Bullies… then and now

Minnesota Matron has me thinking about bullies — her super-talented daughter is in a production of Mean.

Hubby was an odd kid, perpetually the new kid in class who said what he thought and had a “weird” way about him.  He was small for his age and way too smart. He was the target of boy bullies in every school he attended.  The thing about boy bullies is that they were pretty up-front about it, they got physical and did it directly to your face.

I was an odd girl, the tall girl who looked like a woman in 6th grade.  I was kinda weird, had curly hair when everyone else wanted to be Farrah Fawcett and I was kinda smart but quiet.  I spent my whole K-12 time with the same bunch of girl bullies.

The thing about girl bullies is that they’re sneaky and much meaner than boy bullies.  They’ll do things like steal your underwear when you’re in the shower mandated by the gym teacher, or make up tall tales about you while smiling to your face.  Rarely do they do anything directly physical, so the hurt they cause is much longer lasting.

I’d like to think that kids now have more tools to deal with bullies than when we were kids.  I’d also like to think that kids simply didn’t do the kinds of mean things to one another than my generation dreamed up — but, sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case.

As a kid, I couldn’t even conceive of the fact that adults can be bullies too.  They’ve learned that they’re not permitted to poke you with a sharp pencil on the way back to their seat in math, so they employ tactics more like girl bullies than boy bullies.  The nice thing about being an adult is that, hopefully, adults have more tools to deal with bullies.

I’ve had my share of encounters with adult bullies.  Generally an adult bully is so sure they are RIGHT that they turn a difference of opinion into a power-struggle.  They’ll use their position of power to get their way, whether or not it’s the best for all involved. For them, life is about winners and losers and their side is THE only winning side.

There are two ways of dealing with adult bullies — often it’s best not to fight with them at all.  A snotty e-mail doesn’t get a reply, you play nice and they’ll find someone else to bully and you can go on your way.

The other way is to make your arguments to the real people in power and let it play out.  This is often more satisfying in the end, because the bully ends up “losing” (in their point of view) — and you go on your way.

The key to dealing with adult bullies is not to get into their “my way or the highway” worldview.  If you don’t get what you want, find something else to want and go for it.

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6 Responses

  1. http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html
    http://www.paulgraham.com/lies.html
    Why do bullies happen in the first place? Understanding where they come from can help too. I remember boy bullies far more than girl bullies, so my views may be off. Really, though, I’m not sure there’s much parents can do about bullies, short of a complete overhaul of our society.

  2. I know that some philosophers would say that we have a “will to power” — so we want to have power over others.

    Hubby would say that we’ve had a dumbing-down of society, so being strong/athletic is favored, thus encouraging kids to dominate others.

    I’m not sure it can be changed from the bully end — but, I do think that we can be better at diffusing the bullies and giving kids tools to deal with them. I’m also not sure what the parent of a bully can do to change their kid — but I would ask myself where they learned that behavior and look at home a bit.

  3. I quit a job because of an adult bully. I’m not afraid, but when trying various methods of confronting this person, I kept failing. So I quit and did what you suggest–went after something else.

  4. I think your description of adult bullies is a perfectly accurate description of the new governor of Wisconsin. (I live in WI, I am an elected county official one of whose responsibilities is balancing the county budget, our county has a structural deficit largely because of labor costs, and I STILL think the man is a bully. And an idiot. And a possible victim of testosterone poisoning, although that usually affects males between 16 and 24.)

  5. I love the testosterone poisoning idea — maybe it started in his teens and he never recovered?

    Clearly, he wants to break the unions — and I suppose if public employees had other places of employment to provide competition, then it wouldn’t be so bad… but, when you have no competition and (in fact) a monopoly on the employment market, the individual employee has very little power.

  6. I had a boss who was a bully. She would pick one scapegoat and one Golden Child, and she would do her best to pit the whole department against one another. It worked before I got there, but as the old crew quit and got replaced, I brought all the new people into secret teamwork – we communicated outside of her hearing, either at lunch or via email or text – and we gradually became stronger than her because we refused to tear each other apart. When we got a new VP, we let the VP know what she was like, and she soon got transferred out of our hair. Thank god.

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