Last week, while wiling away minutes and hours on facebook, I came across this study about the negative effects of bullying on the bullies. Now lest I be accused of victim blaming (on today of all days) I want to make it clear that nobody deserves to be bullied and there is nothing in this world that makes being a bully okay. But I do find this study compelling. The negative effects of bullying on those who are ostracized have been pretty well documented. Those who are bullied face increased incidence of depression, a compromised immune system, increased stress hormones, poorer blood glucose levels and a whole host of other stress related problems. But I hadn’t really thought before about the negative repercussions for those doing the actual bullying. The study represented in the graph above seems to indicate that those who engage in mean behavior experience a higher level of emotional difficulties than those who don’t.
Now this is just one small study (152 subjects). I don’t think we can establish a clear causal relationship here or in fact any definitive conclusions about bullies based on 152 subjects tested in one very specific scenario. But it does get me thinking. I mean being a bully clearly isn’t the best or most productive way to relate to the world. Learning to cope with ones peers by bullying doesn’t seem likely to promise a future of many happy and rich relationships or fulfillment or happiness. And what about those “innocent bystanders” in the “neutral” category on that chart? What are they learning? Are they learning to keep their head down, stay quiet, and keep off the radar? Are they learning not to stand up and defend those weaker than themselves? Are they learning to keep a low profile and just stay out of it?
I don’t know the answer to these questions. I’m unlikely to know anytime soon. But on an instinctual level, it seems clear to me that when there is bullying, nobody and I mean NOBODY wins. When we allow bullying to continue unabated in our homes and schools and churches and public places, we fail. We manifest a world based on fear. Bullies learn a way of relating to the world that is mean and empty and unproductive. Many among those who don’t experience any punishment or negative feedback for their actions learn to bully in ever more terrifying ways–tormenting, assulting, raping and abusing. For some, the first punishment they ever receive as a bully is a life altering one (like a prison sentence and a lifelong criminal record). Neutral parties learn that the only way to stay safe is to remain neutral. And those who are bullied, just try to learn to survive. Sometimes they do, and go on to thrive. Sometimes they don’t and a life is ended far, far too soon.
As a society we have to make a choice. Will we cope with bullying and cruelty when kids are young and the crimes potentially smaller? Will we write off the behavior saying things like “boys will be boys” or “kids have to learn to work these things out for themselves?” Will we wait until both the crime and the punishment will leave irrevocable, lifelong scars? We must chose and chose well. Because when bullying continues unchecked, everybody loses.
The Fat Chick