LONG : Bullying : Sociology, psychology and some politics
Ian Ford (ianford@DIRCON.CO.UK)
Sat, 31 Dec 1994 19:10:56 GMT
In reply to Gary Sherwin's article ...
> When I say that everyone bullys, I mean everyone tests
>and establishes their level of dominance by assertive actions
>designed to determine the relative social position of the
>person or persons we are testing. This is important to
>realize, because it points to the reason for uncontrolled
>dominance assertive actions that are seen as bullying. If
>a person is secure or knows their social standing, they have
>no need to test, and therefore no need to bully. If a person
>lacks the skills to determine social position by other cues,
>that person will often test the situation by violent behavior.
>Sometimes bullying is precipitated by confusion of social
>position. I think this is the primary reason that scouts are
>so often the targets of bullys.
Gary asked if a psychologist would care to comment. I posted my first reply
to the list by mistake - it was not my intention to show off. I am not a
psychologist, but I do have a degree which includes education , sociology
psychology and public administration. So until anybody better qualified
comes along here's my stir of the pudding ...
I would draw a line between normal testing boundaries / assertiveness and
bullying. In my book bullying is a form of pathological behaviour , not part
of normal social interraction. It represents the deliberate use of threat or
intimidation in order to force one's agenda onto an unwilling party. It is
using relative power to humiliate another individual for the perpetrator's
own and usually inappropriate gratification. Very often it is about covering
the bully's own inadequacy by identifying and persecuting an individual who
is either seen to be weaker or in some way " odd " .
This definition excludes the use of legitimate and minimum coercive force by
those in authority , although I hesitate to define what constitues
legitimacy or reasonable force in those circumstances.
Testing boundaries is a normal and healthy behaviour. " Social standing "
is not as static as Gary's post would imply. In any organisation there is a
dynamic tension. Think of any adult working environment - you have some
individuals who are " on the way up " in the organisation. You have new
people joining , other retiring. New projects to be fitted in ,
new procedures , new technologies. Today's society is no longer about " the
rich man in his castle , the poor man at his gate " and knowing your place.
Every day we subtly test boundaries - try to get the boss to give us a
better performance rating or a raise ; jockeying for a transfer to a new and
prestigious project, or whatever. In many cases it is making sure that you
are not the one to be let go in the next round of budget cuts or
Young people also have similar dilemmas , only it is compounded by a number
of factors. If school were simply a matter of turning up , doing a job and
getting grades or whatever it would not be a major problem.
The problem arises when the school and the students very often do <not> have
common values. In a lot of schools there is a sub-culture which is opposed
to traditional values described as the " protestant work ethic. " It ranges
from " school sucks so let's cause as much trouble as possible " to a
highly instrumental " cheat, lie fight or do what it takes but get to the
top " mentality. Add the impact of fashion and fads and so on and you have
a powerful mix of conflicting pressures on young people who have neither the
maturity nor ( in the case of many pre-High Schoolers ) the mental
constructs to resolve the conflict in an " adult " way.
The kid who wants to conform to the norms of the school and parents , but
is also drawn by competing peer pressures experiences cognitive dissonance
- the sense of mental unease caused by trying to meet to contradictory
criteria or attain two divergent goals. And the greater the diversity of
socio-cultural values the greater the potential for dissonance.
Typically the dissonance is resolved by taking a position towards one or
other end of the spectrum - the extremes being to become a " boffin " on one
hand or a gang member on the other. Each group then tends to seek out its
own kind in order to reassure each other that their values are " normal "
( in the sense of the norm of the group ) and the others are abnormal.
However, adult society then intervenes to reward the " boffins " with
credits, diplomas and promises of economic success. Likewise the members of
sports team , the band or whatever get adult approbation and priviledges.
Conversely , the anti-establishment sub-cultures become increasingly
marginalised. Not only that, as they see adulthood looming they realise that
they have missed the path to job security, the smart car, American Express
card and so on , and will probably end up with crummy jobs or no jobs at
all. So they seek outlets in drugs , crime , the " black economy " and
extortion and intimidation and become less available to the sanctions of
> My son then
>informed the school Principal of the situation and was greeted
>with a "grow up and fight your own fights but not on school
>property, because if you do we wil throw you out of school too.
>Fortunately, at that point, my son came to me and told me what
>was going on.
This is typical of the attitude I described regarding Tom , my British Scout
who was beaten up. The school system is essentially out of control in many
parts of both our countries.
The problem is dealt with by blaming the victim. If the bully and the victim
are both " disturbed " or " inadequate " or have " problems in forming
peer reationships " it clearly proves thast is they and not the educational
institution and its staff that are at fault. So the educationalists and
politicians worry about grades at " O Level " or SAT scores or whatever,
rather than tackle the real problems of incompetent teachers, disaffected
pupils, violence, drugs and so on.
A significant minority of kids comes from dysfunctional families where there
is no discipline , no " family values " and nothing to endue them with
respect for themselves and for others. And in private our politicians and
educationalists agree, but say in public " that is not our problem ... we
don't want to infringe on individual freedom. " ( Translation - we don't
see any votes in this issue. )
OK - by now you have probably formed the view that I think Atilla the Hun
was a lilly-livered liberal. Not so. I merely want to live in a society
where the local authority employs more education social workers than parking
meter wardens. I want to live in a society where mugging an old lady will
get you longer in prison than if you don't pay a parking fine. I want to
live in a society where the boys in my Cub Scout pack can walk the quarter
mile home on their own like I used to, without their parents being worried
about perverts and muggers, and where the girls in my Scout troop can go to
the park to play sports without having to carry a rape alarm and a steel
Scouting has kept those values of duty to one's country, respect for lawful
authority and the symbols of nationhood etc. that our educational systems
have left behind. As Scouters we are doing our best to inculcate in our
young people values of democracy , decency and respect. I would also add
some spritual dimension. It may not be religious in any orthodox sense,
but a sense of wonder and a of valuing something beyond the individual
and his own aspirations.
Is it unreasonable to hope that our politicians , educationalists , social
services and juvenile justice systems would do likewise ?
Ian N Ford
The opinions expressed are mine - nobody else's. email@example.com
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City