It is not uncommon to hear stories of somewhat fragile young people who commit suicide because of the bullying and ridicule and abuse they receive from their savage peers. We live in a world where such savagery is all too common, and it is fairly predictable both that schools would be sued by the parents of such sensitive young people and that schools themselves would tout being hostile to bullying of any kind even while they are largely powerless and not particularly interested in dealing with bullying when it is brought to their attention. Today, I would like to discuss the thorny issue of who is responsible for bullying and examine some of the insights we can discover so that we may better deal with bullying when we encounter it as an unhappy recipient of such behavior and that we may avoid being the perpetrator of bullying on others, both of which are vital.
I should note that I have considerable expertise in dealing with the problem of bullying . For whatever reason–and there were plenty of reasons–it seemed as if I grew up with a “kick me” sign tatooed my face, to the extent that bullying was a problem for me wherever I was, whether in dealing with my family, or my neighbors, or classmates, or even at church. My own response to this bullying was rather complex. At times I was able to befriend bullies by demonstrating that I was worth more as a friend than as an attempted target. At other times I honed my sense of restraint so that others would not easily get a rise out of me while simultaneously making myself a deeply unpleasant target of violence and abuse by showing a sharp wit and a firm ability to defend myself with violence if necessary. All of this had its intended reward, and by the time I was out of high school I was not the sort of person who was either viewed as an easy or pleasant target of bullying without being the sort of person who bullied others as well, despite the fact that the bullying I have endured in the course of my life has contributed mightily to my high degree of anxiety and gloominess.
When we look at the responsibility of dealing with bullying, there are really two parties that we have to be concerned with at first, namely the bully and the person who is targeted by the bully. Generally speaking, bullies (like any other species of abuser) have a preternatural sense of who is vulnerable to abuse. Those who desire to oppress and abuse others seek out easy targets, since they are cowardly and do not desire a fair fight. We will consider the position of the abuser and what could be done about them later, but it is worthwhile to note that the most obvious way to limit bullying is to make people less vulnerable to it in the first place. How do we toughen up people to make them less appealing targets for abuse in the first place? Well, there are a wide variety of ways. Certainly, some of the ways we have of toughening up vulnerable children make them more capable of inflicting harm on others by honing their ability to respond to violence in kind. As a child I had to practice fighting in positions where I was outnumbered and became reasonably skilled at grappling and close-in brawling, and once I was older I developed a certain amount of handiness with weapons, both improvised and intentional, all of which made me less appealing for others to attack.
Even those of us who are not necessarily pacifists, though, would agree that this can only be a part of our ability to handle bullying. After all, much bullying happens via words and not outright violence, and we must be prepared in this way also. Fortunately, there is a lot that can be done to decrease one’s vulnerabilities in this fashion as well. We can make sure, for example, that no one is left as a vulnerable outsider without a close network of friends and encouragers, no matter how odd or quirky they may be. Training and encouraging people to stick up for the socially awkward not only allows us to develop the better angels of our nature, but also will (in time) allow those who are shy and timid and put-upon outcasts to build up their own social skills and their own self-confidence, which will make them much less appealing targets to the abuse of others. Likewise, it is important that we develop the rhetorical skills of those who are subject to abuse, as those with a quick and ready wit can make themselves unappealing targets to verbal abuse because they can defend themselves when it comes to sharp comments, and those who can engage in duels of wits end up earning the respect of those who use their intellect in such a fashion. Someone who is respected and capable of verbal as well as physical self-defense is not going to be a target for continual bullying and may even be able to use their wit to defend others as well.
Yet this only deals with half of the problem. To be sure, making people less vulnerable to bullying and better able to tangle with others in a cruel world is a very necessary skill, especially since our world appears to be increasingly less kind, especially in social media, yet this only deals with half of the problem. How do we deal with the temptation to bully others? Perhaps the best way is to address that problem within ourselves. Those who bully may be quick to blame others for why they are the way they are. Parents who are sharp with their children and quick to engage in violence in word and deed will raise children who similarly tend to solve their problems with aggression rather than seeking more productive means of dealing with the world. Likewise, social media allows us all to be bullies at a much easier threshold because of our partisan loyalties, our disrespect for those whom we happen to bully, and the lack of body language that may produce shame in our part for having behaved in such a bullying fashion, especially the judgment we would receive from those around us. Online, no matter who we bully, we can count on there being at least quite a few people who will like what we have to say, no matter how reprehensible it is, because they will despise the same target we have.
This all means that our ways of reducing bullying must be more intentional. Quite simply, we have to put ourselves deliberately around people who will encourage our better nature. We need people who will hold us accountable for what we say, who will call us out when our social media posting is less than friendly, and who will remind us of the importance of treating even those with whom we deeply disagree with respect and honor even if we do not feel in the mood to respect or honor other people and even if they are not necessarily honorable and respectable people. We honor others not because of their worthiness but because we are honorable and respectable people ourselves. And being honorable and respectable is determined by our standard of behavior towards others, not by our good fortune in being the blessed recipients of such honor and respect by others. Obviously, though, it is easy to honor others when we have first been honored ourselves, but in a world where honor and respect are not common, someone has to be the first to try it out. How else is anyone going to be able to learn from the example otherwise?
 See, for example: