Thoughts on Bullying and Respect

Column by Paul Bonneau.

Exclusive to STR

When I was in my teens and twenties, John Wayne used to annoy the Hell out of me. Nowadays I see that that was so because I was ignorant. There was actually a lot I could learn from his movies, and I was thoughtlessly rejecting his message out of hand.
One standard plot element of his films that I found completely implausible was a conflict he would have with an antagonist. At some point it would degrade into a knock-down, drag-out fist fight with the guy. After the fight, in which both gave and got their fair share of licks, they were no longer antagonists, but great friends! I mean, how ridiculous was that?
Except that, it turns out, there was nothing ridiculous about it! Not only that; it’s a pretty damn important thing to know--at least for men. I’m not so sure it applies to women; in fact, what follows here may well completely mystify women. Perhaps in the recent feminization of society, these lessons have gotten lost or been suppressed.
When my son was a little guy, we had him in Montessori school for a couple of years. At one point, picking him up evenings, he was always crying. I got it out of him that another boy had taken to pushing him around and knocking him down. Unlike most folks who might have consulted with the teacher or that kid’s parents, I took him aside and told him that the only thing to do when someone tries to push you around is to push back! I went through a little role-playing with him where I played the other kid and pushed him, and got him pushing back enough to knock the other kid down. Next day, when picking him up, it was the other boy who was crying, and mine had a smile on his face. He’d knocked the other boy on his butt. Dad was proud!
However, the weird part came next. From that day on, my boy was good friends with this other boy. So . . . John Wayne was right?! What the heck was going on in the minds of these boys, anyway?
There is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth among the libertarian community about bullying. I’m thinking, after actually observing human behavior, that most of these folks simply get it wrong or completely miss the point. They sure don’t help any kids in the process of being bullied. Probably they themselves suffered from bullying, never figured it out, and are advising others to use the same tactics that didn’t work for them!
I am going to propose something radical here: Much of what we today consider bullying behavior is actually an attempt by the “bully” to find others worthy of his respect. If this is so, it explains the strange behavior of two men after a fight. They’ve found someone worthy of respect! That’s why they become friends.
If this is so, then all the standard responses to bullying are exactly wrong. Consult an authority figure? How can anyone respect that? Besides, it props up authority! Avoidance tactics? How can anyone respect that? Chicken! People will laugh at you. You will simply attract more bullying; do you want that?
The proper response to bullying, and the only one I am aware of that works, is to push back. To be prepared to both give and take a beating if necessary. It is NOT required to actually beat the bully, which is a good thing because some are hard to beat and you might not quite be the powerful martial artist yourself. But inflicting some pain should be your goal. Taking everything he dishes out, and never giving in, should be your goal. Remember that scene in “Cool Hand Luke”?
With this response, if it is a simple example of the “bully" finding someone to respect, that problem is dealt with by fighting back. If the bully in question is more pathological, it still works; he will look elsewhere for his victims because the last thing he wants is to experience pain himself.
It’s not just respect of the “bully” that you harvest from this process; it’s also self-respect. It’s the respect of others too--the observers of the event. You can take care of yourself, and they see that. People who do not take this course, who run to authority figures or other such non-productive tacks, lose both the respect of others and self-respect. This in turn might lead to further issues in that person’s personality, down the line. It’s a bad thing, certainly much worse than a little temporary pain dished out to you in a fight.
I have a quote here from John Taylor Gatto’s pivotal book, The Underground History of American Education about the upbringing of Col. Edward House in the 1870s, that is instructive. Here is Col. House speaking about his school experience:
I made up my mind at the second attempt to haze me that I would not permit it. I not only had a pistol but a large knife, and with these I held the larger, rougher boys at bay. There was no limit to the lengths they would go in hazing those who would allow it. One form I recall was that of going through the pretense of hanging. They would tie a boy’s hands behind him and string him up by the neck over a limb until he grew purple in the face. None of it, however, fell to me. What was done to those who permitted it is almost beyond belief.
