Bullying Others

(((Billy))) has a great post on his blog, that I hope you’ll read, concerning human’s inexplicable subconscious ability to revert to tribalism.  He noted that we seem to have a tendency to see people who are different than us as outside ourselves, which allows us to treat them and think of  them as less than us, i.e. less than human. At least, that’s what I got from his post.

I was reminded of his post today while watching CNN’s reporting on bullying this morning. For those who’ve missed it, a 15 year old girl in Massachusetts committed suicide back in January after being bullied repeatedly by classmates.  She was an emigre’ from Ireland, so presumably had an accent. She was picked on by her classmates over matters adults would consider innocuous, and after one incident, she went home and hung herself. Nine teenagers have been charged with various criminal complaints.

I’m no expert on this, but I can’t help but wonder if children are somehow subconsciously acting out this tribalism reflex that may or may not have been hard wired into us (e.g.. genetically, environmentally or socially).  Here you have a child who clearly is a little different than the rest of the students in her school, coming from a different country, with outward signs of difference (speech). Are they treating her as one of (((Billy’s)))) “others”? Can they help themselves?

I’m just wondering if anyone else sees this sense of tribalism behind the ability of unsophisticated, immature near-adults to gang together and pick on someone they subconsciously fear?  A couple of other questions come to me in this context:

  • What role do you think religion or superstition comes into play, if any?
  • Is there much difference between children bullying other children based on perceived differences, and supposedly rational adults demonizing homosexuals, in the process denying them basic human rights they would not deprive themselves of?
  • What role do you think education can have in fixing the problem?
  • Is humanism, however you define it, something that could play a role in the process?

Rather than spouting off with my own beliefs, I’d like to get a dialogue going.

Any takers?

add to del.icio.usDigg itStumble It!

13 thoughts on “Bullying Others

  1. Very tricky subject. Many variables, most pertain to simple human nature at a given moment. The venue is also important

    Religion/superstition has some things to play, especially as religionbelief system relates to a “norm” or persons of a certain religion are in a more dominant position socially. In my experience this needs to be “stoked” by a more prominent person or some authority figure more than just so-and-so getting “in your face” because one is catholic, another is not.
    (On more than one occasion I have been told, “What’s WRONG with you!!?? Why can’t you think like ME”??!!)

    The “demonizing” of gay persons, etc. also seems to be more of a “top down” or cultural thing. Also, the racial “other”.
    My observations of “rational adults” seems to indicate more of a reenforcement of “self”, and some other fear rather than a real, personal hatred. Doctrinal?
    Sort of, “I can hit you, but you can’t hit me back or you will suffer repercussions that are out of proportion to what you do” and it will be, if not sanctioned, possibly winked at.
    Also, perhaps it is a case of, “No matter how low I sink in this world I will never be_____” and a blow directed against “the other” is perhaps a blow directed against the more unsavory, insecure areas one sees in ones self? Weaknesses projected onto the “other”?

    The “education system” seems to have a vested interest in allowing such behavior. It is true that there are many “programs” and “policies”, but in the end it boils down to “take your lumps and forget it. We don’t have the time, and we don’t care, anyway”.
    When the bullied fight back they are invariably penalised far more stringently than the bully has ever been.
    Sort of like if an aardvark starts biting a lion. Out of the order of nature, not to be tolerated.
    (my father was a middle school teacher after he retired from the army, my mother was a school secretary, what they saw as students, themselves, and parents of students was, shall we say, challenged by what they experienced laboring in the educational system’s vinyards)
    You are in Pennsylvania like me, it is interesting to see who may lay their hands on another person, who may not, and what happens to those who defy the pecking order, from principal to the lowest “nerd”.

    I seriously doubt that “humanism” can do a thing about it. In my experience, the only way to combat it is for the bullied to counter attack with a ferocity and a weapon that will make him not worth the trouble.
    That’s experience speaking.

  2. What role do you think religion or superstition comes into play, if any?

    Most, if not all, religions are about distinguishing one group from another. In the case of the bullied girl, my guess is that cultural differences were at play more than religious ones – if any of the latter were at play at all. Of course, culture and religion often go hand-in-hand and it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between them. Also, high school kids are very cliquish: jocks and cheerleaders, band geeks, brainiacs, etc. Anyone who can’t find a clique to fit into leads, at best, a lonely life, or, far worse (as in this case), a bullied one.

    Is there much difference between children bullying other children based on perceived differences, and supposedly rational adults demonizing homosexuals, in the process denying them basic human rights they would not deprive themselves of?

    The only difference I see is range of influence – differences of degree, not kind. Both behaviors are manifestations of tribalism.

    What role do you think education can have in fixing the problem?

