Sunday, June 30, 2013

Bullying

       As a people, Americans tend to be aggressive. This aggression can take many forms, and it permeates our society from the top down. Since I have little experience as a venture capitalist, I will scale down to a micro level and talk about our schools, a topic I have slightly more experience with. 

Aggressive behavior is commonplace in our schools. News stories and government initiatives targeting 'bullying" make the rounds once or twice a year. The solution most often offered is to is impose stricter punishments on 'bullies". I will admit that something should be done to prevent children from being verbally and physically abused by their peers, but I don't believe that enacting stricter punishments will stop these instances of abuse. It's similar to increasing jail time for certain crimes. This punishes people that transgress against the law, but it doesn't actually lower than instances of crime. 

I think we need to look at the problem of bullying from a personal level. First lets define bully. I consider it to be anyone who uses aggression as a tool to have their needs met.  Money, material goods or peer recognition are examples of a bully's needs. This aggression can be verbal or physical. I consider the main attribute of a bully to be this aggression. 

Here is where we run into trouble. Few children self-identify as bullies. The reason for this, as I see it, is that our society allows for several labels to be applied to people who exhibit aggressive behavior, both positive and negative. Nowhere is this more evident than in our media, namely movies and video games. In the stories we tell ourselves, 'bad guys' exhibit aggressive behavior, but so do our 'good guys'. A common theme used in movies and television is the quirky sidekick who absorbs verbal and physical aggression from the protagonist. Because our society views aggression as being both positive and negative, many children I have dealt with view their own aggression as positive, or justified, even if it is obviously not. 

Even if they are brought before a councilor or a group of their peers to have their actions laid before them, they will often not accept that their behavior was that of a bully. Humans do not like to place negative labels on themselves. If, by chance, a human does apply a negative label to themselves, they often refuse to accept the legitimacy of the society from which the label came. An example would be a criminal, who self identifies as a criminal, and has a kind of pride in that label. In this case the individual will most likely continue the aberrant behavior, and we are no better off. So, labeling people doesn't work. I believe we have another option, but it will require a radical shift in perspective. 

Here it is. All aggression is negative. All aggression is bad. Now, I'm sure were I having a conversation with individuals, I would start getting a large number of 'what if' questions that would put these assertions to the test. 

What if my girl friend is being beaten by five men in an alley? Should I non-aggressively ask them to stop?

No. The obvious answer is that there are times when aggression is justified, and even needed, but it is always a negative experience. It is always a bad thing, and should be avoided at all costs. Most children don't understand this. Hell, there's a large percentage of adults who don't understand this, as can be witnessed by going to a local club, pub or bar. I believe that if we want to see a drop in the aggressive behavior, then we need to characterize that behavior as negative and undesirable, regardless of the justifications. 

Self-defense can still play a roll in keeping our children safe, as long as it is truly self-defense. I have seen many instances of children attacking their peers and claiming that they were defending themselves, even if they were striking someone who was running away. True self-defense involves extracting yourself from dangerous situations before they become a problem, sometimes at the expense of your ego. Physical violence in a self-defense situation should be almost unheard of.

An individual who beats someone, or uses verbal aggression to belittle another person shouldn't be lauded as a hero regardless of the situation. A person who uses aggression to resolve a conflict, justifiably so or not, should receive no more glory than someone who mops up the floor. The behavior should be demonized, not the individual. This is a radical statement, and I'lll accept criticisms of it, but I do think that this shift in values will lead to fewer instances of 'bullying'.

Thoughts?

7 comments:

  1. I feel like part of the problem is almost a lack of aggression, where people have become accustom to being passive and complacent, and aggression is seen as always bad. The irony seems to be that it creates a scenario wher, a couple aggressive people can essentially bully their way to take change within a particular circle: bully people so trained not to be passive and complacent that they are like deer in the headlights.

    I think you're right in your last paragraph, but I think there is a disconnect between the fantasy world of movies and comics where an anti-hero might be almost universally admired, and the real world where most people will avoid agression and confrontation to a fault, and get together to form committees or passive-aggressively ostracize a bully, or maybe form a committee to formally complain.

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    1. I see where you're coming from, and I agree that being passive in a situation where someone else is aggressively abusing you does little good. But I don't think the answer is to be aggressive yourself. Rather I think the situation calls for an assertive, powerful individual.

      The difference between being aggressive and assertive, as I see it, is this. Aggressive behavior seeks to bend another being to one's will through some form of violence. Assertive behavior seeks to gain sovereignty over one's own self and remain unmolested. An assertive human being may be forced to use physical violence if an aggressive person attacks them, but they will use it only to remain unmolested and sovereign, not to dominate the aggressive individual. Too often, dealing with a 'bully', especially in pop culture, is equated with using aggressive behavior.

      I completely agree that there is a large gap reality gap between the media's portrayal of a hyper-violent hero, and the structural ostracizing of a 'bully' (have I mentioned that I hate that word?). As stated, the public shaming and punishment of individuals do little to change the behavior. However, I cannot endorse the use of aggression toward 'bullies'. That is the solution most fathers propose to their sons, and I believe it has done more harm than good. I think we need to change what we blame for the problem.

      Right now we blame children who have been taught by their society to be aggressive. I believe it may be more useful to focus on aggression itself.

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  3. It seems to me that aggression is often an emotional output that derives from something else that is trying to be, or could be expressed, but that may not have such a readily available outlet. On an individual basis, pinpointing what that other emotional need is could be very useful.

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    1. Can you give an example of that Alycia?

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    2. Someone who is “bullying”, for example, might be motivated by a desire for attention or recognition. If they feel alienated, however, expressing that desire in a positive way might be very difficult. Someone who responds with unnecessary aggression to an aggressive act might do so out of a feeling of wounded pride. I agree that the problem is aggressive behavior, and that it should never be considered a positive thing. Pinpointing the underlying motivation that leads to an aggressive act might also help individuals see what they could specifically do differently.

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