Why Do Bullies Bully?

As I wrote my post on being bullied, the question I kept coming back to was "Why do bullies bully?"

Most people dismiss it as quickly as they do bullying with a statement like "Because they can." or "Blame the parents."

That's not good enough for me. See, I don't think we can solve the bullying problem without addressing why kids bully. Yes, we can encourage the bullied to hold on and not let it get them down. We can remind them that life does get better. And, that's important. I applaud the It Gets Better Project for the work it does with that.

But, I want to figure out a way to encourage bullies to stop bullying. I think, sadly, it starts at the top. It starts with the leadership and media in our country, parents' attitudes toward others, and all the adults in a child's life.

Bullies are not born, they are made. We create bullies by demonstrating that it's possible to get what you want by belittling and abusing other people. We live in a world where the person who wins elections tends to be the one who screams the loudest insults and taunts at the other one. If someone remains dignified and doesn't retaliate, we, the public, see that person as weak. Score one for the bullies of the world.

This is the example we set for the children of the world. If you're losing your argument, hurl insults, lies, or rhetoric until you exhaust your opponent. That is bullying on the public level. Politicians, religious leaders, celebrities, pundits, and other people in the public eye resort to the technique when the facts don't support the reality. I see this on social media sites, in blogs, and even in everyday conversations. Seriously, can we not disagree based on facts? Can we not lay out the opinions, look at the facts, and then find a way to see each other's points  in order to move forward together to make the world a better place for all involved? Is winning and proving our point really so important that we'd rather bully people into silence than have a civilized discourse where there's potential for everyone to learn and grow?

In our homes, often one spouse will bully the other to get their way. Perhaps it's more subtle. Constant reminders of some supposedly forgiven and forgotten transgression to get one to back down from an argument. Accusations of oversensitivity or insensitivity to force the other spouse to capitulate to one thing or another. Sometimes even physical intimidation to get a spouse to back down from a position. All of this is bullying on display for children to learn. Children learn much more from the examples they're shown than from the words spoken to them. When we demonstrate that bullying works, we teach children to bully.

Parents play a role in creating bullies. How can they not? They are the ones who first teach children how to treat people. Overly strict parents create children who are rigid with their interactions with other children. Abusive parents teach children to use violence to get what they want. Neglectful parents don't teach children proper social skills for interacting with others. Parents who coddle their children teach them that they are entitled to whatever they want and to just take it. Parents who don't teach children proper boundaries create children who can't respect boundaries. Parents who don't treat each other and their children with respect, dignity, and compassion teach their children to be disrespectful, uncaring, and even cruel to others. When parents teach children that others aren't equal to them, they teach them to treat others unequally. All these lessons contribute to the makeup of a bully.

The point is that we have to teach children a few very essential basics if we want to stop bullying, and we have to live that life and demand our leaders lead that life as well. We have to teach our children to treat others with respect, dignity, and compassion. We must lead by example by genuinely treating one another with respect, dignity, and compassion.

When we learn to celebrate our differences and recognize our similarities, we learn from one another. More importantly we discover we all have more in common than not. (Yes, that refrain is one I repeat often. That is likely to continue. Maybe someday more people will embrace the idea in practice and not just theory.) When we see ourselves as being more similar than dissimilar, it becomes more difficult to hurt one another. It truly does. When we stop preaching division and start teaching togetherness, compassion, and understanding, we will find that it's much more difficult to insult one another unfairly. When we understand, truly understand, that all people feel pain when injured, we'll be less likely to hit, maim, or kill others. When we truly comprehend that being able to withstand pain while inflicting it on others doesn't make us superior, we'll stop seeing others as inferior. When we recognize that all human beings have feelings, we will begin to understand that when we hurt another we also hurt ourselves.

The only way we end bullying is to take away what divides us and remember what connects us: our humanity, our humanness, the journey we share to create a life worth living, and love.


  1. Such a great post T.L! We've had lots of talks in our house about appropriate vs inappropriate interactions. It's tricky but definitely time well spent.


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