If another individual hurts you, you can’t call the police on them and you can’t sue them. You can enlist your friends or relatives to help you get revenge against your aggressors, but it is your might against theirs. But this system works adequately in nature, where hunter-gatherer populations stay fairly stable because they are limited by the available food. Individuals within a group learn to respect those that are stronger than them, a pecking order is established, and aggression is kept in check.
In civilization, human population is able to grow dramatically due to improved methods of acquiring food. Were we to continue living by might makes right, life would become unbearable, as we would be constantly fighting physically to get our needs met, resolve our conflicts and establish our status. So we replace might makes right with justice makes right. We strive to create and live by moral laws that forbid us from hurting each other, and when we have grievances, we don’t get revenge. We take our opponents to a court of law where the judge or jury determines how to resolve the situation.
Justice requires each situation to be judged independently on its merits. The Old Testament, which deals at great length with crime and punishment, instructs judges that they must not show favoritism. They are neither to judge in favor of the rich/powerful person (in order to spare them public humiliation, or to curry favor with the people in power), nor to judge in favor of the poor/weak person out of sympathy. In other words, justice is supposed to be unbiased. Sometimes the rich/strong person is the wrong one, and sometimes the weak/poor person is the wrong one.
Unfortunately, the level of morality of the great majority of people is Weakness makes right. We tend to side with the apparent underdog. As Wilt Chamberlain said, “Nobody roots for Goliath.”
This is the level of morality that underlies the anti-bully movement. According to the modern academic definition of bullying (which is not the same as the dictionary definition), it involves an imbalance of power in favor of the bully. And we are moraaly required to take the side of the victim against the bully because the victim is the weaker one.
However, there is nothing moral about a policy of siding with the weak against the strong. When people discover that we will take their side when they display weakness, they often learn to manipulate us with their weakness. They do not necessarily do this consciously. But all living creatures are programmed to try to win, so if weakness gives people an advantage, they will use their weakness as a weapon. If you have children at home and you get involved in the fights between them, you may have noticed that the weaker child-or at least the less aggressive child-has become pretty good at getting you to fight for them against their stronger or more aggressive sibling. And you will have also noticed that they fight extremely frequently!
In schools today, it is common for the stronger or more aggressive child in an altercation to be labeled a bully by the school administration. However, the alleged bullies often indignantly insist that they are the true victims-that they were only defending themselves from, or getting back at, the kids who started with them-and they are often right! When the school administration tries to comply with bullying policies that require them to take the side of victims against bullies, kids quickly discover that they can subtly provoke a physically stronger but emotionally reactive child to become aggressive, and then that child gets punished for bullying behavior. Why fight a stronger kid yourself when you can get the school administration to do it for you?! Furthermore, by picking on stronger kids, you look tough and cool to your peers. Meanwhile, the punished kids become increasingly angry with their tormenters and with the school, lose motivation, decline in academic functioning, and may end up getting expelled from school. While the administrators may feel proud of themselves for having rid the school of a bully, they fail to realize that they have been duped by other students to help destroy that child!
Thus, moral school bullying policies cannot be based on mechanically siding with the apparent victim. When it becomes necessary for the school administration to judge between students (and judging should be avoided if at all possible, as will be explained in a subsequent Principle), it must ignore imbalances of power and assess the situation objectively.
Read Previous Installments to this series:
We have also created a proposal for a moral, effective school bullying policy based on the Golden Rule. We welcome you to use it, and if you like it, recommend it to your school administration: