Why Do Adults Bully: It’s Not Just on the School Playground

I attended a session today on horizontal violence. No, get your mind out of the gutter, it has nothing to do with that. It’s about bullying in the workplace, among other things.

I was at a table with two really cool people. Although we had somewhat varying opinions, all three of us were adults and were able to get through the program without issue. It was nice, much unlike some of the encounters we had all witnessed before at our various workplaces.

I knew bullies in school. There was one girl who was a notorious bully, not to mention a bit loose, honestly. It was like, for her anyway, those two things went hand-in-hand. This isn’t true of any of the other bullies I knew or have known since, so perhaps it was an anomoly.

I knew other bullies, both personally and in the news. There was a certain Atlanta Braves player in the 90s that I believe sportscasters had actually called a bully on the air. He was the same one, funny as it may be, who was caught, during the World Series, picking his nose in the dugout ON AIR. Hilarious barn humor, but it was funny as heck to see him in such a vulnerable state. There was another one in the 90s who played for the same team. Also a bully. They didn’t play the same position, as far as I know, but they both played for the Braves. I don’t know if it was their behavior, the fact that my Dad (a Vietnam War vet) hated Jane Fonda, or that they played my beloved Yankees, but I do believe that the bullies on their team made me dislike them just a wee bit more than I would have otherwise. Either way, bullying was not something I found to be a good character trait then or now.
I am not a social scientist. I do have a psych degree, but I don’t remember the “why” of bullies. I believe it had something to do with antisocial disorder, which my professor described, in these words: basically it means the person is a complete a**hole. I think some bullies may have this “disorder”, but I think the disorder is primarily due to bad parenting. Parents who put up with it, being bullied by their own children or worse yet, allowing them to bully other people without recourse.

Bullies, unfortunately, don’t seem grow out of it. I can imagine that that same girl from Mr. Heath’s history class is still bullying her way around unsuspecting nice people today, that is, unless she’s had a life-changing near-death experience, or had her butt kicked by someone who was sick of putting up with it. Sometimes you wonder where those people ended up. I don’t much, until things like today come up, which make me remember.
I know bullies today. Unfortunately, bullies never seem to see their own misgivings, and they believe that they can simply push people around. I know first-hand how it feels to just shut down, to a certain degree like the class leader said today: “Oh, Paul’s just like that. There really isn’t anything we can do but ignore him”. I am, by practice for about 14 years, the absolute best ignorer there is. Sometimes you have to deal with someone, even when you want to ignore them; sometimes the ignoring is temporary; sometimes it’s permanent. In my 14-year experience and my most recent, it is the latter.

The only way I know how to deal with a bully is to not feed his/her fire. Just walk away, but don’t “take” it anymore.

I did that exact thing one night about 8 years ago. Took a step through an open door and said my peace. What’s funny is that that was one of the most honest conversations I’d ever had with that particular bully.

And I’ve never looked back.

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