October is Anti-Bullying Month, and while I applaud this effort, it is only lip service. The truth of the matter is that WE LOVE BULLIES. We reward and encourage them. We celebrate and cheer them on.
Watch any sitcom on TV, and we revel in the bullying. I enjoy watching the popular show, How I Met Your Mother, but in nearly every episode the so-called friends bully each other as well as other characters. And, like them, many of us bully our friends and family with collegial insults and practical jokes.
Of course, we tell ourselves, it is all in fun, and nothing is meant by it (or is it?), but the problem is that through our actions (and those of the characters on TV), we (and they) become role models for our children. They mimic us at school and on the playground. Your children may not be actively bullying someone, but they are laughing at those being bullied, and subsequently supporting, promoting, and fostering the continuation of bullying in our society.
We also admire bully-heroes in the movies: Dirty Harry, The Godfather, Captain Kirk, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction, Dr. Buddy Rydell in Anger Management, and so on. We love talk-show hosts when they bully guests and callers with whom we disagree.
Bullying doesn’t stop with childhood, it only gets worse. Those who are successful bullies as children grow up to be bully-bosses or power-hungry politicians. They seek out and acquire power. We, in turn, admire and respect that power - that is as long as it is being used against our enemies, supports one of our causes, or we can convince ourselves that some good is coming from it. We only complain about it when that bullying power is used against us. Until we understand that power seekers are the most desperate people on the planet (see my articles: Fear vs. Power, and Leadership vs. Power) the problem will persist.
While I believe that Anti-Bullying programs are good, as a society we are talking out of two sides of our mouths. Because of that, I don’t believe that bullying is going to go away. Most anti-bullying programs ask kids not to bully, not to be a consenting bystander, and to tell on bullies when they witness an attack. These are not realistic expectations in a society where most people fear the recrimination of their peers.
These programs also teach children to avoid bullies at all costs, which doesn’t really serve the victim in the long run. A better solution is to teach children how to develop self-esteem and self-confidence. When we teach kids how to believe in themselves, we give them the fundamental tools they need to stand up to bullies.
In my children's novel, The Annoying Ghost Kid, Duke, the ghost, is the ultimate bully because, with his power of invisibility, he can attack his victims right in front of the teacher with impunity. Even worse his victims get blamed for his pranks. For Corky and Jill, the victims, they have no one to turn to, and there is no recourse but to learn how to stand up to the bully on their own. Duke has super powers which means they can't simply hit back, they must learn how to outwit him.
I am frequently invited to make “Author Visits” to elementary schools. I explain to the children the weaknesses of bullies (in brief, that they lack self-esteem and seek approval through their bullying), so that potential victims know they have power over the bully. I then give them two simple techniques to use in the event of an attack (one for verbal attacks and one for physical attacks). Both are easy to remember, so that a child, caught unaware by a bully attack, is less likely to panic and show fear.
In life, we must all learn to deal with bullies on our own because they do not go away with adulthood. In fact, they get worse. The sooner a person learns how to deal with bullies the better, and the easiest time to do that is when they are young.
Robert Evans Wilson, Jr. is an author, humorist and innovation consultant. He works with companies that want to be more competitive and with people who want to think like innovators. Robert is also the author of the humorous children’s book: The Annoying Ghost Kid. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.