Bullies are universal. They exist in all areas of life from the military to business to the classroom. Their nature is so evil that no policy document will ever prevent them from flourishing. They are knowing, cynical exploiters of whims, manipulators of social niceties, and experts at humiliation. They feed on pain and form communal sub-cultural belief systems of antipathy directed at their victims. They are without shame, incapable of redemption and completely bereft of compassion.
They may employ violence or the threat of it. But what is far worse is that they make a long and sadistic project of creating a negative group definition of an individual. Any physical imperfection like a stammer, a habitual movement of the body or even a look, may be caricatured and pointed out by jeering sycophants until it becomes accepted and legitimized in the minds of the group and, sadly, even by the victim.
It is the behavior of pack animals that instinctively seek out the runt of the litter or the weak link in the group and then seek to finish it off. When faced with a group there may be no specific individual for the victim to fight back against. The social engineering power of a number of people acting together can be most formidable.
Most children will want to be popular, thought clever, seen as attractive and interesting; this is true of adults, too. The ploy used by bullies will be to destroy any such positive notions of self-belief, knocking them down one after another like the supports of a bridge.
The consequences of such a concerted campaign of ruthless sadism may be the complete destruction of the victim. It may be that their spirit is broken and their confidence brought to a low point that could last a lifetime. Or it may even be that the collective wickedness of the pack, pecking away at the victim, chipping away at all that underpins them, brings them to such misery that suicide is the only escape imaginable.
In the news from time to time there are stories about children who have been placed in exactly this position and for whom this is the option they have taken. Each time this happens a representative of a school or college trots out a statement to the effect that their institution is fully cognizant of such issues and has a robust anti-bullying policy in place.
This, one feels, is more to do with concerns about liability than it is of any use or relevance to the doomed child.
Even if these policies which, frankly, were not good enough if a death has occurred get tightened up, the fact is that groups of children in schools – just like adults in most walks of life – do single out victims to pick on. Their methods are cunning and covert; their timing extraordinary.
They follow leaders and laugh falsely in a willing hysteria knowing that there are only two kinds of people: the ones who are miserable victims and the loud definers of good and bad, right and wrong – the bullies. And they will do anything to stay with the pack.
This behavior happens in business, in industry, in politics, in the media, in bands, in hospitals, in every place where people come together in groups. They turn their attention inward to seek out weak links to cut out of the pack completely.
Whether it is a group of soldiers hazing a new recruit or a child giving a wrong answer in a lesson as its peers snicker, bullying is all about the group turning on its own, finding an expendable member to rip to shreds for its own entertainment or to meet some invented criteria required for membership.
Teachers only have one pair of eyes and ears each. And bullies, like children generally, are masters of unofficial chattering. Their secretive communication may support an agenda of bullying almost completely unhindered by authority. It may not even be necessary for gangs of abusive children to lay in wait for a victim outside of the school on its walk home.
Every day a child could be bullied right in front of teachers with catastrophic results for the psychological make-up. This failure to see what is really going on can even prove fatal.
Ironically, sometimes the victims are the most capable boys or girls who have been convinced otherwise through months of concerted pressure. The collective seeks to do harm and is under no obligation to employ truth or legitimate reason. Jealousy might be sufficient motivation to bully someone taller, more athletic or who gets higher academic scores. They may be filled with notions of failure and ugliness after the bullies have worked on them over time.
If and when bullying is identified – perhaps by the use of appointed bullying counselors and information received, how severe are punishments for this collective wickedness? What sanctions are there today that could seriously concern the pack-leaders who herd children into jointly dismantling the psyche of their classmates?
The shamed victim may never confide in anyone and prefer to suffer in silence. How convenient for the schools and how convenient for the bullies that is. The mildest of sanctions and feigned agreement that lessons have been learned may never prevent this unending evil in our schools.
Our children walk through the school gates into a minefield of doubt and there is a good chance that some of it is generated by shameless little sadists with total impunity. Even if they are caught, after a few days at home perhaps, they will be able to return to start again where they left off.
It is not a topic that leads to glib suggestions for a comprehensive solution. It is merely the intention of this article to raise awareness of the secretive, subcultural nature of bullying and to suggest that the very worst thing to do is to let it fly under the radar.
Teachers who understand the universality of this pack-behavior in their students might be better able to detect and prevent a great deal of suffering in the classroom and possibly even avert a tragedy.