Theories abound about bullying. The attention paid to it is unavoidable. The questions asked of this problem are not easy ones to answer. What are its origins? How can we stop it? How long will it go on for? How do we go about tackling it?
The root cause of bullying once was thought to be the bully’s lack of self-esteem. We now know that the opposite is true. You can’t turn around in a junior high or high school today without seeing a poster decrying a “no bullying zone” or “zero tolerance towards bullying.” The truth is you can never stamp out bullying. It’s here to stay.
Bullying is part of human nature. Enacting tougher anti-bullying laws or policies is futile. Indeed, as adolescents mature into adults, bullying only becomes more sophisticated and abstract. Instead of wedgies, wet willies, or stealing someone’s lunch money, adults bully with extortion, voter intimidation, and ultimatums that can’t be met.
It goes beyond naiveté to think that we can eliminate bullying with can-do-slogans and reporting bullying acts. Like functioning alcoholics, kids and adults use their ingenuity and resourcefulness to continue their malevolent actions. They take to the Internet and use their cell-phones to disparage people around them.
People don’t grow out of bullying; they grow into it. Their bullying acts often become subtler. We ask questions like, “Is Chris Christie too fat to be president?” We question the veracity of someone having Native American ancestry when the person “looks” Caucasian. And, who can ever forget a Congressman calling the President of the United States a liar during a State of the Union Address? We have people with big names proving their small brains by attempting to either bribe/extort the president for birth records.
Bullying operates globally. Want to invade a country, but make it seem like it’s their fault? Just issue an ultimatum that is impossible to meet. Want to punish a country for beginning a war when the facts show otherwise? Besiege losing nations with a “peace” treaty that makes its citizens’ life impossible to live, setting the stage for the next war.
Sometimes bullying is done as a social coping mechanism. For example, experts involved in the high-profile Steubenville rape case believe that the two teenage girls who threatened the rape victim did so to distance themselves from what happened. The experts claimed that the girls might have been trying to fit in with their classmates on the assumption that their convicted rapist friends were the real victims. By making the victim out to be loose, she was asking for it and they would not bring the same hostility on themselves.
Not only is bullying here to stay, bullying works. When the Catholic Church got up in arms over the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, the director, Ron Howard, decided to “tone down the controversial elements.” When the South Park creators were facing threats from Islamists for depicting Muhammad satirically, they heavily edited the content to appease them. Memoirs of fraternity alumni speculate that they couldn’t endure the pervasive bullying by their “brothers” without the very real expectation of inflicting that abuse on others in the very near future.
Bullying is as ugly as it is ubiquitous. It drives alienated teens to suicide and nations to war. We can’t solve with meaningless gestures like declaring a funeral for a racial slur, signing anti-bullying pledges, or otherwise boisterous, but ultimately meaningless gestures.
Jack Gayer writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.