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'.