OK then, but what about nonviolent resistance? Doesn’t the success of that practice disprove my thesis here?
At first glance it might appear to, but I’d argue it actually supports the idea. For one thing, what is nonviolent resistance but taking everything the bullying government enforcers can dish out? Isn’t that half of my thesis?
OK, but what about inflicting pain? Isn’t that counter to nonviolent resistance?
Just ask yourself, what is crucial in a nonviolent resistance? Observers, lots of them, the more the better. “The whole world is watching!” So, I would argue that the nonviolent resisters are still inflicting pain on the bullies. It’s not physical pain or harm, but psychological pain--the pain of being thought of, by observers, as an ugly, nasty psychopath. Who wants to be thought of that way? So nonviolent resisters are still inflicting pain! By the way, a righteous cause is also a crucial part of nonviolent resistance. It doesn’t work so well when your cause is more goodies from the state, like some of those kids looking for a free college “education.” The point is to make the resisters look good and the enforcers look ugly; you can’t do that with a cause that is not righteous.
Think of all those pictures and videos of cops or military, lined up facing a protesting populace. Now think of the minds of those enforcers. What are they looking for? A reason to respect those they are facing. Failing that, a reason to dehumanize them so they won’t feel bad bashing their skulls in. Well, from the point of view of the protesters, you certainly want to engender respect in the enforcers’ minds, and avoid at all cost dehumanizing. Your behavior must reinforce the response you are looking for, and avoid the response you don’t want. Use your imagination here, how that is done. It is not that hard to figure out. Put ex-cops and ex-military on your front line. Be friendly, not disrespectful. And that is why, by the way, provocateurs always break windows. They are looking to create a dehumanizing state of mind in the enforcers.
My thesis apparently, actually gains support from the idea of nonviolent resistance.
What about responding to bullying cops with lawyerly references to the Constitution? But isn’t that just running to authority again? Think the cop will respect you for it? I’m about as doubtful about the mantras, “Am I being detained?” “Can I leave now?” It’s like people memorize these phrases as a secret code to get cops to go away. But do they engender respect?
It’s relatively common in Wyoming to carry a pistol openly. I do it frequently. Interestingly, one does not hear of assaults by cops happening in Wyoming much. When one has a gun, or the likelihood to be carrying one concealed, the unstated point is that one is a lot more difficult to push around. There has to be some respect for that, in the cop’s mind. I do know of one case, a couple friends of mine actually, where a two cops took issue with them carrying guns openly (likely new hires from out of state!). My friends did not back down or hand their guns over. They did not get taken down or beat up; a verbal disagreement was as far as it got.
Now, at least in other parts of the country, a complicating factor has been added, in that cops can literally get away with murder. This has unbalanced the earlier equation that I mentioned, the notion of looking for someone to respect, tied to the possibility of receiving a beating. That possibility is essentially gone now. No wonder cops are going crazy these days; there is literally nothing to inhibit their worst impulses. All that is left is complete and utter submission, or a lethal escalation.
This state of affairs cannot continue.
On another point, there is a noticeable difference between the way young men and old men are treated. I used to think that older men were simply not thought of as threats, they didn’t get into trouble and attract attention from the law. Maybe that factor is present, but I think also that old men, some of them anyway, have a reputation for not putting up with crap. Like that old Internet meme that was floating around a while back, “Don’t mess with old men. They won’t fight you because they are no longer capable of it. They will just pull out a gun and shoot you.”
Ultimately, the answer to bullying is to put yourself in the bully’s shoes. Look at yourself from his point of view. Then refrain from doing those things that would make him think of you as an insect. Do things instead, that makes him unsure of himself. It is usually not necessary or even desirable to go overboard with challenging him. He has to retain “face” after all, among the observers. It may be a fine line, but I believe the best action is to calmly, quietly, not back down.
Oh, and go out and rent that old John Wayne movie, “The Shootist.”

