For Tiffani – Rory Miller

This is that question Tiffany asked yesterday:

So… today in class we were having a discussion on bullying. Having been bullied as a child I made the comment that I was against it and stop it when I see it happening. A girl turned to me and said that bullying happens, its normal, and to toughen up because there is nothing wrong with it and it never goes away. While I agree it never goes away, I disagree that its normal and there are no adverse effects from bullying. Marc MacYoung and Rory Miller, I’m curious of your perspective on this. Is bullying harmless and how do you deal with a bully?

For the record, what to do about bullying is here.  Two lines in the second paragraph covers everything that works.

This isn’t as clear as we would like.
Part of it is the way Tiffani subtly reframed the questions.  If something never goes away, then it is the normal state.  It will take an act of will to create an unnatural state where this doesn’t happen.  And her arguer never said that there were no adverse effects.  Nor that bullying was harmless.

So, clearing up, there is no bad guy in this disagreement.

Is there “nothing wrong with bullying?”  There’s all kinds of things wrong with bullying.  Does anybody like to be bullied?  Barring certain personality disorders, I mean.  But there are some benefits.

Augustine, in “The City of God” was trying to explain why good things happen to bad people.  One of his arguments was that it is not the event that is bad.  Olives and olive leaves both go into the press.  The olives come out as pure, valuable oil and the leaves come out as mangled garbage.

Everyone has been bullied.  Everyone.  And the reactions to it are critical to who we become as an adult.  Tiffani didn’t like it and won’t let it happen for others.  Her reaction to bullying, whatever age it happened at, cemented one of her most admirable traits.  I went through a progression as a kid.  I would fiercely defend any of the littler kids on the playground, but it was years before I realized I had the same right to stand up for myself.  Then I went a little too far the other way, making a point that I could bully big strong people who liked bullying the small and weak.  In hindsight I can see I was just as bad, and felt fully justified because I only bullied bullies.  But I bullied them, I wasn’t merely assertive or just trying to get their behavior to stop.  I wanted them to feel what others had felt.

That’s still stronger than I like to admit in my psyche.

So, “toughen up.”  That’s actually good advice.  Discipline, strength (physical and mental), whatever it takes so that other people can’t control your emotions is a good thing.  And it is woefully hard to get tough or strong or brave or compassionate or even loving if those qualities are never challenged.

The most formative thing in high school for me was football.  My school was small. Graduating class of six.  My junior year, for the first time in almost a decade, they had enough boys to field a B-league (eight man) football team.  If I went out for it.  As a junior, I was almost the smallest kid in the school.  I didn’t break 5 foot tall or a hundred pounds until the summer before my senior year.  (I did basketball and track, too.  Really small school.)  It was a lot of pressure, but we had a team and I played.

And I learned more about human dynamics, and power plays and politics and bullying in that locker room than any academic could ever dream.  As did damn near every male (I have no idea how women’s team sports are) who has been through the same thing.  Most importantly I learned that size was not a tenth as important as the willingness to stand up.  And knocking people down was not as important as getting up yourself.  And stepping in to help others is noble, but expecting people to step in is stupid.

And there is a qualitative difference in every aspect of life between the men who have navigated that experience successfully and the ones who have not.  I see most of the anti-bullying industry as weak people who failed at overcoming it as children fantasizing about a solution from the distance of adulthood.

Sometimes I see anti-bullying causes as wanting to create a world where it is safe to be weak.  And I get that.  I like the idea of a safe world.  But I virulently despise the concept of a world of the weak.  The mild.  The insipid.  And that is one of the inevitable unintended consequences of making a world too safe.

Much of ‘good’ is unnatural.  It takes a sustained act of will.  It would take an enormous and coherent act of will to make bullying go away, and even then it will keep cropping up. But if we were to raise children in that perfect environment, would we make them incapable of dealing with adversity?  Would the weirdness of people who believe that hurt feelings are are more real than spilled blood, spread?  Would our society become a hothouse flower, beautiful but incapable of surviving without the charity of others?

If people never learn to stand up, they become dependent on others to stand up for them.  It’s personal, but dependency is one of my core sins.  It is the other half of slavery.

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