Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Inner Bully

“Why aren’t you more careful?”

“You’re an idiot.”

"You’re such a loser.”

I got bullied the other day at work. You would think that someone with my background wouldn’t have a problem with bullies.  People often joke with me when they find out I have multiple black belts with comments like, “Note to self, be nice to Richard.”  Yes, somebody actually said that.

But, the person that bullied me was just as accomplished as me in the martial arts.  In fact, he has taken the very same classes as me.  He holds the same rank and is in every way my equal.  You guessed it, the bully was me and I was the target.  The bully was my inner bully.  There are other names for this person such as “the critical voice” or “inner parent”.  But the commonality amongst them is a complete intolerance for my being human and showing human weaknesses.  This is true, to a greater or lesser extent, in all of us.

One day a few weeks ago, I was tasked with several high priority assignments that I knew nothing about prior to coming in to work that day.  With very little preparation, I began to work on the tasks in order of importance.  But, I began to run up against a time limit.  I had to leave work early in order to pick up my son from school.  I had prearranged this with my supervisor, who is sensitive to my family commitments.  I worked faster, put more pressure on myself and then I began to cut corners.  I failed to have a document proofread prior to sending it out.  In my haste I did not see some very glaring errors.  I was quickly made aware of the mistakes by some understanding colleagues.  Retractions and corrections were made and there was very little problem in the company except inside my own head.

I began to beat myself up for my mistakes and honestly suffered a mild depression for about two days.  Eventually, I got mad at my inner bully, put him back in his place and got on with my life.  It was then that I had an epiphany.

I have often read comments attached to news articles on the web about the young people that commit bullycide (suicide in response to extreme bullying) to the effect that the target was weak and probably would have found some other reason to do something to themselves if it wasn’t for the bully.  I didn’t want to believe these rather heartless commenters until I realized that they were almost right.

It isn’t the bully that kills these children.  They, figuratively speaking, provide the gun.  But, it is the inner bully that pulls the trigger.  When children are in their teen years they become increasingly outer directed, especially with their peers.  They are no longer as interested in what Mom and Dad say.  After all, they love me because they are too stupid to know what I am really like.  To most of us, this is just a passing phase that we grow through.

But, to those children who are absolutely outer directed, who need the opinions of others in order to create any kind of a self image, negative input will be mulled over thousands and thousands of times until that is the only voice they hear.  If the comments from their peers are extremely negative or if there is a threat of violence against which the target feels defenseless, the inner bully will drone on until nothing is left of their self-esteem or self-respect and they ultimately feel they are doing the world a favor by removing their presence from it.

Let’s not be mistaken, this is the devil’s voice (or something analogous to it) that these children are hearing.  It speaks incessantly and will drive anyone who listens to it insane.  Couple this with the fact that bullies can reach their targets even at home through the use of cyberbullying , it is no wonder that teen suicide seems to reaching epidemic proportions.

The only way to combat this negative din is with a positive message of love, understanding and positive reinforcement.  Once again, it is the responsibility of the adults in each child’s life to be aware about what is going on in their world.  We cannot sit idly by if we know that a child is taking everything they hear about them directly to heart.

If you know someone that is in depression, thinking about committing suicide, or is in the midst of doing it; these are the two things you should say to them:
  •  We will get through this together.
  • You are needed right here, right now.
The first statement tells them they are not alone.  That at the very least they have you to depend upon.  The second tells them that they have a purpose in this world and that they need to fulfill that purpose.  It also tells them that they are loved by others and those others need them.

Only with the power of consistent, powerful and loving actions for all these children (bullies, targets and bystanders) can we hope to begin to counteract this deadly disease.  We are responsible to be the role models that children look up to.  We must be a shining example so that they can see us and know that the world can get better.  That there is hope, that we are that hope and that they are that hope too.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why Do They Always Pick On Me?

