Friday, September 30, 2011


I drove into work today listening to a very enjoyable CBC Currents program on Bullying in the school.  A professor in Ontario has developped the "bully lab" to study bullying by children. Her most interesting piece of research to me, was the observation that bystanders in 80% of case egged on the bullies and clapped or cheered their victimization. Further, with exception, when they approached the parents, as one contributor said 'the seed didn't fall far from the tree'.
I became interested in bullying first as a child. It was indeed the "norm" in my neighbourhood.  My brother defended me from my first memorable bully, an older horrible boy in Scouts. I was a cub at the time and my brother was a scout.  It was good to have an older brother.  A group of brothers who I believe all ended up in jails were the notoriously feared bullies in the neighborhood.  I defended other kids and girls myself being a scrapper early before moving on to street fighting.  I remember as a youth getting pointed toed shoes and cuban heeled boots not so much for the style as their value as a weapon. Later I loved cowboy boots for the same reason.
A documentary of boys showed these happy go lucky little guys at the age of 5 then reviewed them through till they were teens.  After a year of school and the competition and physical threat that went with being a boy all of them had lost that joie de vivre.  They were learning wariness. The school and the way to and from were dangerous places.
I was lucky, bigger, faster, smarter in physical ways. After bigger boys beat us up my dad taught the neighbourhood kids boxing and self defence in the basement.  Then my friend Kirk and I got a Ju Jitsu book and practiced all the moves over and over again. Compared to the gymnastics we were learning at the YMCA this stuff was easy.  One of our coaches was a black belt in some martial art and he'd give us tips when we'd rough house at the Y.  At school the principle game we loved was 'murder ball', truly a game for bullies whereas in scouts and cubs the game was always last man standing with the one person starting in the middle and all the kids having to run to the other side. This one kid would be mowed down by the stampede till he caught another and slowly built up his team till the last man had to run through the pack.  We actually played Indian war games back then too.  So it was in many ways a war culture before the 60's, not surprising considering the recent WWII
As a psychiatrist I began to treat women raped in the office. Not sexually harrassed by trapped afterwork in empty buildings and raped by a boss or co worker.  In one famous case the wife and daughters were the principle defendants of this notorious sexual bully.  A group of girls sexually abused a younger effeminate guy sitting on him and playing with his penis.  He'd stayed a virgin until his 30's when he came to see me.
Therapy has tremendous benefits for victims.  Dr. Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery is a classic. She works still as the psychiatrist head of trauma at Harvard.
Alot of bullying that came to my attention in the office was so overt but happened in the workplace and in the school. One teen was routinely bullied but the principle and school denied it. I discussed the matter with the police department because I believed the kid even though the parents were less supportive. The police were terrific partly because of my good relationship and trememdous respect for the tough job they have. They did a clandestine surveillance of the playground and sure enough two kids were bullying the rest of the children simply to steal their lunches and lunch money.
In the work place there's tremendous bullying.  This occurs more now with the greater difficulty getting and keeping jobs.  Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Psychiatrists in New Mexico had focussed on Workplace Bullying and seen in the victims variations on PTSD, lesser forms but the same elements.
The horns of dilemna arise when people simply can't 'quit' a job.  It's always the issue, 'why not jsut quit'.  Yet a person may have invested a life time in their work or may be supporting sick family. There's a whole number of reasons that make quitting seriously less easy for some than others. Predators take this into account and usually pick on the weakest.
Bullyonline is the best resource I've ever come accross as a one stop shopping for information on this matter. Tim Fielding a simple employee began the site Bullyonline in England a decade or two back when he was having difficulties with an employer.  The site went viral and since there's been tremendous interest in the matter because bullies in the workplace literally cost millions in productivity.  Even other workers hearing an individual being shouted at will work less effectively for a day or two.
Now routinely any one who tells me they're being bullied in the workplace gets referred to Tim's site.  He even has links to children's resources with cartoons on how to talk back to bullies.
Bullying stifles creativity and reduces performance.  Despite television shows that show the worker doing better for a brief period when his daughter's life is being threatened, like torture, bullying has a very short shelf life with very unpredictable outcomes. Staff turnover is often a reflection of bullying. So much of the problems in workplace are directly a consequence of the usually very poor education and training of middle management.
I've been amused as how in my own field doctors with a dozen years of training and expertise and years of experience are commonly given an administrator who at best has an undergraduate degree, if luck a 3-5 year mba and not one of these august management types has ever had a phd yet they're often bullying colleagues with several phd's demanding more work for less pay while enjoying all the perks themselves.  Overall issues like this affect performance throughout the system.
Military platoons performance was best when the leadership was seasoned and experienced.  The new management model of 'parachuting' in untried leaders rather than taking people who are experienced from the ranks might provide 'loyalty' to the crown but it doesn't provide the highest standards of leadership and hence performance by the group.
I enjoyed the professor from the 'bully lab' who said that bullying commonly is a product of the 'bully' not being educated in alternatives and themselves being afraid.  It's those who are most out of control who desire control so earnestly.  Education and learning better means of coping help the bully as much as the victim. Programs like Anger management for men and women, locally we have Moose Anger Management, are the kinds of programs that can reduce bullying and teach potential bullies how to cope better and more effectively without doing the reptile or ape dance.


Anonymous said...



haykind said...

Ecclesiastes said something similiar though I've most like Thoreau's most people live 'lives of quiet desperation". They're the back drop to the incredible number of exceptions that prove the rule. I love the surprises. Thanks for your comment.