Your rating: None Average: 9.2 (5 votes)
Paul Bonneau's picture
Columns on STR: 106


golefevre's picture

All good points, but as a parent I feel it is incumbent upon me to let my children know in no uncertain terms that they will loose MY respect if they bully other children. I hate bullies and I've never respected any I've met.

KenK's picture

I saw a young father playing with his kids at the park yesterday openly carrying a holstered pistol. Made my heart glad. Nobody freaked out about it either. That was even better.

Glock27's picture

An observation that lifts my heart. However, I disagree with open carry only because open carry presents a very dangerous situation (dependent upon location). Open carry gives another advance strategy of approach and disarm. Concealed carry is far better because the element of supprise. In Michigan 1 in every 20 citizens carry concealed. I was stunned to discover this, so when I am out carrying I know there are others carrying but I don't know who.

The mind set of firearms really needs to be overcome and the anti-gunner bullies need their butts kicked every chance the opportunity arises. Paul is right about us old guys, we'll just pull our gun and.... well I don't want to say something that could be misconstrued at a later date.

ReverendDraco's picture

My experience with bullies in school showed me that bullies are, at the core, cowards. They bully others in an attempt to make themselves feel worthwhile. . .
I always have, and always will, tell a child who is being bullied, that the proper response (that is, the one which will decrease the likelihood of further bullying) is to beat the dogslobber out of the bully. Beat him until he stops twitching, then hit him a few more times just for grins and giggles. Nobody ever takes advice exactly as given, but it does give them the idea that defending oneself is not a bad thing.

Running to a teacher is the last thing one should do - it establishes, in the mind of the bully and other observers, that one is a rat - nobody is more pathetic than a rat. . . all running for the teacher will do is guarantee further bullying, even by those who normally wouldn't be bullies - because nobody likes a rat. Except for those on a power trip, because rats increase their power.

I can't agree that it's about respect - I've never become friends with a bully after the fact, because I have no respect for bullies - recently beat down or not. I pity them, scorn them, ridicule them - but I do not befriend them - because bullies are nothing more than cowards, and I have no respect for cowards.

Glock27's picture

Reverend, bullies have a problem, and treating them as you suggest I could not agree with. They need help basically because they are being abused in their own homes or by close family members. I find it very disturbing that you would suggest this to anyone.

I taught my son that if he was having problems ask the kid to stop. If that fails go to the teacher, if that fails go to the counciler, if he fails go to the principle. If he fails then he (my son) must solve the problem. This way he has performed everything legally and when he beats the s*%@ out of the other kid then the upper brass can't do squat. Unfortunately for me he never took my advice and beat the s*%@ out of the kid anyway and got in trouble despite the history the kid had as a bully. I also taught him that he had a moral and ethical responsibility to protect younger and defensless persons from the assault of others whom were bigger.

When I was at a fun time of my life I had problems with various bullies my age and older. After a few rounds of this I decided I would not deal with it anymore and began carrying a gravity knife with me and use it on occassion to divert the bullies desire.

I guess I feel sorry for bullies. They are hurting and need some serious intervention that will help them become better people.

MassOutrage's picture

Brilliant observation about some bullies seeking to find someone they can respect. Although, there are probably more civilized ways to do it.

I also appreciate the caveat about resisting police bullies. You simply can't do it any more, or they give your head some "car hood therapy" and then arrest you for resisting arrest. A little circular reasoning there, but that is what happens. They also throw in disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct for good measure. So, with police, I think you have to be all, "yes sir", because they literally will kill you and blame you for it later to the media.

Glock27's picture

Seen this all too frequently Mass.

John deLaubenfels's picture

In order to resist thug cop bullies, new tactics will be required. I'm thinking of a group of like-minded people forming a cooperative, and when any one of them is stopped by an abusive cop, s/he speed-dials the rest and they arrive, armed, to confront the bullying thug. I'm not advocating violence, except in defense, but am advocating letting the cop know on no uncertain terms that his/her bullying behavior will not be tolerated.

Samarami's picture

I'm with you, John.

The entire "problem" with the bullying phenomenon seems to be centered around the existence of collectivist government ("public" ha ha) schooling. Those institutions are necessary for predators of state to sustain the farce that is affectionately referred to as "consent of the governed".

So "bullying" is a natural outcropping of the incursion of minions of state into "education", which is a natural outcropping of their need to continually legitimize the state.

Like the "war on terrorism" is in truth a pseudology to camouflage the real terrorists (agents of state), the "issue" of bullying prevents the unwashed masses from identifying the man behind the curtain who is pulling all those strings. Clowns in state costumes with tin "badges" who are dangerously armed are the real "bullies".

