Bullying and its affect upon individuals and society has been in the news a lot this year. It's also been a hot topic on many of the interviews I've done around the world lately.
Interviewers are often surprised when I show little sympathy for the bully. I hear things like - but they are humans too - which of course is true. The issue is that serial bullies lack one important human trait - empathy. Perversely this seems to provide them with a social advantage when it comes to manipulating and traumatizing their victims and then getting away with it.
A recent study by the University of Warwick has recommended that anti-bullying policies must focus on all of society, because as long as bullies reap the life-long benefits of increased status and opportunity, bullies will thrive, while their victims suffer life-long negative health and social impacts.*
So, here is the unadulterated truth: society loves bullies. Yes, that's right, society selects bullies for promotion, leadership, wealth and position, and has done so for thousands of years. We love winners, and despite our moralistic preaching, will look to blame the victim, because we perceive them to be a loser in the competition of life.
Neil Tippett, lead author of the review, emphasized, "This hierarchy is familiar to us all from our own school days. In my view, so long as the rewards exist for bullies in the form of social status, it is difficult to make bullies to change their behaviours as there is little incentive for them to do so."*
We are fascinated by bullies, uncompromising winners and those who pursue success at all costs. The charismatic bully holds us in their thrall, convinces some of us to participate in acts of physical, emotional or psychological harm to others, and promises to share the rewards. This phenomenon contributed to the Global Financial Crisis, and resulted in those who tried to warn government and the financial sector of the impending crisis, being ostracized and victimized.
If the bully is rewarded early in life, they are unlikely to change their behavior for the better, or develop empathy, instead hard-wiring in the mind-maps for bullying and manipulation, becoming extreme narcissists. If they are one of the 3% of the human population who is a psychopath, then this bullying behavior can set them on a path that will most likely do immense harm to others. If the psychopath is bullied, then the results can be even worse. Research suggests that when a psychopath is bullied during childhood their lack of empathy can become pathological.
So what do we do?
As a society we need to stop rewarding bullies, from the playground, to the classroom, to the shop-floor to the board-room. We need to take complaints about bullying seriously, and swallow the short term bitter-pill of removing a bully from their position of power. If we observe a bully in action, submit a complaint and then remove yourself from the bully's sphere of influence. It is not your job to fix them, it is not your job to make them better, leave that to the professionals. Take your energy elsewhere and reclaim your life.
If we are serious about creating a bully-free playground, we need to stop rewarding the teenage and adult bully; we need to champion co-operation, consultation and collaboration and reward these behaviors instead.
Are we as a society prepared to walk-the-talk?
Elisabetta is the author of The Energy Code, The DNA of Bullying, The Infidel, Veritas and D'Arc, the Legend of Saint Joan.
More from Elisabetta
- Neil Tippett, BSc, and Dieter Wolke, PhD. Socioeconomic Status and Bullying: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Public Health, April 2014 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.301960
- University of Warwick. "Anti-bullying policy must focus on all of society." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 April 2014. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140429125737.htm.