Friday, October 7, 2016

Why Is Bullying So Difficult To Stop?

Why Is Bullying So Difficult To Stop

     Despite the signs hanging in each classroom declaring it a "Bully Free Zone," bullying continues. Why is eliminating bullying so difficult? Perhaps it is because it is so much a part of people. Bullying isn't limited to childhood.  Domestic violence and workplace manipulation are growing problems.  Is bullying innate or is it learned behavior?  Human beings are animals, no different from hens in a chicken coop who peck another hen to death at the first sign of blood; no different from dogs who bite and fight to be the alpha in the pack; and no different from chimps who work together to remove an alpha male from leadership.  Without the constraints of society, human beings stop using their intellectual capacity to solve problems and resort to dominate behavior.  Like other animals keeping peace in the group means that those who do not follow the norms of the group are brought into compliance one way or another. Those who seem different are often the victim of bullies.  As a result, eliminating behavior that is fired into our lower cortex is difficult.


     Further complicating the eradication of bullying, dominate behavior is exciting. Like the boys in William Golding's Lord of the Flies, following Ralph and Piggy by creating shelters and finding appropriate food seems considerably less romantic than hunting the beast with painted faces with the tyrannical bully, Jack.  Peer pressure and the excitement of aggressive behavior makes bullying and the bully capture the imagination of most people.  The poor victims like Piggy seem expendable to those caught up in tirade making eliminating the behavior difficult. Wanting to be accepted by a group forces many children into bullying behavior that they might avoid on their own.  Making civilized behavior seem more entertaining  than aggressive behavior is not easy.

    Bullying behavior is promoted by some families, some communities and by our society as a whole.  I well remember my aunt telling me if I didn't knock my cousin's block off, she would do it for me and knock mine off for not defending myself.  Using violence as a method of solving problems was taught in my childhood family and many communities.  Survival skills are necessary where authorities fail to protect citizens, so children are taught to use violence to solve interpersonal problems.  This often means the less dominate children will fall prey to the more violent children.  Teasing, belittling and establishing unfair competition between siblings or students models bullying behavior and increases its likelihood of being passed on from generation to generation. 

     Competition is another problem.   As a society, we insist that being the best at any price is important; thus we promote cheating for academic dominance and aggression on the sports field. Cheerleaders chant fight songs to promote more aggression and students are told that being number two is still losing.  Politicians blare insults and worse at opponents.  As a result, our society is sending our children a mixed message: we put signs on our classroom walls indicating that it is a bully free zone, while we promote those who behave the most aggressively.

     Since our society stresses competition over cooperation, bullying behavior is always going to exist.  Offering instruction on cooperative behavior and modeling it, can greatly decrease bullying. Not tolerating bullying behavior can also help.  The story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is a great example of what we need to strive to create.  Instead of competition, we, like King Arthur should be teaching and rewarding chivalry. Teaching good sportsmanship should be a priority in the classroom and the field of play.   Furthermore, practicing using  higher cognitive functions to solve problems without dominant behavior helps students recognize that they can choose how or if they react to a stimulus. Developing the emotional intelligence can help students make better decisions whether they are bullying others or the victim of bullying.  According to Daniel Coleman's book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, emotional intelligence can help a child be more successful than academic skills.  Perhaps someday, students will act with as much control as King Arthur who after finding his protege, Sir Lancelot lying with his wife Guinevere, he did not react with violence.  He was betrayed by his wife and his best friend, but chose to leave his sword and ride away.  Self control takes personal strength and is the key to prevent bullying.  To reduce bullying, teachers and parents need to teach students to cooperate with each other, to treat each other with respect and to use their intellect to react to stressful situations without resorting to dominate behavior.