Why Teachers Become Bullies

Last time, I talked about additive strategies and subtractive strategies, and how insecurity in social currency invites people to take “the low road” to preserving or gaining status.

This time, I’m going to provide an example of how that “low road” strategy appears in unexpected places – like teachers. Here’s an article about a high-schooler who recorded a substitute teacher joining the class to humiliate and bully him.

And, here’s the video the kid took:

And, we may find the video shocking, and we may want to explain this by saying the substitute teacher must be an awful person, and that may comfort us by letting us pretend this isn’t lots more common than we want to think.

Here’s the real problem:

Teachers are in the social and economic strata of “public employee”. And, they’re often criticized because “they get the whole summer off”, get benefits, etc.

Look at social media commentary about teachers’ pay and working terms. Everyone from the middle class on down uses teachers as a subtractive strategy target.

If you have anyone working inside public education, and you ask them, you’ll discover that most school systems run at the management-level the same way the classrooms run at student-level – in a very socially despotic manner.

Dictates are given, often arbitrary ones – or ones that directly conflict with mission statements. Punishments for the most trivial deviations are often also arbitrary. Teachers are stripped of intrinsic motivation – the first component of which is AUTONOMY.

And, nobody is lower on that scale than the substitute teacher.

This is true also of the perceptions of students. The substitute isn’t skilled enough, established enough, or socially connected enough to “get a real job”.

A perceived poverty of social status is the ground from which social despotism sprouts.

And, maintaining order on the overall classroom – and having ANY level of rapport with a bunch of otherwise unruly kids – offers an easy pathway to the substitute who is already socially bankrupt.

I’m not making excuses for the teacher. I’m just observing the actual forces working on the human beings in the situation. And, I’m also observing that the “adult” just proved an easy pathway to getting by. Facing consequences later won’t change what the kids will take from the event, behaviorally. Because in-the-moment, the strategy was successful. The only “problem” was getting caught – another object lesson they learn from … the captains of American industry and our money-skewed “justice” system.

What You Can Do:

Recognize that people are human – and nobody more so than teenagers. They will do what works in-the-moment – and especially what is modeled for them by adults. No amount of lecturing is going to change what they learn works IN THE REAL WORLD – meaning their world, and in the immediate – not some theory-based future. This is why “consequences” are not nearly as effective as prevention!

Recognize that culture is controlled from the top-down – by example and modeling – what we used to call LEADING. If there’s a “bullying problem” at some level, it is a symptom of something happening at least one level higher. This is due to the “subtractive strategy” cascading downward from one level of “no appeal” to the next one down.

Foster environments that accept appeals and input from “below” – and that promote autonomy on every level. When you notice the parade of “security” talk excuses for erasing autonomy, remember someone who has made no mistakes has also learned no lessons. Judgment can only develop where mistakes are possible – and accepted as part of learning.

Model this by admitting and growing from your own mistakes – and by being tolerant of others’ learning processes.

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Malls Model Authoritarianism

Capitalism and Social Metrics:

On a recent paragliding trip to Mexico, I watched the social interactions of boys who follow pilots to help carry and pack-up equipment. In terms of an after school job, they have it better than I ever did: The pilots land in their back yard, and pay them between $1.50 and $3 for about 10 minutes of easy work. They don’t have to keep, maintain, or clean anything, and the money literally drops-in from the sky. Beats the hell out of mowing yards, I tell you…

On a long glide, I landed in an out-of-the-way place, in a weedy, muddy area. And, before I could gather my gear, four boys appeared to help. I’ll guess the oldest at 12 and youngest at maybe 8.

The obvious leader gestured to himself and proudly said “professional” (one of his few English words). He then demonstrated a professional level of skill at folding a paraglider.

He had one main helper, but three others were also very helpful, including one who mopped some mud from my wing using the bandana I loaned him.

I handed out some candy to the group, and then asked the leader “qantas?” – (one of my few Spanish words) – how much he’d like to be paid. He confidently said “viente!” – or 20 Pesos. Although more than the going rate of 15, it was fair considering the 150 yards of head-high (to me) weeds he’d helped carry my gear through. I paid he and his main helper 20 pesos each.

So far, a fun but unremarkable story…


Here’s where it gets interesting:

I looked around at the other three, younger kids who had worked very hard trying to help and who were now looking at me expectantly for something more than a hard candy.

Respecting the leader’s authority, I looked at him and asked “how about them?”

Confidently, without hesitation, and in all seriousness, he answered “nothing”.

Let that sink in…

He’s the 12-year-old “professional”, and doesn’t want the lower-skilled youngsters getting *anything* for having done their best to help – and learn.

They were obviously disappointed. So, I negotiated on their behalf – downward from 10 pesos. Even half-scale it seemed wouldn’t fully acknowledge the superior status of the leader. However, 5 pesos was OK. He felt that sufficient difference to keep the social order clear. I paid the youngsters 5 pesos each.

There are three points, here:

  1. Social status is something we understand intuitively.
  2. Status is perceived RELATIVE to others.
  3. Social status is more easily maintained through subtraction than through addition.

