According to the National Association of Learning Disabilities: “The average bullying episode lasts only 37 seconds.” However, from my experience, it doesn't take 37 seconds to say, "You're gay." or "You suck." or "You're an idiot." It only takes a second for a word to hit like a fist. Then, if the bully sees from your face that he has connected; he wins and you’re marked as a victim.
Patricia McDougall writes in her article for Education.com, What Happens over Time to Those Who Bully and Those Who Are Victimized? “Researchers have found that bullying roles (those who bully and their victims) remain fairly stable throughout school. For example, even after switching to a new classroom, victims of bullying continued to be victims.”
Children who are overweight, wear glasses, have a learning disability, or are simply insecure, will often remain victims because they believe the taunts and feel shame over it. Ben Franklin once observed, "The sting in any rebuke is the truth." I know, I was bullied in 4th and 5th grade by my classmates calling me “Baby Bobby.” The element of truth was that when I was a first grader I cried a lot in class. The name-calling connected with me because I still felt shame about it. Making it worse, I believed there was nothing I could do to change my victim status in my classmates’ memory.
As a result, I was a bully magnet. It was as if I had a permanent “Kick Me” sign taped to my back. Nevertheless, despite my history with bullies, I have empathy for them because they are not bullies because they want to be (and I'm only talking about children here). Like everyone else, they want to feel important. They want to be cool and popular. They want to be liked and have friends. Unfortunately, they have learned that they can gain that sense of importance by bullying. Their bad behavior has been rewarded by their peers, so they continue to refine what is working for them. We need to give them another way to achieve these ends.
Most likely they learned to bully at home - where they are the victims of a sibling or of their parents. When they pay it forward, their own victimhood becomes less painful or debilitating. The degree to which someone is a bully, a control freak, narcissist or sociopath is the degree to which they have been abused. The more severely abused a person was - the bigger the bully he or she becomes. To see examples of this we can look at Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Saddam Hussein, all of whom were severely abused as children, and in turn grew up to be tyrants.
People who seek power do so because they feel powerless. Confident people don't need power over others. They have learned to acquire the things they need through peaceful communication. The time to rescue a bully is when he or she is a child. When they can still learn more positive ways to gain a sense of importance.
Bullies and their victims are opposite sides of the same coin. The problem for both of them is essentially the same. They both crave positive recognition, but they both lack self-confidence and the social skills to acquire what they need. The solution is twofold: helping the victim develop self-confidence, and helping the bully develop self-esteem. As a society we can do more by giving them what they need.
Previously in this column, I have written about self-efficacy which is the belief that we can achieve our goals. I have found that the more a child becomes good at something - and it can be just about anything - the more their overall self-confidence grows. The more visible their achievements are to their peers, the better, because kids admire accomplishments. It gives them "cred."
One of the ways in which we acquire self-efficacy is from the encouragement of others. Teachers, parents, and other adults who work with children can do so much to make this happen. Your praise is more powerful than you know; it fortifies victims, and nourishes those who would otherwise become bullies.
Read more of my articles on Bullying:
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 the author of The Annoying Ghost Kid, a humorous children's book about dealing with a bully. He is also the author of the inspirational book: Wisdom in the Weirdest Places. For more information on Robert, please visit www.jumpstartyourmeeting.com.