“Why do they always pick on me?  You’d think I had a big target painted on my T-shirt,” is the cry of many a bullied child.
Unfortunately, the truth is, they do.  I know that this is going to be a very sore subject with some people and surely anything that the target does to attract a bully, either overtly or subliminally, is no license to be treated the way bullies treat their targets.  But, targets sometimes have overt or subliminal actions that to a bully are like catnip to your favorite feline.  It is our job as parents, teachers, coaches and adults to point those things out and help the target change them if it is at all possible.

So, what are these things that so inflame the bully to the point of being completely incapable of restraining himself?  Here are some subjective observations for your inspection:
  1. Looking down – I had to correct my son on this just today.  A person that is looking down at the ground while they are walking conveys to the bully two things 1) This person is not confident;  2) This person has no trust in their balance and therefore must look at the ground constantly for reassurance that it is still there;  3) is so lost within him/herself they are not aware of what is going on around them.  By looking down the target supplies the perfect opportunity for the bully to come out of nowhere and surprise the target.  Once flustered the target is easy picking for the bully.
  2. Slovenly grooming habits – Two of the targets that I saw harassed in elementary school and high school had this trait.  Their hair was often not washed and not combed.  They had a propensity to scratch or pick at different parts of their bodies that are not usually socially acceptable and their clothes were often not clean.  This trait tells the bully that the target is either too stupid to care for themselves or do not care enough about themselves to maintain a presentable appearance.  The latter means to the bully that the target is less likely to fight back they don’t care what happens to them.  Just what they are looking for.
  3. Socially inept – Interestingly, this is a trait that the bully often shares with the target.  However, if the target has this trait, it means that they will probably not have strong social alliances and will most often be alone.  Couple this with the previous trait and you can almost bet that the target will be alone and have no one to help defend them.  Even though most bullies cannot trust the friends that they hang with because of their social ineptness, they rule by fear and their subordinates are often just relieved that they are not the bully’s target.
  4. Too clean or have a high fashion sense – I know what you are thinking, “He just said in number two it was slovenly habits that attract the bully.”  Don’t worry there is one dominant thing that the bully looks for that will tie this all together.  If the target is a boy and displays this trait he will often be looked at by the bully as “gay”.  To the bully’s feeble logic this is a no-brainer and to the bully a gay boy either will not or cannot defend himself.  If the target is a girl, then the bully will think that she is full of herself, thinks she is better than everyone else and might take the bully’s man.  Since the target is viewed as a girly-girl then she probably won’t fight back and the bully has license to harass.
  5. Not from around these parts – Another country, state, city or school doesn’t matter to the bully.  The new kid on the block is looked at as an invasive threat to the status quo and the bully wants to protect that at nearly any cost.  If anything changes with the way things are, then the bully might be left out in the cold and they will no longer be the top dog.
  6. Overweight – Tied in with second trait.  The overweight person is seen as an easy target because being overweight is often seen as not caring about their appearance and will be so out of shape as to pose little threat to the often physically fit bully.
  7. Too smart – Usually the bullies are not the sharpest knives in the drawer and to their thinking it is much easier to bring the good student down to their level than it is for them to study and raise their grades up to the smart student’s level.  Also the typical “A” student is not seen as a physical threat to the bully and is therefore an easy target.
These are just some of the traits that bullies look for in their targets.  With some of them something can be done to make the target less of a target and in some of them little can or should be done to change the target.  I said in fourth point that there is one underlying dominant theme to the bully’s behavior.  All of these traits set the target apart from the general population.  They make them different.

To the bully being different is the same as being sub human.  The bully only sees equality in viciousness, brutality and pain.  They only respect those that can and will stand up to them.  They see any type of submissive behavior as a weakness not to be tolerated.  We can overcome this attitude with a strength that the bully cannot overcome, the strength of numbers.  A strength where the silent majority stands up for the differences in all of us and tells those that would bully that their behavior will no longer be tolerated.  The bystanders have been silent for too long.  It is time for them to show the bullies true strength.

