This Sunday's newspaper ran two long articles about social scientists discovering that many persons, bullied as children, carry those wounds into adulthood. Do those results surprise you? I thought not.
I suppose it is useful to provide some scientific evidence for what most most of us knew all along.
But two much more interesting questions still remain to be addressed:
1. We know what happens to children bullied. But what happens to the bullies when they grow up? There are a lot of opinions about that. Many people believe that bullies end up as crimnals. Others believe firmly that the authoritarian boss at work--man or woman--was a bully when they were school kids. But little carefully checked information about this is available.
We clearly need to know much more about what roles adults play who, as children, were capable of exceptional cruelty to other kids: Does the society suffer when bullies grow up to be school teachers, coaches, or politicians? What kinds of parents do former bullies make?
2. Why is our society so tolerant of bullies and bullying? Four hundred years of oppressing persons of color may well have made us callous to the pain we inflict on others. Our children are paying the price for the hypocrisy of their parents and grandparents who said that their black cook was “ a member of the family” but ate in the kitchen.
No doubt, our tolerance of bullies is also the fruit of 450 years of fighting against the native inhabitants of this Continent. Our histories record at least 37 major “Indian Wars” between 1622 and 1900. Not included are smaller skirmishes. In those slightly less than three centuries, we were at war more often than at peace with indigenous Americans.
We have become careporting the discovery by llous in a capitalist society where almost every transaction is a competition and we are constantly taking what others want. We have learned not to care about the pain we inflict on the losers when we win competitions. At the same time we have become resentful and angry from all the competitions we lost.
Women still earn significantly less than men. Women are regularly victims of rape, and murder, and physical abuse. America still treasures the image of the “real man” who proves his manhood by callousness toward women, by dominating through physical violence. In relation to women, the image of the “real man” is that of a bully.
Bullying, you may say, is not limited to our society. Similar or greater cruelty is manifested by citizens of other countries. That is, of course, true. But that does not imply that bullying, cruelty and heartlessness are unalterable elements of “human nature” as many people conclude from cruelty's ubiquity. Different cultures learn to be cruel in different ways in their separate histories. However common, bullying is learned behavior.
What we learn we can also unlearn.