    Education can play a part, but culturally embedded and culturally saturated educational institutions need to take deliberate steps to recognize the tribalism within themselves before they can address it effectively. Schools have addressed tribalism with efforts at multiculturalism that often degenerate into little more than political correctness and, consequently, often don’t get taken seriously. Self-education is important too. We can’t just leave everything up to the public schools and then blame them when they fail: parents don’t teach their kids to drive properly, so we make schools responsible for driver ed.; parents don’t teach their kids about sex, so we make schools responsible for sex ed. Parents have to take responsibility for teaching their kids the many life lessons that are not available in school curricula. It’s a tough dilemma, though, because much of what parents teach their kids is stuff that leads to bullying in schools, at work, and in society.

    Is humanism, however you define it, something that could play a role in the process?

    It could be. And it should be. It’s a more progressive philosophy of life and society than most of the religions that have ruled the roost so far. Fundogelicals fear “secular humanism” and demonize it; they correctly perceive that humanist philosophy undercuts the tribalism and exceptionalism of their religion.

  3. Atheists


    you little liars do nothing but antagonize…

    and you try to eliminate all the dreams and hopes of humanity…

    but you LOST…



    Einstein puts the final nail in the coffin of atheism…



    atheists deny their own life element…



  4. Anytime you seem to be “outside the box” there is a risk of being picked on. This idea is timeless. The main question here is who should shoulder most of the blame? The school system or the parents of both the bullied and bullies? I see little written about this. If more parents parented, maybe more children would be less likely to become “Tribal”. Who knows, they may then start to see all their fellow humans as part of their Tribe.

  5. I’m just wondering if anyone else sees this sense of tribalism behind the ability of unsophisticated, immature near-adults to gang together and pick on someone they subconsciously fear?

    Oh, the irony! Most certainly!

    1. ‘Superstition’ is too vague a concept to really have meaning here, IMO. ‘Religion’ is applicable as is any other variable of identity: each serve as a hub for sameness.

    2. In the context I suspect you to be in, no, not much difference.

    3. I think ‘education’ is too late in the game. I’ll argue (tentatively) that the answer is to be found in parenting, and I suppose one could say that is a form of education, too.

    4. Insofar as it can function as a vehicle for tolerance, humanism could play a role, sure – but so could anything else that can function as a vehicle for tolerance.

  6. I went away to celebrate the resurrection of our lord, and left this behind, expecting to jump in and add my 2 cents at the back end. Thanks, everyone (except DMA), for your comments. I had hoped for more but you get what you get.

    Here’s my take on it.

    The whole differentiation of “others” that (((Billy))) discussed seems to me to have its roots in the fact that we humans arose as separate little civilizations on the same planet, relatively independent of each other. The Roman, Greek, Persian, Aztec, Mayan, African, etc. civilizations. Little native American tribes, Scandinavian seafarers, various Occidental, Oriental and Indian civilizations, all creating their own cultures. As separate groups, they all developed a distinct sense of themselves, as opposed to those not like them, always aware that outside their ever changing borders were people that they knew nothing about, and consequently feared.

    OK, that’s pretty obvious if you understood (((Billy))). Religion was just one way of keeping the group together, with an identity that was different than the outsiders, the others. There were other ways of doing this within the respective cultures, so don’t interpret me as singling out religion for castigation.

    But the problem with all this, using 21st century hindsight, is that there was never a recognition of the one thing everyone had in common – our humanity. It didn’t help that we all looked different, dressed different, spoke different, had different gods, ate different foods, etc. All of that emphasized our differences, rather than our commonalities. Thousands of years of this and it’s ingrained into our collective consciousness.

    So I think humanism is a good “ism” to follow if you are interested in getting rid of this irrational fear of others who are different. I think this bullying is a subconscious manifestation of this fear. Children who have not developed the brain capacity for truly critical thinking about the world around them, fall victim within their little insulated cultures to this fear, and not knowing any better, or not having sufficient guidance from those who do, they revert back to tribalism.

    So everything you all have mentioned – education, parental supervision, and to a certain extent, institutional supervision (as an extension of the individual family/parental structures) is the way to go.

    I further think that some of the tenets of humanism are a good place to start, especially if you want to effect changes across the board. If humans see all humans as having equal value, and their worldview/mindset is formed around that, it will be antithetical for them to see humans as both human and inhuman.

    Of course, this requires a multi-generational paradigm shift, at the very least. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Frankly, I don’t know how you convince all societies, so disparate as they are, to drop their entrenched prejudices about everyone else – “others” – and gladly revise their thinking. It may be impossible.

    But it is a goal, and the more people that realize it, the more people they can convince. As Chappie mentioned, though, religion, as a cultural phenomena, has outlived its usefulness, in so long as it continues to differentiate between the right religion and all others as wrong. It’s really antagonistic to humanism, and should be eliminated. Until it is, it will be an uphill battle to make these changes. Without it, the job will be a lot easier. Cl noted that we need a vehicle for tolerance. I don’t see religion filling that need. Historically, it has been a vehicle of intolerance, and it’s hard to see how that could ever change.

