Noted philosopher and humanitarian Lady Gaga recently appeared at Harvard to kick off her anti-bullying foundation Born This Way, whose website describes its mission: “To foster a more accepting society, where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated.” The website further states “The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a braver, kinder world.”
Lady Gaga has added her voice to a growing chorus calling for the elimination of bullying in our schools. This chorus includes both Barack and Michelle Obama, who last year hosted a Conference on Bullying Prevention at which the First Lady declared “We all need to play a role – as teachers, coaches, as faith leaders, elected officials, and anyone who’s involved in our children’s lives,” while the President noted that “A third of middle and high school students have reported being bullied during the school year,” and added “We also have to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure no child is in that position in the first place.”
All this raises some questions. Do they really believe that if only we pass enough laws, people can go though life without ever having to develop the internal resources to cope with adversity? Do they really believe that no interpersonal transaction is too trivial to be policed by the state? Do they really not see a downside to all this?
(Answers: 1) Yes 2) Yes and 3) Yes.)
A campaign against anything as vaguely defined as “bullying” cannot but help suffer from mission creep. It already has. The New York Times article I linked to above noted an example of the horrendous bullying Lady Gaga suffered as a teenager: her schoolmates held a party and deliberately excluded her. No mention was made as to whether Lady Gaga took this as an occasion for self-reflection, to ponder whether she ought to be doing anything in her life differently.
Do these people really think we should not be allowed to choose who we befriend and who we do not?
The proponents of this sort of thing claim that bullying leads to teen suicide, but they don’t have any proof of a cause-and-effect relationship. Isn’t it just as likely that the sort of dysfunctional person who thinks suicide is the solution to his problems is the sort of dysfunctional person who attracts bullies?
Anyway, it’s not a foregone conclusion that this campaign is going to help matters. We inundate young people with the message that bullying causes lifelong personal devastation, and we also inundate them with the message that they are powerless to do anything about this sort of thing by themselves. Then, when they off themselves, we name laws after them, we build online memorials to them, and we pour out torrents of sympathy for them. I’d say anyone who thinks all this is going to lead to a decrease in teen suicide rates is shockingly naive.
Within the space of my lifetime, a seismic shift in our civilization has occurred, one that has been barely noticed. Our institutions have gone from meeting needs to creating needs, to trying to brainwash us all into believing that we are all fragile creatures who cannot solve the smallest personal problem by ourselves.
It so happens I have some experience in this area. When I was twelve years old, I was walking through the halls of our school, minding my own business, when another boy came up and punched me, without any provocation at all. I didn’t know what to do, so I started walking away.
I wasn’t always a hard-bodied weightlifter and martial arts instructor, you know. When I was a boy, violence, to me, was like a language of which I had never learned a word. I skipped a grade, and so I was always a year behind the other kids. I was the one who was always picked last when they chose sides for athletic contests. (Do they even do that anymore? I bet they don’t.) Plus I had a father who certainly could never be bothered to get up off the couch and teach his son to throw a punch, or for that matter throw a ball.
My father came from a family that was as ordinary and working-class as they come, his was the first generation in his family to go to university, and I now realize he was thoroughly ashamed of his working-class roots. He thought contact spots and martial arts were worse than a waste of time, because then somebody might mistake you for one of those horrible sub-humans who work with their hands. We lived in a rural area, among people who were as ordinary and working-class as they come, and we were encouraged to look down on the neighbors. I now realize I must have looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy to those kids.
To return to the story: I started walking away, and the other boy came up and punched me again. This time, I grabbed his coat in both hands, wound up, and threw him against the lockers with all my might. The look of astonishment on his face was priceless. That’s the best anti-bullying program there is.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons