Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 26, 2012

Forum: Bullying part of human nature

By R. Bruce Ritchie

---- — Whenever I read about "anti-bullying initiatives" I grow concerned that we are rearing passive, institution-dependent children. I have reviewed the curricula of several of these programs and they err in identifying bullying as an abnormal behavior, rather than a natural subset of human social functioning. The remedial programs cannot possibly produce positive results when bullying behavior is misunderstood.

Humans spontaneously create status hierarchies. Bullying is "normal" to the extent that it is a strategy, albeit a cowardly one, to elevate one's social status. Bullying represents an attempt to pull oneself up the status ladder by pushing another individual down. The bully wishes to win, or gain status, without engaging in risky direct conflict. They seek status not by their merits but by intimidation. Violence, social and physical, are inherent to human nature and cannot be extinguished by well-meaning initiatives.

Conflict resolution is a fine thing. Unfortunately, bullies do not seek resolution, the alleged conflict is immaterial, the issue is one of position in a social hierarchy. "Respect and disrespect" are merely aspects of dominance and submission of the same sort seen in all social species. The bully is an individual who aspires to status above his station. They prey upon those who they feel they can intimidate. The "resolution" they seek is the submission of others. The only tactic that suppresses bullies is to standing up to them.

The "experts" remediation plans requires institutional involvement. This necessitates that students inform on other students. Although bullies are invariably low in social status, snitches are the lowest of the low. Going from being a victim to an informant is a downward move in most systems.

Anti-bullying initiatives risk creating snitch-cultures and failing to encourage children to deal bravely with intimidation. If fostering self-esteem is a cherished value, fostering independent action, in this case standing up to bullies, should be encouraged and supported.

It is a critical aspect of parenting to teach one's children how to stand up for themselves, to be brave and self-reliant. Bullies do not vanish after high school; we continue to deal with them throughout our lives in one form or the other. Well-meaning attempts to protect children from childhood stressors produces paradoxical results contrary to the children's development and best interest.

The bottom line is that bullies are paper tigers and that our children must be taught to stand up for themselves in the face of bullying of all stripes. The so-called experts may have learned their classroom lessons, but they learned nothing on the playground.

In my own dealings with bullies growing up, my mother suggested that I ignore them and that they would leave me alone. My father's advice was to punch them in the jaw. After analysis and experimentation, I found my father's methodology to be the more effective of the two strategies. For whatever reasons, most anti-bullying activists fail to understand that the "cures" they present are worse than the disease.

About the author: R. Bruce Ritchie of Cedar holds a doctorate in clinical psychology and has approximately 20 years of experience serving a diverse client cohort. He has extensive experience working with adolescents, young adults and couples.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing Please include biographical information and a photo.