Friday, August 6, 2010


“Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” was above the gates of Hell in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno. Written in the 14th century the words hold true even today. Hope is the state of being that allows us to continue with our lives, to expect that our lives will be better than they are. Without hope we find very little reason to continue our existence and it is the absence of hope that robs every suicidal person of their life.

Bullies hate hope and they want us to enter the gates of Hell with them. So they crush it. In order to fulfill their childish dreams of control and dominance they suck the very life blood that keeps us all going, hope.

Listed below are 21 names of children with whom the bullies succeeded. Each one of them was killed by a bully. But, the bullies didn’t do it by themselves. No, they had the co-operation of each and every one of these children, because they killed themselves.

Now, I don’t want to diminish the responsibility of the bullies in this matter. The taking of each and every one of these lives was done by the bullies’ hand just as surely as if they had manipulated the rope, gun or pill. The weapon that they used was deception to make the target feel there was no hope.

Children who are being victimized by a bully tend to internalize the stress they are enduring. They do not want their parents or others to know what is happening to them. Add to that the promises of retribution that the bully uses to ensure his safety from the target and what we have is an isolated child that is left alone in their suffering.

Being a child with a limited perspective on life makes the situation seems hopeless and there is no sign to them that this will ever end. Do you remember how long the days, weeks, month and years seemed when you were a child? Your limited perspective on the passage of time made everything drag on. As you got older everything began to move at a faster pace. To the point that if you are like me you wish things would slow down just a bit. Also, as we get older, we begin to see the outcomes of the experiences of our lives. We see that every situation has an ending and that sometimes if all else fails, all we have to do to resolve it is to endure and get through it.

But, children do not have this option. They have survived very little in their short lives and it takes experience and determination to “tough out” bully. And it takes hope.

Hope is the key to saving our children’s lives. We must find ways to communicate with them even if they don’t want to. We must give them the benefit of our wisdom and experience even if they won’t listen. They must know that we are there to protect them. To do what it takes even if it means fighting the bullies, the schools and the courts. We must lead by example so that when they are older they can lead. Most of all we must give them HOPE.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Who is the Bully?

Who is the bully? I’ll tell you who the bully is. I AM! I took over this blog from Richy Rich. I call him that because he ain’t so tough. He says he’s a black belt, but I think he got it from Walmart. A couple of punches from me and he rolled over like a tootsie roll. He just doesn’t have what it takes. Ya wanna know the biggest difference between him and me? I enjoy hurting people.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was little I was the one getting bullied. Sometimes my mom’s boyfriend bullied me or I saw him bully my mom. He scared me and I didn’t feel like I could do anything about it. It was rough growing up as a kid, but I learned. I saw that the weak don’t get anything. You have to take what you want and you have hurt them to get their attention.

When I hit middle school it became easier because I started to grow. Pretty soon I was bigger than all the other kids my age. I knew they were afraid of me. I had seen fear in my mom’s eyes enough to tell that. And they looked up to me. A couple of the other kids started hanging around with me and they were telling me how cool I was. They liked it when I picked on some dweeb. You know what? So did I.

There is nothing like taking some little dirtball by the throat and making him beg you to take his money. When I have them where I want them I feel like nothing can stop me. It really wasn’t about the money. It was the power. The power to make someone do what I wanted them to, knowing they couldn’t do a thing about it. Some people think it’s the fear I crave. It’s not that. It’s the respect. No, the worship that gets me going. It’s all the same thing anyway.

And the stuff I got! I have an iPod, iPhone, fifty bucks I collected from the dweebs and all the good food I want. Life is good. Hey, if it wasn’t me it’d be somebody else. You gotta do unto others first or else somebody will do unto you. Just let anybody try and take it away from me.

That stupid principal thinks I’m an angel. It’s the same with my teachers. I’m too smart for them. I know where they are every minute of every day. I know where all the surveillance cameras are too. That way I can do my business without getting caught. Every time I see them it’s, “Hello, Mister Williams. How ya doin’ Miss Campbell?” When I say it, I think I’m going to choke on the words. They’re such jerks, but I gotta do it cause my grades aren’t the best. It’s not that I’m not smart, cause I am. It’s just all those little dweebs that mess with the bell curve. So, I mess with them. They know not to get better grades than me in my classes.

