By Izzy Kalman, MS, NCSP

The movement to eliminate bullying from society and from school has been forging ahead full steam for two decades. It has become one of the most popular social movements in history, embraced by all developed nations and spreading throughout the developing world as well. People of all religions and political parties support the cause. A full month every year – October – is dedicated to bullying awareness. Be Strong is but one of a vast number of organizations that have risen to confront the issue.

So why does bullying continue to be such a stubborn problem, often referred to as a growing epidemic? Scientists have eradicated some of the world’s deadliest diseases in less time. Why do we still need to continue the campaign against bullying? Why hasn’t it entered the dustbin of history?

To understand why bullying isn’t disappearing – and will never disappear – we need to look in the mirror. Bullying did not begin with a generation alive today and will not end with one.

Modern psychology has been verifying what wise people throughout history have taught: human beings are hypocrites, adept at seeing the flaws in others, while being blind to our own. As Mark Twain said, “Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits.”

We need only read the comments to online articles to see how people – grown, intelligent adults – relish the opportunity to be nasty. And people follow the herd. You will notice that once one person leaves a nasty comment, the floodgates are flung open and increasingly nasty comments follow. This is exactly what happens among kids in school.

The thing is, none of us think we are engaging in bullying when we leave nasty comments, or that we’re being complicit bystanders when we take pleasure in the attacks against those we don’t like. Once we think of people as bullies, we feel virtuous attacking them.

Perhaps the reason we are failing to eliminate bullying is because we don’t want to, that we enjoy it too much. Is it possible that we only want to deny others the right to do it to us, while retaining the right for ourselves to do it to others?

If we are to learn anything about bullying, it is that the bullies are not “them”; they are “us.” It is a facet of our human nature. If bullying, then, is inevitable, is there anything we can do to reduce it and to prevent people, most importantly our children, from suffering at its hands? Sure there is.

First of all, it is important to continue teaching the difference between good and bad behavior, as all civilized societies do. Second, if we wish to create a more civil society, we need to look in the mirror and begin with ourselves. We can’t expect our children to be better than we are. And third, we need to provide effective instruction in how to cope when people treat us badly, because it’s going to happen. If we respond in the wrong way, they continue treating us badly. If we handle it successfully, we put a stop to the meanness and don’t become victims.

This has been the major focus of my work as a school psychologist and psychotherapist for the past forty years, and it’s been my honor to be part of the Be Strong effort to bring these skills to the world’s children.

Izzy Kalman is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and lead author of the Be Strong Resilience Program. He writes the Psychology Today blog, Resilience to Bullying.

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