THE BLOG
12/05/2012 06:23 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2013

Rethinking How We Talk About the Bully: Defusing the Arch-Enemy of the Interconnected 21st Century

The Internet has done a wonderful job of connecting us psychically to one another. We have the means to know other people's thoughts, in groups and individually. And in turn, the web has exposed humanity's most damaging tendencies to engage in cruelty and dehumanization.

It is in our nature to place higher importance on ourselves and the survival of those closest to us, and in extreme situations to objectify individuals we want to harm. But objectifying an enemy during times of war and directing this same energy toward fellow students, co-workers, and people in one's community is a horrible type of social behavior that has caused irreparable harm to so many. Bullies may have turned bullying into an art form, but thankfully, social pressure is turning it into a dying art.

At every level of society, a bully will use force or coercion to abuse or intimidate others. People are making a stand to say bullies have held the world stage and the schoolyard long enough. Since the dawn of the digital age, cyber-bullying and the ease of impersonal communication has brought this kind of aggression into the forefront. This bullying tendency when taken to its extreme no longer has a place in our interconnected digital world. One of the most disconcerting things about posting harmful messages on the web is how it can easily be done in an anonymous way. Bullies can hide in plain cyber-sight, and strike their victims from afar.

In recent years, suicides driven by social bullying have created headlines and are becoming recurring topics for many Americans. The seemingly endless number of infuriatingly careless comments posted on stories or blogs when someone commits suicide over cyber-bullying is appalling. Commentators saying how the victim was weak and deserved to die add to the sting of loss for families. Even after their victims have died, the cyber-bullies continue their malice.

In the world of business, bullies have been known to thrive and create vast fortunes. So how can we condemn bullies when they are often more financially and socially successful then their less assertive counterparts? It's hard to deter a bully when the rewards of shamelessly aggressive behavior are cherished in an endless number of ways in our culture, and are viewed as entertainment in movies and television shows. And, due to social conditioning we find ourselves so enraptured by the emotionally disturbed behavior, that we forget how easily bullies like to claim moral superiority in every confrontation. When in fact, the only argument most bullies fall back on is "just because they said so," presented in the manner of petulant children, not from a place of reasoning.

The bully mentality is about overpowering by force and persistence. When bullies are looked up to, it shows their peers that one doesn't have to be morally balanced to be declared victorious. You simply need to be the loudest, the meanest, or the most willing to use intimidation and violence. In primitive societies driven by the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, one can understand how aggressive behavior was necessary for survival. In much more advanced civilizations focused on community and self-actualization, abusive behavior cripples progression and weakens entire communities.

When bullies find themselves in charge, they often falter as the lack of a more delicate set of social skills needed to become a truly motivational leader are never acquired during their forceful rise to power. Bully behavior damages their opposition by forcing their will, and in most cases it's a defensive measure which disguises emotional turmoil and conflict. In a sane and progressive world, a bully would find everyone to be their opposition.

Bully behavior comes across far better in popular culture than in real life. In the movies, we want our heroes and anti-heroes, villains, and even plucky nerds to fight the awesome fight, even if it means they must get in touch with their inner bully to win the day. Studies have shown that when observed from an unbiased third-person perspective, (as actors in films) a rebellious or aggressive character fares much better in their acceptance, and sometimes praise by their fellow peers than when that same figure just happens to be working in the cubical next to you. It's easy to favor a more aggressive and colorful figure when you're not immediately affected by it. One isn't so welcoming when an over-the-top bully is interfering with your education or career.

One of the ways to combat a bully is to step back, and just remain indifferent and emotionally disengaged. Bullies need an audience to exert force over. And bully behavior harms more than the victims of bullying. You've got to figure a bully is setting himself up for myriad health problems later in life, if not sooner. High blood pressure could just be the beginning of the end for a bully. It might be difficult to live with a bully, but it is far more difficult to live life as one. But, when bullies only understand force, new forceful strategies to end their behavior must be tried.

What our culture now requires is a more compassionate way for children and adults to treat each other. Living in a nation where school shootings and workplace murders have become commonplace is unacceptable. Do we want to be seen as a heartless, cruel, and aggressive nation? Wouldn't we rather be perceived as the most kindhearted, giving, and compassionate nation on Earth? Being the most violent country on the planet isn't what we should be known for, and if we're lucky we have time to make a course correction before it gets too late. We can start with ending the bully culture and creating a culture of compassion, reasoning, and intelligence.