by Izzy Kalman (May 2005)
I would like to share my memories of the scariest experience of my professional career – the day school psychology declared war on bullies. It happened at the annual convention of the National Association of School Psychologists in Washington DC in April of 2000, overlapping the first anniversary of the Columbine shooting. Bullying was the hot issue of the conference that year – the only issue, really. Every workshop on bullying – including mine, thank God – was filled to the brim. Every other workshop was practically empty. In case you may not recall, the fascination with the subject of bullying mushroomed thanks to Columbine, for bullying was quickly determined to be to blame for the Columbine and other random school shootings that had been plaguing the country.
In a huge ballroom seating thousands of school psychologists, the keynote speaker that day – a government official – declared that we are going to elevate bullying to a class of harassment, meaning that we will be able to legally prosecute child bullies as criminals. The entire audience stood up in unison and gave a long, wildly enthusiastic ovation.
The spectacle horrified me. It reminded me of recordings of Hitler declaring war against the Jews, with packed plazas resounding with passionate approval. Please excuse me for the extreme analogy. I am in no way accusing school psychologists of being Nazis or racists, or of wanting to kill anyone. But I was shocked that an entire room full of mental health professionals would unanimously abandon the basic tenets of their profession to join a moral crusade against children – for we easily forget that “bullies” are not demons in human disguise but actually our own flesh and blood children. Was I the only one among thousands that could see that there might be something wrong with such a campaign? Is only one view of bullying possible?
And what were they so ecstatic about, I thought to myself? Didn’t they realize that making bullying illegal represents a failure of our profession – that we haven’t succeeded in solving the problem by psychological means, so we have to refer the problem to the legal system?
Was there no one else who learned that we are supposed to take a non-judgmental attitude towards people? Didn’t they realize that promoting intolerance of “bullies” makes us guilty of intolerance? Was no one else aware that “bully” is not a diagnosis but an insult – which makes the very act of calling someone a bully an act of bullying?
Was I the only one who learned it’s dangerous to take sides in people’s disputes – that it escalates the disputes, making the two parties hate each other more and one of them hate us, too?
When did psychology start teaching that we should blame others for our difficulties in getting along with people? Where did this idea that victims have nothing to do with what happens to them come from, when science recognizes that every action has an equal and opposite reaction?
Are these school psychologists all angels free of sin, that they should be condemning others? Are they so sure that the word “bully” does not describe themselves? If we are going to prosecute bullies, we will all be found guilty! Have they not noticed that there is much more bullying going on right in their own homes than there is between kids in school, and that they – mental health professionals – don’t know how to make the bullying stop? Would they want their children to be legally prosecuted for bullying each other? Would they want to be legally prosecuted for bullying their own spouses, children and parents?
Again, please forgive me for the analogy to Hitler, but it is the same mindset at work. Didn’t the world wonder how the most cultured, scientifically advanced nation of Europe could demonize and try to eradicate a group of their own citizens? The answer is quite simple! The same way educated adults today could demonize children within our midst.
The truth is that PEOPLE LOVE TO HATE! All it takes is an authority figure telling people they are victims, and when people feel like victims, they are willing to do anything in revenge and will believe it is justified. They will trade in their occupations to become soldiers on a moral crusade to exterminate their supposed enemies. Having an evil nemesis makes people feel powerful, important, and righteous. Moral crusades are responsible for more horror and destruction than all other human motivations combined. Do you think Hitler motivated his people to kill by telling them “Let’s go BULLY the Jews”? Of course not! He did it by telling them “We are the VICTIMS of the Jews. Let’s make sure they can never bully us again!”
Today, the authorities tell us that “bullies” are responsible for children’s misery, and we eagerly embark on anti-bully crusades. By the way, Jews in Europe were stereotypically depicted by anti-Semites as devilish beings with horns and tails, just like “bullies” are commonly portrayed today!
I can certainly understand why my fellow school psychologists were cheering. The job of school psychologist is rarely as glamorous as most people think it is. You know how boring it can get administering tests, writing reports, and sitting at mundane IEP meetings and student progress meetings day after day? We went into this profession to help kids psychologically, not to be bureaucrats whose supervisors often care only that the paperwork is done properly and in a timely fashion. Finally our time has come! The mission we’ve all been waiting for! At long last we’re going to be the heroes we’ve always dreamed we would be. We are going to be knights in shining armor saving innocent children from evil bullies, with their metaphorical horns and tails! We’re not going to let the current generation of children suffer the way we did. We’re now adults and we’re in charge. We are going to use our power over any evil kids who have the gall to use their power over other kids. We will create the first generation of kids in history who could live their childhoods without being made to feel bad by anyone else. Any child who tries to make another feel bad will be made by us to feel really bad, and this will teach children to live in peace and harmony.
Unfortunately, we discovered what happened when Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s economic woes. We can’t expect wonderful results when we blame “”bullies” for our children’s misery, either. It’s about time we realized that the true danger is not “bullies”, but people feeling like victims blaming “bullies” for their misery, and that problems can only be solved by taking personal responsibility for our lives.