December 20, 2009
Psychology Today Blog, A Psychological Solution to Bullying
Alabama recently became the 44th state to adopt a school anti-bully law. Somehow, states think that if they pass these laws, they will be able to get rid of. Why they think a school anti-bullying law is going to work for them when it has not worked for any other state is beyond me. Alabama is simply asking for its schools to be sued by angry , because these laws hold the schools legally responsible for making the bullying stop.
It is impossible to get rid of bullying by passing an anti-bully law. Why? Because “anti-bully law” is an oxymoron. In fact, the very term “anti-bully” is an oxymoron.
Psychology is supposed to be a field of science, and the basic tool of science is logic. But emotions easily interfere with logic, and perhaps no emotion does so as readily as hatred. In our hatred for bullies, we have abandoned logic. We want to teach kids that it’s wrong to engage in bullying. The very act of being “anti”-someone is an act of bullying. So by being anti-bully, we are bullying bullies. How can we get rid of bullying if the very act of being anti-bully makes us bullies?
And let’s examine the idea of an anti-bully law. Bullying, as defined by the academic experts and used by all legal jurisdictions, is the act of using one’s superior power against someone else. Doing so is considered inherently unfair and makes the people with less power feel miserable.
So what are we doing to try to get rid of bullying? We are passing anti-bully laws. We are invoking the greatest power in the land-government-to wage war against bullies! Government is the only body that is permitted to use the threat of the gun to force others to do its will.
If I am bigger and stronger than you and I tell you, “You had better do what I tell you or I am going to beat you up,” I am bullying you. In fact, this is the classic case of bullying.
Can Walmart or Target or any other business tell us, “You had better buy our products or we are going to take your house away”? Of course not.
Is it legal for a gun-wielding thug to come to your store and say, “Pay me $1,000 a month in protection and I’ll make sure your business doesn’t get destroyed”? Of course not.
Government, though, is the only body that can do such things legally. We had better do what it tells us or it will send gun-toting policemen to arrest us. We had better pay our taxes or the government may take away our assets and even put us in jail.
Whether you believe the government puts the tax money it forcefully takes from us to good use is entirely subjective. You may personally like the idea that the government uses your tax money to educate your children in government-run public schools that teach government mandated curriculum and values. Or you may hate the publicsystem and prefer to pay for a private school education. But you still have no choice but to pay the taxes that go to fund the public schools even though you are also paying for a private school education.
You may think that spending a trillion dollars on a war is worth it, or you may think it is a terrible idea. You must still fund the war with your taxes or have your money, and possibly your freedom, taken away from you by force of law.
Government is, in fact, the biggest bully of all. Whether you think the bully is good or bad is irrelevant. It is the biggest bully nevertheless. Our Founding Fathers understood this, which is why they put so many restrictions on government. The Bill of Rights is a document that was created not to protect us from each other, but from the proclivity of government to use unbridled power against its citizens. (If you wish to read a more detailed exposition of this idea, I highly recommend the fascinating and easy-to-read book, Whatever Happened to Justice, by Richard Mayberry.)
Therefore, when we pass an anti-bullying law, we are enlisting the greatest earthly power to combat the people we consider bullies. You don’t like the way kids treat your own children in school? By invoking anti-bully laws, you can force the school toor even expel those kids. And if the school doesn’t succeed in getting your child to stop being bullied, you can sue the school thanks to anti-bully laws. So how can we possibly teach that it is wrong to use superior power against other people when we pass anti-bully laws?
Is there anything, then, that we can do to reduce bullying? Absolutely. But not by turning to the government. In fact, when we lobby for anti-bullying laws, we are declaring the failure of psychology. We are saying, “We have no idea how to solve the problem through psychological means. We need the law enforcement system to solve it for us by threat of punishment.” This, though, is impossible, because you can’t get rid of bullying by bullying bullies.
We can dramatically reduce bullying in schools. We can do it by using psychology, not law. We can teach children how not to think like victims, and then it becomes very hard for anyone to bully them.