At every presentation for teachers wanting to stop school bullying, I get asked, “Is bullying normal?” When I look at child development, I see that we’re born demanding. We must demand that our parents feed and change us when we want, not merely when they feel like getting around to it, not at their convenience or pleasure. As babies, the more strong and tough, the more determined and persevering we are, the better our chances of getting what we need. Therefore, drive, determination, will and perseverance are normal. Asserting our needs and fighting for ourselves are normal. Grit – perseverance, endurance and resolve – is normal. All these are normal and desirable qualities.
I think of drive, determination, will and grit as part of our engines. Without strong engines we’ll never get anywhere. With strong engines, we have a chance of making wonderful lives.
As we grow, our parents are supposed to teach us how to get what we want or need using methods other than bullying or abuse; using peaceful methods that are more considerate of other people. Indeed, most of us do learn to ask nice and to use the magic words (“please,” “thank you”).
As we grow, our parents are supposed to keep reminding us to think about how little Johnny or Jane feel when we don’t share or when we take their toys or when we whack them physically or verbally. And eventually, especially when we feel the pain of being harassed, bullied and abused ourselves, we understand how the other person feels when we bully them. And we stop bullying in order to get what we want.
If these methods are reinforced and rewarded at home – if we see compassion, empathy and negotiation successfully used within our families, successfully used by our families when dealing with outsiders like clerks, cops and strangers, successfully used on the streets by our peers and their parents – we’re likely to learn these techniques.
But we, individually and as a society, do not admire drive, determination, will and grit without limits. We do not admire barbarians. We don’t want to raise brutes, thugs and bullies who grab whatever they want and crush everyone in the way.
We will not take our freedom by subjugating or enslaving other people. We do not admire bullies or tyrants. We know that if we teach only drive, determination, will and grit, if we preach only Darwinian Survival of the Mightiest we are in danger of creating barbarians.
Therefore, it’s also normal in our society for us to learn not to use harassment, threats, bullying and abuse to get what we want. Compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect are normal in our society; they’re part of our steering wheels. We, individually and as a society, value these qualities.
Children are born with drive, determination, will and grit; we teach them compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect. A car with a strong engine but a lousy steering wheel will take us no where good. Examples of societies that lack a good steering wheel are obvious; our own failures are glaring.
At the same time, we do not admire compassion, concern, caring and empathy without limits. People with these qualities, but with no drive, determination, will and grit won’t survive in the real-world. They’ll be too weak, afraid and dependent. Typically, they’ll lack confidence and have low self-esteem but have a veneer of self-righteousness, arrogance and entitlement.
We don’t want our children to become adults dependent on handouts from us or a “Big Brother” government. We don’t want them to become so dependent on comforts, self-indulgence and entitlements that they won’t fight for their national, political or individual liberty. We certainly don’t want our kids to become weak, wimpy citizens still sponging off us as adults because the world is too harsh, cruel or difficulty for them.
We want bullies to have more compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect for their targets.
We want our children to have more drive, determination, will, grit and skill so they’ll be strong and smart enough to stop bullies. And we want the responsible adults to protect them. We don’t want to subject our children to continued bullying because we’re overwhelmed with sympathy for the bullies who we assume must be bullied at home and on the street.
Personally I want to make sure my children and grandchildren have wonderful engines. Then I’ll teach good steering wheels. And I look at each and ask, “What does that person need more of?”
To function most effectively, we need both strong engines and good steering wheels. We need the cluster of drive, determination, will and grit, and we also need the cluster of compassion, concern, caring, empathy and respect.