My buddies and me got some big plans too. The parents of some of my little marks have sheds in their back yards and they only have a padlock between me and what’s inside. I know they got some nice stuff like tools that I can sell real easy. Not only that, but some big timers want me to start selling some of their goods on campus. They’re not exactly legal and some kids could get hurt or sick. But, what do I care? They’re just a means to an end for me. That’s all anybody is. Ya ain’t got nothin’ in this world but yourself.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Whatever shall we do with the Bully?

We have all heard the story of Phoebe Prince in Hadley Massachusetts. I have discussed this case in the two previous posts. After reviewing several comments that followed the news articles it is apparent that people are outraged by what happened to this poor girl. As well they should be. However, many of these posts are almost literally calling for the blood of the six teenagers that are charged with bullying Phoebe. What pains me in this situation is that there are no winners. Certainly Phoebe’s life is gone forever and the six teens charged with bullying her are looking forward to a very difficult life.

So, I wasn’t surprised today to find out that Austin Renaud, one of the boys charged with the statutory rape of Phoebe, was arrested on Sunday morning (April 19) for drunk driving. Obviously, this boy is troubled. Perhaps by his treatment of Phoebe or perhaps there is some other demon that is haunting him. Who knows? One thing is clear; this young man’s life is very close to being ruined, as are the lives of the other teens involved. And this is not unusual. According to a survey funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), “bullies were more likely to be involved in other problem behaviors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, and to do more poorly academically”.

But let’s put all these bullies away. Let’s make a law so that other bullies don’t do this to someone else. They are only getting what is coming to them. But, I tell you this, no one that is this young has this much trouble coming to them. All of these teens should be enjoying their final days of High School, not defending themselves in a court of law.

The fault lies in all of us. The adults. We are so willing to make a law after the fact, but unwilling to step in when it is really necessary and stop these children from making such dreadful mistakes before someone gets hurt. The fault lies in a school system that didn’t protect these kids and teach them other ways to solve problems. The fault lies in parents that did not school their children in morality and proper conduct. The fault lies in not-so-innocent bystanders that allowed this bullying to go on without stepping up to the bullies and tell them that this sort of behavior is inappropriate and will not be tolerated. The fault lies in an age where access is given to the most intimate of electronic devices (computers & cell phones) without teaching the users the proper method and etiquette that should be maintained. The fault lies in churches that are so insistent on becoming imbedded in our political system that they ignore the moral obligations before them to teach these children that the greatest love all is to recognize the divinity that resides in each one of us.

We are the ones that have failed because all these children did is to show that left untended we humans will sink down to our lowest common denominator. Without a nurturing guidance from the adults present none of us would have developed a conscience and understood that no one person is better than another. No one deserves to be treated like an animal. No one deserves to be hounded incessantly day and night until the only way to silence the cacophony is to take your own life.

We must start now to change things for the all the children. The bullies, the targets and the bystanders. We must teach them that to attain real power is to be in service to our fellow humans, to love diversity and to accept those that are different from us. Whatever shall we do with the bully? Why can’t we love and nurture them before they become bullies and victims?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

When the Target Becomes the Bully

When I first moved to California in 1990 I continued the study of Aikido that I had started in Arizona. I followed my sensei for almost ten years. One of the phrases that he was fond of using was, “You don’t want to become your attacker.”

I was quite a bit older when I realized what that meant. If, when you are attacked, you respond in a manner so "over the top" you end up doing more damage to your attacker than they had intended to do to you, then you become no better than they are. There is a fine line between defending yourself and beating the snot out of somebody because they had the temerity to threaten you.