Solution? Homeschool the kids. Keep them away from government school yards. Teach them that the policeman is NOT their friend, but that they do not need to fear monopoly police or any other state agents. State predators are like any other criminals -- steer clear of them whenever possible, but don't give them the satisfaction of fearing them. Your above tactic might be an excellent defense against predation.

Teach them the art of self-defense. That art definitely includes this "when-all-else-fails" tactic:



tzo's picture

My impression is that bullies at school are kids who are themselves bullied, primarily at home by parents, and feel powerless. At school, they want to emulate those that have power over them at home—because apparently the world is made up only of those who bully and those who are bullied—and so they imitate those that control others through sheer force.

The bullied kid who fights back is a shock to the bully. He certainly can't fight back against his parents, and so what does this resistance mean? This doesn't fit in with the bully/bullied dichotomy, and so he either 'makes friends with' or ignores the self-defender and seeks out an easier target.

I don't disagree with the idea that boys and men tend to compete with each other in order to earn respect, and that can go from sports right on up to fighting, but I think that somewhere there is a line between making someone 'prove' themselves worthy of respect and just lashing out because of feelings of inferiority.

But as I think about it, it is very difficult to figure out where that line may be. We are funny little creatures.

Glock27's picture

Great point Tzo.

To make an observation, I have noted this kind of conduct at this site and others, verbal bullies, unless I misconstrue what I read here.

Thunderbolt's picture

I think Paul Bonneau is correct. The issue is respect.

Let us presume that you live in Bangladesh.
The police there are brutal. They taser pregnant women and pepper-spray protestors. They fatally club mentally-handicapped men who have not aggressed against anyone. They use 4000 teams of thugs in black costumes to invade homes and kill humans and dogs without restraint. They murder a young hand-cuffed man in their subway. There is no recourse for their citizens. Everyone lives in fear of these goons. Their politicians are forever creating wars to enrich their masters. They even have a few drones to keep an eye on their slaves. Enter "Black Market Reloaded." Someone in Bangladesh can now hire a hit-man to revenge injustice. The contract-killer does not know who hired him and the plaintiff does not know the killer. An anonymous digital currency is used for payment. Suddenly, the police in Bangladesh are dropping like flies; politicians too. A politician there wants to restrict guns. Mysteriously, he is shot dead, while driving home. Tax agents of the dreaded S.R.I. begin dying at the rate of thirty each week. The people of Bangladesh find that they can eliminate not only the barbaric thugs, but all of their hated government. The police become very polite.

Paul's picture

Interesting post. Is that really what is going on, or just a scenario you presented? If the former, do you have some links? I found this one but it was written in 2006:

Paul's picture

I must disagree with the notion that it is better to go to authorities first to get the legalities out of the way, at least for school children (there might be an argument for adults in this litigious society).

As to the notion that the bully is himself a victim of bullying and he is just repeating that, it may be true. One chicken pecked in the barnyard will sometimes go find another chicken lower on the pecking order to peck. However that's no excuse for putting up with it.

Finally I have to clarify something. I wrote, "Much of what we today consider bullying behavior is actually an attempt by the “bully” to find others worthy of his respect." Part of what I am saying here, is that I think the definition of bullying has been expanded in recent years, so that half the behaviors we see can be called that. A while ago it might have just been called horsing around, or whatever. It's particularly this expansion that I am talking about. Boys horse around to figure out who is worthy to be in the group. As to "classic" or "true" bullying, there may be another dynamic going on, so even fighting back does not yield friendship or respect, although self-respect and that of others might of course still be there.

I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist. All the above is just a guess. Those in the psych professions may have their own axes to grind...

Glock27's picture

I guess I would have to agree with that perspective, dodge ball has become an art form of bullying and now is not allowed in many schools, but some tof the bullying that goes on is to the extremes wherein some kids die by the hand of the bully or by their own hand. With an instant brain fart I guess that criminals are nothing more than extended bullies, but yes, just being kids I think has gone to the wayside and has evolved into another whole different animal.

There are a lot of places to go with just the concept of "Bully". When I was once a young kid I was bullied to a point that I was forced into the decision that it had to stop and for me at that time all I could do was find an equalizer in the battle and that was a 6 inch blade pocket knife I kept with me everywhere I went.