Bandura, insisted is so important for happiness. And according to Abraham Maslow, mastery is a basic feature in the development of self-esteem.
When we discover children being treated badly by other kids, we feel sorry for them and want to help. So we get involved trying to protect them and to solve their problems by forcing their tormentors to leave them alone. And we often find ourselves doing it over and over again with the same children.
But we are not really helping them by doing this. We are hurting them. Not only are we preventing them from learning to solve their social problems on their own, we almost always escalate the hostilities between the parties involved. (See my article on triangulation.)
Until recent years, the field of psychology held it to be self-evident that a healthy individual and a healthy society require that individuals develop resilience and social competence. Weak, incompetent individuals cannot form a strong society. Unfortunately, many of our leading psychological organizations and university psychology departments are rejecting this ancient, universal wisdom. They have replaced the goal of promoting resilience and competence with a well-intentioned but nebulous political goal of promoting “social justice.” The current belief is that individuals are entitled to live in a just society in which everyone treats them with fairness and dignity. In such an imaginary ideal society there is no need for anyone to develop resilience and social competence.
The official psychological position today is that “we have to defend victims from bullies because they are not able to defend themselves.” Thus, for mental health professionals who work in schools, their job has been transformed from helping kids learn to overcome their problems into security officers protecting victims from bullies and bringing the latter to justice.
Though our intentions are good, we are behaving immorally when we perform such functions for children. It hampers their development while tending to escalate hostilities not only among the children involved but towards us, too.
There is no such thing as a life in which everyone is always nice to each other. The behaviors we call “bullying” go on in all of life, and with the most frequent and serious bullying of all taking place within the home. Children (and adults as well!) deserve to be taught how to handle it. We send our children to school so that they can be taught to master the intellectual challenges of life, not to protect them from those challenges. Similarly, schools should be teaching students to master the social challenges of life, not to protect them from those challenges.
Fortunately, it is easy to stop being bullied once we know the rules. With the exception of people with serious neurological or emotional difficulties, we can all learn to handle bullying–and we should.
The truly moral and appropriate role of schools is to teach students to understand and apply the Golden Rule so they can solve their problems on their own and, it is hoped, turn their enemies into friends.
Read Previous Installments to this series:
Ten Principles for Moral Discipline: Introduction
Principle Number One: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
Principle Number Two: Actions Speak Louder Than Words–Or–Practice What You Preach
Principle Number Three: The Golden Rule
Principle Number Four: Justice Makes Right
Principle Number Five: Love Your Enemy
Principle Number Six: Turn the Other Cheek
Principle Number Seven: Do Not Judge
Principle Number Eight: An Eye for an Eye
Principle Number Nine: Freedom of Speech
We have also created a proposal for a moral, effective school bullying policy based on the Golden Rule. We welcome you to use it, and if you like it, recommend it to your school administration.