Friday, October 25, 2013

Blessed are the Meek, for They Shall Inherit the Earth

Visiting grade schools occasionally one cannot help notice the prominent displaying of posters about what a child should do when he or she is bullied. I cannot imagine that these measures would have been effective when I was in school. The very presence of these sorts of posters (which were not around back then) makes me wonder if bullying is more common now than then. When I see these posters, I also wonder how effective the advice that they give actually is. My guess is, not much. Two reports out this week confirm my hunch.

In the first one, it is noted that
what’s really changed is that real bullies don’t face consequences anymore.

It used to be that bullies had something to worry about. The bullied kid might catch them alone and beat them up. These days, that’s hardly a risk at all. We’ve become a society that views physical force, even in self-defense, as unacceptable.
This is not just idle talk:
Across the country, there are stories of bullied kids who fought back . . . and were promptly suspended or expelled. Last year, 9-year-old Nathan Pemberton of Colorado Springs fought back after his bully physically attacked him. He was suspended.
Last week in Stafford, Texas, a bullied girl who was getting beat up by her tormentor dared to not just take it. She was promptly expelled despite the fact that this was a modern sort of fight — that is, caught entirely on cell-phone video. Is the official policy to just quietly surrender when you’re being pummeled?
Though we often talk about blaming the victim, this is actually punishing the victim. The author notes that two teenage girls, who bullied a classmate so much that she committed suicide and then bragged about it, are unlikely to receive any punishment for their actions.
The bullies of our youth could be stopped with a surprise punch. The ones of today have protection from that, thanks to our zero-tolerance policies. We’re raising a generation of superbullies.
The other story is about what happens when schoolyard bullies grow up and enter the workplace. If "between 30 and 37 percent" of people "have been bullied at work," then there certainly is a problem there as well. Reportedly
workplace bullying can lead to psychosomatic illnesses, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and increased medical expenses, not to mention reduced productivity.
One would think that the reduced productivity alone would be sufficient reason to be concerned about the problem.

The article cites Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik who
calls the worst workplace bullies "high aggressives."

"They don't have a well-developed sense of empathy," she says. "They are high on narcissism."

They are horrible one second to a target, she says, then perform beautifully with smiles for a supervisor.
the way bullies treat others has a lot to do with perceived social status. People above them get treated well, those "below" not so well.
Lutgen-Sandvik says that bullies
target anyone perceived as a threat. Bullies fear losing their place of power. Driven by fear, she says, they don't care about others' feelings. 
Bullies are concerned mainly with themselves.
"Bullies target kind people," [Sam] Horn says. "Popular people. People others respect. Bullies see such people as threats. Bullies feel intimidated and target their victims to diminish them — thinking that if they shrink their victim it will make them taller."

Because the victims often have high senses of empathy and morality, Horn says, they are confounded by the bully. "They can't believe that someone would act this way," she says. "Because they are people of integrity, they question themselves and ... feel powerless."
 The common advice is to confront the bully. That advice might not be the wisest.
[Gary] Namie says confrontations or reporting the incident to a boss or human resources officer may only increase the bullying as the bully feels threatened and retaliates. A study by the institute says 69 percent of victims have confronted the bully and 93 percent of those confrontations failed to stop the bullying.
When the odds are one in fourteen, you have better odds at craps. The problem with several recommended strategies in dealing with bullies is that they work only in exceptional cases.
[Sam] Horn admits, however, there is no one right way to deal with bullies.
Other proposed strategies also do not work.
It may be, however, because of his position in the company, the bully won't be cowed, reprimanded or fired. In cases where the victim was required to go through mediation with the bully, 33 percent of the time the victim was fired or quit. The perpetrators were fired only 3 percent of the time.
So working through mediation or human resources has only half the success of confrontation. And in a third of cases, it is the victim who is punished. Any strategy that is eleven times more likely to punish the victim rather than the perpetrator is not an effective strategy for justice.

In the end,
a company has to tolerate bullies for them to exist [in the workplace].
This is why I am not sanguine that a program or push by a politician, no matter how well intended, is going to stop bullying in the schools. If there are no effective methods of stopping bullies, then good intentions alone will neither prevent nor stop bullying. One could legislate that the tide should not come in and that might be as effective. Such well-intentioned efforts are even less persuasive if the politician in question resorts to bullying himself. Some of them do not even realize the irony or the hypocrisy.

Historically, there have always been bullies. If the conventional wisdom is that rewarding behavior generates more of it, then we should expect bullying to increase.