Today’s headline was this. And I just can’t. I can’t perpetuate the myth that people who shoot innocent children in schools do so because they were bullied. I can’t accept that somehow a mass murderer deserves my sympathy as much as or more than the victims and their families. I can’t tell my children or my students that if they could just be a little nicer, maybe people wouldn’t engage in needless and tragic violence against them.
I can’t do this because it’s bullshit, and my parents taught me not to lie.
Bullying is about power — who has it and who wants it. In the case of a shooter, or any murderer, it is painfully clear who wants power and decides to take it forcefully from others. We can argue all day about upbringing, access to weapons, violent video games, and all the other reasons people want to perpetuate about why people choose to take another’s life — or multiple lives. None of these scenarios are solved with “just be nicer.” It’s on par with “thoughts and prayers” for victims of mass shootings as a solution to what are clearly acts of terrorism.
I strive to be kind to everyone I meet. I smile and nod at strangers in passing. I raised my kids to believe that good manners and kindness matter. And I teach them – and my students – about bullies.
I teach them the narrative that every bully as a person who has a bad home life and just needs compassion is nonsense — nonsense I used to believe. Are there some? Of course, but they are outliers. I have known far more people –both kids and adults whom I consider bullies — that have had a fine upbringing, food on the table, good parents, expensive clothes, and above all, an inflated sense of self — the belief that they are more superior than others and therefore entitled to get what they want. I have known far more bullies who seem to take pleasure in victimizing others whom they feel have not given them their due. Most bullies are cowards at heart who prey on people they don’t believe will fight back. It’s a neurosis of narcissism for sure, and victims are the last ones who should feel responsible. It’s time to fight back, and not by being nicer.
Are some bullies depressed? Most definitely. But when did it become a child’s job to identify and counsel his or her peer through a depressive episode? It is wrong of us to send the message that if our kids were just a little kinder they might prevent one of their peers from going on a shooting rampage. It puts the responsibility entirely on the wrong shoulders.
It is time to teach kids to stand up for themselves without putting others down. It’s time to teach kids to stand up for others in the presence of a bully. It’s time to teach kids to band together, not in aggression, but in solidarity. It is time to teach kids to recognize bullying for what it is – a desperate grab for power – and they have a choice about whether or not to give theirs away.