I have been watching the posts about Phoebe Prince and a great many of them think that what was needed was to give the bullies a good whipping. If that is done then the bullies will leave you alone. Here is an example of the kind of rhetoric that is so often easily spuged out on a web page;

“The best way to stop a bully is catch that person alone and beat that person till they almost dead then let the bully know any thing else happen to the person that they are working on, the next time you catch him alone it will worst. A bully is usually a coward unless they have a group with them. Now the next thing you need to do is find out where the teacher live and visit their home late at night with a few rock thur the window with note asking them move. You really dont need this type of teacher for your school.”

Great advice, the bully goes to the hospital and the target goes to jail for assault and terrorizing the teacher. No one wins. Three lives are ruined or at least in tatters. A sort of tensioned peace will fall on those in the area but no one ever feels really good after something like this.

In Skidmore, Missouri the townsfolk had enough of the bullying of Ken McElroy. He had been charged with serious crimes over 22 times and had never been convicted. He raped, stole and assaulted with impunity. Finally on July 10, 1981 the town had enough. They surrounded McElroy’s car and two shots rang out from two different weapons. The bully was dead. No one could ever get the townspeople to tell who the murderers were. The town was now free of their bully, but according to several books written about the situation the town was never the same again and it hadn’t changed for the better.

Sometimes the target is just not capable of defending himself or simply does not want to hurt another human being. In the first case, the target will receive a stronger beating than if they had done nothing. In the second, the target now finds that she will have a very hard time living with herself.

I have studied martial arts for over twenty years now and I have seen some people that can take care of themselves very handily. I have also seen people, some of them ranking black belts that would be lost if they were confronted with a real situation.

Confronting the bully sounds good on paper, but the reality is that it is risky at best and could be devastating to all parties at its worst. If the bully resorts to violence then the target should do whatever is necessary to neutralize the attack and then get out of the area. No more, no less. But, the best situation is to not fight at all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Bully Pulpit

It has been a long time since I made a comprehensive post on this blog, over a year as a matter of fact. I think that the analysis we had been doing was a little too clinical and dry. The time has come to rededicate this site to a subject that still has the resolution of conflict at its heart but is much more emotionally charged, for me at least. That subject is bullying. There are two recent events that have caused me to take up this gauntlet.

The first is the story of Phoebe Prince in Hadley, Massachusetts. According to the reports, this 15 year old girl was subjected to such bullying and harassment that she felt the only way to end the torture was to end her life. She was found by her younger sister hanging in the stairwell of their apartment.
I have seen many of the comments that have been posted to her story and some of them sicken me. Here is an example;

"That's so stupied.If that girl could not handle some bullying at school,then she can not handle life.She didn't kill herself cause of bullying.Something was proabalby going on at home as well.And how could she of been raped?What is a young girl like that doing dating anyway?Where were her parents?Her parents are that one to blame for this not bullying students."

And so eloquent too. Thankfully, these do not represent the vast majority of the posts. But the fact that they exist at all is troubling. The ones that vilify the bullies are nearly as bad because they don’t take into account what led them to make such bad choices in the first place and why they thought they were justified to take the actions they did with little regard or forethought to the consequences to themselves or their target.

The second event concerned a student in a martial arts class that I help instruct. He was being bullied at his school and he didn’t want to use his training because he didn’t want to hurt the bully, he was afraid he’d get in trouble and he was just dumbfounded that anyone could act that way. Similar situations have happened to my own son.

From now on, this blog will be dedicated to erasing bullies from our landscape. We will explore the options available to us and examine the motivations and causes for this behavior on the part of the bully, the target and the bystander. We will begin stand up, organize and mobilize ourselves into a group that will peacefully confront this growing problem for everyone.

Let me say this now, I have been bullied, I have stood up to bullies, I have stood by quietly and done nothing and I have been called a bully. I haven’t taken any of these roles to a great extent and bullying has not been a major trauma in my life. But, the story of Phoebe Prince, my student and so many others I have read about since I started researching this have affected me so deeply that I must do something. This blog is only the beginning.