Throughout history, if you were to ask the sages of a given culture why people do bad things, you would be told that somehow, someway pride and selfishness were leading culprits. In fact you will still hear this answer throughout most of the world today--except in America and a minority of related nations.
Our great country is at the tail end of what was a seemingly large-souled campaign and compassionate experiment. We have gone against the grain of thousands of years of belief and created a bold, intriguing and seemingly humane hypothesis: People actually do bad things because they feel badly about themselves. The remedy, we've been told for nearly 40 years, is a heaping dose of greater self-esteem.
So how's it working? Has "positive discipline," having students write stories and poems about how great thou art, peer mediation, and a host of other programs designed to combat bullying in our schools actually transformed the minority of children who bully into better people?
Though it is true that "hurting people hurt people," a growing body of research tells us that this is not the main reason why people become serial Bullies. Your average Bully does not feel badly about himself or herself. Your average Bully actually possesses average to excessive self-esteem. Many Bullies intentionally harm others with superior power and over time due to self-love, not self-hate, as Dr. Roy Baumeister among others continue to show us, even though we seem to have limited stomach for such an old-fashioned belief anymore--an aversion that will continue to tear at the tapestry of our culture until we adopt a wiser orientation to this growing problem.
Enter Exhibit A, Jennifer LaFleur.
The Canadian Broadcast Company (CBC) interviewed LaFleur earlier this year. She was a self-professed "mean girl" for most of her school years. Now she's a psychotherapist who helps Targets escape bullying. During this myth-shattering interview, she admits that she was "selfish," "self-centered," did not come from a "bad home," and was intoxicated by the power she once wielded. As proof she admits how in 4th grade she created an all-girl's-club for the sole purpose of excluding and harming another girl who did nothing wrong to LaFleur. She drafted a contract that she demanded 10 other girls in her class sign, swearing to "hate" this other girl. All 10 signed it (When you wonder what kind of person joins a dangerous cult, or how seemingly "good kids" can be so cruel, think about this incident. And chances are some of those girls went to church that week, that month.)
What made this cruel and abusive Queen Bee change her bullying ways? An autobiographical essay proclaiming to herself and the fortunate world how great she really is? Penning a song of admiration about her wondrous Inner Butterfly? Positive discipline on behalf of well-meaning Authority? The answer to this and more in the next installment.
Bullying: The only form of intentional abuse we tell the most vulnerable among us to "just ignore."