Can We Talk About Bullying?

Image result for bullying

Bullying is one of those things that when it happens to the degree that a bullying incident goes viral, people are quick to comment, and rightfully condemn the act.  But when the judgement is done.  When the venting is done.  What has changed?  Maybe a policy here or there?  I don’t want to minimize that.  I’m appreciative of efforts to put a stop to bullying.  However, like many issues, when the next story hits, bullying recedes to the background. 

What is inspiring me to write this today is  not long ago I had the opportunity to observe a martial arts class at Tiger Schulmann’s Martial Arts as part of a web show I am hosting called Destination EB.  I was looking forward to the training aspects of the episode as I had studied Tae Kwon Do in college.  I was pleasantly surprised when I heard Sensei Andrew Katz incorporate confidence and self-defense against bullying into his teaching.  These are worthwhile messages for boys and girls to learn.

Around the time of the filming, there was an anti bullying commercial/PSA from Burger King that had gone viral.   It’s a good one and worth watching if you haven’t seen it.  In the commercial, the bullying is done by actors, but the “spectators” don’t know this.  In the ad, a high school junior and some hamburgers get bullied.  To our collective shame, 95 percent of the customers reported their damaged burger, while only 12 percent came to the high school junior’s aid.

That sounds really bad, and it is, but the truth is humans can have a predictable reaction when it comes to potentially dangerous, or simply situations where they don’t know what to do.  They can freeze.  Observing a bullying situation, psychology may trigger the fight or flight response, and in this particular situation, the safe thing may be to do nothing.

  • What do I do?
  • What if the bullies start verbally assaulting me?
  • What if it leads to a fist fight?
  • What if they’re a minor and they attack me and I hit them in self-defense and am accused of using too much force?
  • What if they have a weapon?

These are just an example of a handful of questions that may consciously or unconsciously race through a person’s mind, when witnessing bullying, that can paralyze an otherwise good person from taking action.

In clinical groups that I lead I have often said the worst time to prepare for an earthquake is in an earthquake.  I think that message applies to anti-bullying.  If we want to lower that 95% number we have to arm people with information.  The “see something, say something” of the Burger King PSA is a simple message.  It is a start.  But the conversation needs to continue.  More scenarios need to be thought and talked through with what is and is not an acceptable response.

For example, I recently was certified in CPR/First Aid for the first time in over ten years.  First thing the instructor does when I tell him when I was last certified is, he spreads his arms as wide as he could and said, ten years ago I could teach you this much.  He then narrows his arms to where his hands are practically touching, and says now I can teach you this much.  Why?  Because when good Samaritans make mistakes or are overly aggressive, bad things can happen.  People can get hurt or die, and well intended people, who were trying to help, can get sued.

That last sentence could just as easily apply to a good Samaritan responding to a bully.  It is not offered as an excuse to do nothing, rather as reason why some may not.

The dialogue and education have to continue as to how to appropriately intervene AND follow-up.  Follow up, (by the parents, guardians, teachers, etc.) is extremely important.  Otherwise, you can unintentionally make a bad situation worse.  How?  Bullies don’t like getting in trouble.  When they do, they may blame their intended victim, and intensify the bullying behavior the next chance they get.  This includes threats to the victim to keep quiet or else.  If the victim doesn’t trust whoever is in authority to adequately deal with the bully, then the victim will stay quiet.

What the bully and the victim have in common is the ability to put on a good front.  Parents, teachers etc., must be diligent to see through it and follow-up even if there isn’t any evidence on the surface.

The victim needs to feel safe.  The bully needs to be held accountable for his behavior.  Both need to be educated in their own way moving forward or each will face emotional and psychological ramifications effecting present and future relationships.  But we can’t educate either until we educate ourselves.

Here are some links to learn more:


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