The reaction to these incidents has a good side and a bad side. The good side is that it has raised the issue among parents and teachers and the discussions are genuinely intent on trying to protect children from being psychologically and physically damaged by bullies.
The bad side is that it has rallied the troops to stamp out bullying altogether, to try to make it illegal for bullies to bully by making the consequences very, very harsh.
Indeed October was/is Bullying Prevention Month.
Why is this a bad side? Because trying to prevent or stamp out bullying is a futile exercise.
Bullies are a fact of life.
It is natural for children to explore their boundaries, and such exploration means that they will try to push those boundaries; to experiment with what they can and cannot get away with. One expression of that is bullying.
Trying to prevent your child from being bullied is like trying to prevent them from being lied to, having their heart broken or from fighting.
We’ll have as much luck stamping out bullying as we will heartbreak, sex and drugs.
They’re all part of growing up and each experience can develop a child’s moral character and capacities to cope with what adult life will throw at them.
When I was about 12 years old, while playing football with my friends, the ball got kicked out into the street. A group of bigger children took it and ran. We gave chase.
At a certain point the bigger children stopped running and turned to face us, and one of them, the biggest of the lot, turned to face me.
“Give us back our ball!” I demanded. “You want your (expletive) ball? Take this,” he responded, and he hurled a coconut he had picked up at me.
It hit me in the leg, and as he pretended to look for another missile to hurl my way, my friends and I turned and sulked away.
There was nothing we could do.
They were older and much bigger than we were, and they clearly had no problem in inflicting serious physical damage to us.
I always remember the sting of that injustice. I remember thinking how unfair that was, and it left an indelible impression on my character. I wanted desperately to be able to fight off such transgression and somewhere within me I knew I would stand up to such injustice whenever I could.
Almost everyone has been a victim of bullying or attempted bullying, and it’s because of such experiences we learn how and why to stand up for ourselves and for others when it occurs. We develop a passion to stand up against injustice.
The point is that the experience of being bullied builds character.
Its experience forges a sense of morality that does not come from any book or anything that our parents or teachers can say. Conversely, the bully also eventually learns a lesson, as most bullies do.
At some point their usual victims get bigger or enlist help, and they eventually become victim to their own practice. Sooner or later they learn the invaluable lesson of the Golden Rule.
So let’s keep bullying in perspective … and not waste our time trying to eradicate it, but rather on teaching our children how to deal with it.
Let’s set a more appropriate intention: Bully Preparation.
It’s not about preventing bullying, but rather about learning how to cope with bullies.
We will be able to prevent the most egregious aspects of bullying, and even reduce the frequency of it by simply preparing our young children for the likely encounter they will one day have with a bully.
It’s the conscious, directed discussion about bullying in all its forms that will give our children the capacities to identify bullies and be able to respond to them appropriately for the rest of their lives.
Our job is to make sure that their first bully encounter is an instructive and not a debilitating experience.
Their experience of being bullied may not only build the character required to prevent them from being bullies themselves—because they know what being bullied feels like—but also the courage to stand up for what’s right when innocent people are bullied by government, corporations, employers or abusive wives and husbands.
Instead of trying to stamp out bullying as a behaviour that shouldn’t exist — it does—let’s include the bullying discussion into our children’s educational curriculum and lay the groundwork for the development of the mental and spiritual kung fu skills they will need to stand up against the truly powerful bullies they will encounter in their adult life. Because bullies will always exist, and they are not isolated to playgrounds and college dorms.