    Oh, and DMA? The rule of thumb is that anyone who has so little intelligence that he has to cut and paste an insipid, irrational comment from his own blog/Website, without giving it any thought, clearly has a teeny, tiny, near-microscopic penis.

  7. The same thing which benefits a society, threatens a society, namely us vs them thinking. Whether it be evolutionary or common sense, we’re all drawn to it. Do societies and even small groups exploit it? Sure. It’s easy. It’s so easy, in fact, that it makes me question whether fear is even necessary. Do you think those kids feared that girl in any way? I doubt it, but it’s fun to be a part of a group and win their affections so maybe you do something like help tease or bully a sad little girl. What’s the harm in that? Well, now we know.

    Education is important, but I see laziness at the heart of it as well. It’s easy to hate. It’s easy to vilify. It’s too tempting to win affection from a group by doing something wrong but simple. It’s easy to just say government is evil and vote for the clods who echo that rather than actually study the problems or the people involved. It’s easier to watch the news or listen to the people that tell you what you want to believe is true. Easy, easy, easy. Education alone can’t fix that.

  8. As one who has lived in foreign places, I have noticed that bullying because of ethnic/national seems to come past a certain point in age.

    My youngest son went to the German city kindergarten in Nurnberg. There were squabbles over who wanted what, but it had nothing to do with the cultural/ethnic makeup of the kids. This kid wanted “that”, usual squabbles. And there were kids from the US (my son) Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, India, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, just that I can think of. Different cultures, religions, even very bad history between nationalities, but that was irrelevant to them.

    He is now stationed in Sicily and sends his sons to the local Italian rather than the DoD school, as he remembers his good experiences.
    I asked, and he has told me that neither of my grandsons has experienced any problems that way in school, either, and they are mixed race. Their African heritage is evident, especially in the oldest. The Italian kids were somewhat curious at first, but then it was, “let’s play” and that was it.

    I have mixed-race cousins (Korean, Chinese, Japanese mothers) who have told me that they DID experience bullying because of their racial background, but it came well into grade school. Being chased home by a bunch of kids chanting, “Jap” and/or “Half-breed” is one of their childhood memories. Weeping in their rooms. Feeling helpless, unworthy, powerless. Not worth any trouble to help. And this didn’t only come from Caucasian kids, either. It was a “top down” phenomenon, they say.

    Adults simply shrugged. Kid shit.

    It really seems to me, though, that there is often no real cause other than a righteous outrage on the part of the bully that such a creature as the bullied should dare to breath the same air, walk on the same earth.
    This is intolerable, not to be born, and so they simply lash out.
    The bullied don’t DO anything, they just ARE.

    And then, it simply becomes recreation for the bully.

    • Well, we tend to say, at that age, “It’s just kids being kids”, but WHY are kids like that. Not all kids are. In fact, probably a minority actually get to the level of bullying, as opposed to, say, cliquish behavior, which is just gravitating towards groups you’re welcome in.

      That’s just making excuses. My experience is that kids who are bullies grow up as bigoted adults. In effect, adult bullies, with the constraints of the law placed on them that kids don’t feel on the playground (though it looks like this case in Massachusetts is trying to make an example of those kids to send a message to others). The key is to nip it in the bud.

  9. Just about everything a child comes up against is regulated by force. School included, perhaps especially school.

    When I “lashed back” and “behaved like a little beast” because I had enough of such treatment, I learned that the adult world was full of shit. I’m 63 now, and I haven’t seen much to change that viewpoint since that day when I was still eight years old.

    Because of what I’d done, an MP officer came in and screamed at and threatened me. This gentleman told me that “fighting never solves anything”, “all violence is wrong”, and “no one evr has ANY excuse for using a weapon, no matter WHAT is going on”.

    Now, I’m on a military base in a conquered country, I am on the outskirts of a city that was bombed flat, can even see some of the ruins from the window in the room I stood in, and the man saying this has a pistol hanging on one hip and a horse cock hanging on the other.

    But, my father told me that when Jhoon Rhee started openning his studios in the Washington area, he had advised some of the “targets” to avail themselves of that gentleman’s instruction. Such an urging was looked at with disapproval by The Administration. Resistance caused “disorder” (NEVER to be tolerated), and besides, the bullies would take out their aggression in other ways which would be worse.

    Plus, the “unofficial” view was that it was a sort of culling of the herd, and if “a few weak sisters take the gas pipe” it wasn’t really anything to get worked up about. Just crazy kids.

    One has read about a recent prom where several students who violated a dress code were offered a choice between suspension and a “paddling”.

    Why a physical assault (by officialdom)upon a legal adult which may not be resisted without penalty? Pretty much the same mentality.

    Most people in authority understand bullying very well, and they have sympathy with it because they ARE bullies themselves. They’ve just refined the process.

Comments are closed.