The recent article on bullying (A flashback) drew several responses from readers. Several people shared their own experiences with being bullied, and how they dealt with it. One candidly said he had been both bullied and had been a bully himself, and as an adult now, didn’t know which was harder to live with. Another made the observation that bullies often come from a home life with family members that have mental issues of their own.
It is fair to say that the practice of bullying is as old as humankind and may have served a purpose in human evolution at one time during our primitive beginnings. Yet it is still tolerated and people still willingly follow bullies if they believe it is in their self-interest or out of fear of what the bully could do to them. Generally, bullies tend to be narcissistic with fragile egos and self-worth issues and lack empathy towards others. Most “grow out of it” as they grow older, but many do not.
One reader said that the “cure” for bullying was to fully embrace the Old and New Testaments, i.e. the Bible, since it is the “word of God” and infallible. Yet the modern notions of morality and behavior do not fully correspond to Old Testament teachings. We no longer stone women to death for adultery. (Men were generally exempted from this one-sided practice and, indeed, could have multiple wives, concubines and sex slaves.) We do not stone our neighbors to death if we catch them working on the Sabbath, as commanded by the Hebrew codex. Nor would civilized people march into a neighboring country and kill every man, woman, child and baby and take their land. Our contemporary notions of morality and justice would conclude these practices constitute murder and genocide.
But one may fairly ask if there is one set of values, principles and social practices that are, or should be, universal to all different cultures and beliefs that would “cure” the dark side of human nature. From the first society of which we have good documentation, the Sumerian, to the present, each civilization has developed basic laws and cultural and religious practices. Though ideas were often adopted from other cultures, each society created its own “spin” on rules of behavior. Many of the social ideas of the Sumerians who lived thousands of years ago were adopted by later societies including the Greeks, the Romans, and even modern civilization.
Gilgamesh, the main character in the Epic of Gilgamesh, was a Sumerian King, probably an actual historical figure. In the epic tale written thousands of years ago, he sets out on a journey to discover the secret of immortality. He is, according to the story, an entity that is two-thirds god and one-third man. (This begs the question: If he was two-thirds god, why didn’t he already know the secret of eternal life?) He is the “strong man” that has the ability to create laws for his people or disregard them for his own personal benefit. In the story, he is chastised by other men in the ruling class for using his position to satisfy his own desires and for ignoring rules that apply to everyone else. For instance, he assumed the right to have sexual relations with any virgin bride he chose, even if against her will, the night before she became wife to her husband. Today, we call that rape. He was a bully in that he used intimidation and fear to get away with activities no other citizen would dare to do. But as we see in the story, even then there were people who objected to bullying.
When asked, nearly everyone will say they are against bullying. So why is it so prevalent in our society? The answer really is the lack of a response by people who could have an impact on stopping it and that don’t. It is a matter of apathy and fear. And also people sometimes welcome bullies, if they are on “their side.” For instance, bullies sometimes become welcomed CEOs of corporations as long as their energies are directed against competing corporations. Or political leaders who are adept at stroking personal bias in their followers. So who is ultimately responsible for bullying? We all are if we make excuses for it when it benefits us and condemn it when personally convenient. Or ignore it when we could do something to stop it. Ultimately, humanity in a distant totally hypothetical humane society must condemn it all on principle whether or not there is some perceived advantage for tolerating it, because ultimately, bullies have no loyalty other than to themselves.
Email Terry Mejdrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.