A Portrait of the Bully
by Barbara Baptiste
A bully is a person who is cruel or threatening to another, usually to a smaller or weaker person. The practice of bullying is characterized by an imbalance of wielded power. There are three main forms which the ugly practice of bullying can take: Emotional, verbal, and physical—individually or collectively. There are bullies found in all walks of life and at all ages, but it is very common among school-age children and college students. The unfair, derisive tactics are never done in the open because the underlying intent is for manipulation, coercion, and power. Just the word bully invokes a negative connotation.
Too often, bullying is viewed with the age old sticks-and-stones mentality that was not true then, and certainly does not hold true in today’s world. While policies and preventive methods can be in place, it is of utmost importance for people to see with their mind’s eye the very real effects of bullying, from annoying to abusive, mentally and physically. Unfortunately–because it is, in essence, a covert action—people tend to turn a deaf ear and/or a blind eye. The problem is the ever-present human condition that would rather ignore a problem and not get involved instead of dealing the darkness of bullying by bringing it into the light. Zero tolerance policies produce limited results, but they do not address the cause, only the action. Leaders need to seriously listen when a complaint is expressed—even though, in that particular instance, there may be no physical harm–not simply dismiss the complaint. Next time could be far worse.
In the 1999 Columbine Massacre, two gifted students, who were bullied for years, entered the school and killed thirteen people, wounded twenty-four, and then committed suicide. This is the result of bullying in the extreme, but there are many damaging occurrences, nonetheless serious, that go undocumented and chalked up to [the excuse] kids will be kids. Bullying is not a new problem, but it has been exacerbated with the advent of the technological advancements of computers and cell phones that are in the possession of students across all age groups.
Today’s ease of instant communication facilitates the bullies of the world. No longer do they have to painstakingly plan where or how they can corner a helpless student once she or he is off school grounds. It has always been a deceitful practice, but today bullies can work from the privacy of their own home to torment his or her prey by cyber bullying. Some argue that this method is actually better; no one gets [physically] hurt. Once again, it is the sticks-and-stones school of thought. What is not realized is the fact that besides the serious psychological damage, the threat can escalate into the real world with bodily harm. This may also account for the pack mentality of bystanders who, 85% of the time, join forces with the bully in order to protect themselves from any retribution, doled out at a later time and place, if they attempt coming to the aid of the victim—a sad but true statistic.
So, how is this rising problem rectified? No one has had a clear-cut solution in the past and there does not appear to be an easy fix suggested today. It is difficult for schools to have control. When schools do try to intervene by disciplining the student for cyber bullying actions that took place off campus and outside of school hours, they are often sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student’s free speech right. Schools often lose the battle. In the legal arena, cyber bullying may rise to the level of a misdemeanor charge or juvenile delinquency. The cooperation of parents, teachers, and the school administration, in alliance with the local police, is of paramount importance. Bullies are, psychologically, cowards: therefore, just the threat of lost power is sometimes enough to curtail their activities.
Another emerging school of thought suggests getting to the root of the problem for the identified offenders may be effective. Also important, would be instituting a code of decorum and policies that are adhered to and dealt with in the open, not behind closed doors. The days of labeling a child a tattle-tale should be long gone. Perhaps a starting point would be instituting an organized committee that seriously listens to any and all complaints—both physical and cyber related—comprised of faculty members, parents, administrators, community representatives, and law enforcement agencies. I do believe that eventually there will be stringent laws in place with penalties for abusing the right to free speech via Cyber Space. Until that day, it is the responsibility of parents, teachers, and students to not be bystanders. Everyone concerned needs to be pro-active without fear of retribution. There is strength in numbers; therefore, collectively joining forces on all fronts—the actions and the causes—can begin to diffuse the power the bully holds dear. The bully is the coward behind the false bravado.
Rigby, K. (2012). Bullying in schools: Addressing desires, not only behaviors.
Educational Psychology Review, 24 (2), 339-348. Retrieved from