Dear Melania: about that anti-bullying campaign of yours
by Izzy Kalman | January 09, 2020
You deserve commendation for taking up the anti-bullying campaign as your personal mission. Unfortunately, the "Be Best" program is not going well, and even students are booing you. The news media has had a field day ridiculing you for failing to start your anti-bullying campaign at home, with the man the Washington Post has branded our Bully-in-Chief.
But it's not your fault. There is no reason for you to know why the efforts to motivate kids to "Be Best" and stop engaging in bullying can't work. Your predecessors in the White House, the Obamas, also took up the anti-bullying mission and failed. Twenty years of massive national warfare against bullying, guided by the world's leading bullying experts, has been failing. Bullying has continued to be a growing epidemic, with a steadily increasing number of bullied children dying from suicide and others attempting school massacres, and a proliferation of lawsuits against schools for failing to stop bullying. No, you cannot expect to succeed by doing what has failed for everyone else.
To succeed, you need a totally different approach. Here is my guidance on how to leave your mark on society.
1. Your husband won the Presidency on a promise of change. To solve the bullying problem, you, too, must have the courage to radically change the nation's course. Not only has it been failing, it's actually been making the bullying problem worse.
2. Your anti-bullying efforts must acknowledge the President’s behavior and make sense of it or you will rightfully be branded a hypocrite. Positively integrate what can be learned from him into your Be Best campaign.
3. Realize that changing the nation’s approach to bullying will be the most difficult challenge of your life. Antibullyism is among the most popular social movements in human history. People love the idea that others are responsible for their emotional pain and that it is society’s job to make sure everyone treats them with respect. Furthermore, anti-bullying is a multi-billion dollar industry. Some will see you as a threat and combat your efforts to replace that industry with a free, effective solution to bullying.
4. Delve into the research on bullying. Researchers have convinced us that we must rely on them for dependable information and safe interventions for bullying. So examine their findings.
You will discover that research has shown that the popular approach to bullying, based on the teachings of the founder of the psychological field of bullying, Prof. Dan Olweus of Norway, has dismal results. Olweus’s own program, upon which state policies against bullying are based, barely makes a dent in the bullying problem and often makes it worse. Unsurprisingly, the research on state anti-bullying laws shows they are largely ineffective.
You may also discover that the leading researchers are vastly different from those employed by Consumer Reports, that bastion of unbiased evaluation of products and services. Many bullying researchers have vested interests of income and/or professional prestige in the outcomes of their studies. They interpret the data to make the programs they are promoting seem better than they really are. Furthermore, they warn us of the danger of using fundamentally different approaches from their own. Thus, they have been scaring us away from approaches that may actually be successful.
5. Question the beliefs promoted by the anti-bullying field. They are presented as facts rather than hypotheses requiring validation. One of those beliefs is that bullying is “culture,” and that replacing it with a “culture of anti-bullying” will make bullying disappear.
We have succeeded in creating the most anti-bully culture in history. Nevertheless, bullying is a bigger problem than ever. The real reason eradicating bullying is difficult is that bullying is not “culture” but “nature,” Culture is easy to change. Nature is not.
We are hard-wired to ridicule, condemn and attack those we don’t approve of. However, though we may think it is wrong, we do so without hesitation. We humans have an uncanny ability to justify our own bad behavior while only seeing the evil in others. The anti-bullying movement is so popular for the same reason it is failing: everyone thinks the bully is the other person.
6. Repeal money-wasting anti-bullying legislation. One of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises was to get rid of counterproductive regulations that waste taxpayer money while causing more harm than good.
This is exemplified by anti-bullying laws. They are a Catch-22. Meant to eliminate bullying, the very attempt to comply with them may cause an intensification of bullying.
Anti-bullying laws require schools to invest substantial staff time (money) to investigate every complaint of bullying. The schools hope to determine that the incident was not really bullying, because if it was, they inherit legal responsibility for it, meaning they can face lawsuits.
Unfortunately, the investigative process mandated by law tends to immediately escalate hostilities as each side fights to prove they are innocent and the other guilty. The accused bullies want revenge, so they are likely to follow with an even worse attack. They may also spread the message among peers that their informers are snitches, which can be a social death sentence. Thus, even if the initially reported incident did not technically qualify as bullying–possibly being nothing more than a one-time act of teasing–it now escalates into full-fledged warfare.
Furthermore, the anti-bullying laws, while unable to get rid of bullying, make it easy for parents to sue schools for failing to get rid of bullying. There is a rapidly growing avalanche of bullying lawsuits against schools, costing taxpayers many millions of dollars.
7. Replace the victim mentality with a winner mindset. The reason antibullyism is failing is that it teaches us to think like victims. The more we think like victims, the more we will be bullied. The following are some facets of a victim mentality and are all promoted by the anti-bullying field:
- I have a right to a life in which everyone treats me with dignity.
- Victims are virtuous, bullies are evil.
- “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can scar me forever/kill me.”
- Victims are powerless to handle bullying on their own.
- It is society’s responsibility to protect me from bullying.
- I must inform the authorities when I am bullied.
- Bullies deserve to be punished; if I get revenge against my bullies, it is their fault and they deserve it.
These anti-bully tenets are a recipe for disaster. And society has been witnessing the results. As books like the marvelous The Coddling of the American Mind lament, many of today's college students believe they should not have to encounter anything that might offend them. The students did not suddenly adopt this belief upon acceptance into college. It's been ingrained in them by the anti-bullying messages they've received since pre-school.
Replace the fantasies with reality:
- There is no such thing as a life without bullying; even the First Lady isn’t immune.
- Human beings are not angels; we are all capable of using power against others and enjoying it.
- Even Presidents engage in and experience bullying.
- Many of the worst acts of violence are committed not by bullies but by people who feel like victims.
- If given a choice between an insult and a broken bone, a sane person will choose the insult.
- Society is responsible for protecting us from crime—acts like assault, rape, theft, arson, and murder—but it can’t protect us from insults, rumors, exclusion, and the other inevitable negative features of social life.
- Informing on people to the authorities is a sure-fire way to get them to despise us.
- To be happy and successful, we need to take responsibility for our feelings. As Eleanor Roosevelt taught, no one can make us feel inferior without our consent.
- Defeating bullies requires not strength but wisdom.
8. Learn from Presidents, including Donald Trump.
It is common for young people to dream of becoming President. But becoming President is not easy, not only because of the number of people with the same dream, but because it demands hard-core emotional resilience. If you harbor the victim mentality described above–if you get easily upset by bullying–you can’t become President.
Running for President will get you derided not only by members of opposing parties, but by many within your own. The press will vie to unearth the worst dirt on you. They will not even spare your wives and children. They will continue their onslaught until you leave office, when they will gang up on your replacement.
All top players in politics know the solution to bullying. Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg recently made headlines by giving an 11-year-old girl advice on dealing with bullies, while using the opportunity to disparage the President. If you consult with the President on resilience, he will undoubtedly have plenty to say and much of it will be worthwhile. So don’t shy away from him; embrace him and make use of him to the nation’s advantage. Our nation's kids need and deserve this knowledge.
And it's not only politicians who have answers. All wise people throughout history have known and taught the solution to bullying. There appear to be entire societies with virtually no bullying because they teach children from the earliest ages not to think like victims. Indeed, resilience can be taught, and it requires no extra money. Everyone that's needed to do it is already on the school payroll.
Izzy Kalman is the author and creator of the website Bullies2Buddies.com and a critic of the anti-bully movement.