If you want to see this principle in action on larger scales, and in “adults”, log on to your favorite social media. You’ll easily find memes and comments comparing the freedoms or perks of one group to another:

“I had to take a drug test for my job, so welfare recipients should have to take one.”

Someone feels this is “unfair” (doesn’t acknowledge their status). They’re asking for an adjustment to achieve balance the situation – and in the relevant commodity of AUTONOMY.

In the comments following “drug test for welfare” memes, you’ll always find something like this:

“They can sit around and watch television all day while I’m working”.

That’s a very specific reference to “unfairness” in autonomy.

And, here’s where THAT gets interesting:

Like the children in Mexico, these people aren’t managing status by asking more for themselves, but by demanding less for others.

Those insecure of their status seldom ask their social/economic superiors for more. Instead, they demand the scales be balanced by taking freedoms from others.

In the “drug testing for welfare” example, blue collar workers won’t try to escape the yoke of sexually degrading humiliation by their superiors. Instead, they seek “fairness” through the forced degradation of others.

Those “others” are consistently selected from the social/economic subordinates of the people whose status is insecure.

This is just competition over a social commodity – in the most efficient way possible.

Just like the children in Mexico, the easy path is asking a more powerful authority to enforce the relative status. The leap from Mexican children demanding lower pay for their subordinates – to American blue-collar workers demanding “equality through degradation” of welfare recipients is only in scale.

The structure is identical. And, as far as I can tell, it is evolutionary, running across time, culture, and even species.

From these studies and observations, we get two terms in Motivational Literacy™:

  1. Subtractive Strategy: trying to balance a perceived social inequality by asking authority to take from them.
  2. Additive Strategy: trying to improve social strategy by increasing contribution or appealing to authority for a promotion.

The less secure a person is in their position or relationship, the more likely they are to use or depend on subtractive strategy. This is an intuitive response to the fact that additive strategies take more time and more resources, while subtractive ones are relatively quick, and don’t require anything but stirring-up some prejudice.

And, that’s a problem because it creates a feed-forward loop – with each class continually accepting the step down so long as they can push on someone beneath them to maintain their relative position. Competition to stay out of last place becomes ever more urgent – and brutal. And, at some point, the natural (biology-based) response  to pressure from above will navigate to either surrender or anger – resulting in exactly what we’re seeing in American society right now – depression and suicide – as well as acting-out and violence.


What’s this got to do with teenagers at the mall?

The title of this post refers to this article about corporations continuing to model – and propagate – social despotism in America. And, how that’s bad for our “culture of bullying”.

Conditions that make any commodity more scarce will create more competition for that commodity.

Autonomy is a social commodity: We perceive people with more freedom of choice to be more fortunate, and we pursue and protect our own freedoms of choice and personal agency with fervor. Freedom is a cornerstone of the philosophy in the founding of our Republic.

Like any other commodity, people perceive autonomy in relative terms – who has more, or how much someone has relative to ourselves.

Autonomy is a social commodity that CAN NOT be removed from our psyche.

Reductions in supply of a commodity will manufacture greater competition for it.

That means an increase in the need to demonstrate who has more – and the intensity of that need will be reflected in the means used to do that.

Give them less freedom – and force them into venues away from lights, cameras, adults, and … help.

This is the opposite of what our society should be doing.


Get the principles from the above, and be on the lookout for how they’re playing – from social media to your own backyard.

Realize that “good” pro-social behavior does not develop from despotic examples and stifling of social commodities.

To get “good” pro-social behavior from young people, we must model security in our own social status – and refrain from “balancing the social books” through subtraction. Instead, we must demonstrate any balancing we feel necessary through addition – negotiation for our own elevation. Sure, it’s more work, but aren’t “work ethic” and “self-improvement” part of the ideals we identify as “good”?

Provide MORE pathways and opportunities for achievement and self-expression. Take notice when these things are being stifled at any level, from public schools’ removal of elective courses to the closing of otherwise-public venues to people on the basis of ageism.

Model MORE and unique pathways to achievement and expression. Demonstrate creative pathways to help young people escape the cattle-chutes of industrialized and fearful society. Demonstrate that a person may experience autonomy and expression on other ways and other venues so they may follow that example.

Know that without opportunities and models for autonomy and express, many youth will sink into the depression of learned helplessness. I think suicide statistics reflect this. Know that many may turn to substance-based escapism. And, others may use aggression and violence in a desperate attempt to “balance” their place in the world. When we see those things happen, you will not be among those surprised and puzzled. And, you will be taking useful action to improve the situation.


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21 ways to New Year’s Resolution Success


Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Here are 21 tips for making New Years Resolutions easier and more successful. May they help you realize all your ambitions and dreams in 2015!

  1. Forget deadlines or acquisition of goals. They aren’t products you could purchase from Walmart. Instead, stay focused on the activities that move you toward your outcome.
  2. Maintain consistency, no matter how the clock ticks or what setbacks you encounter. Stay dedicated like dripping water – which can cut a channel through a mountain.
  3. Let yourself to feel good about the activity or process and adventure of becoming  the person you want to be.
  4. Let your resolution to become part of a lifestyle that involves new friends and new fun activities and new locations.
  5. Associate with people who are successful at happily achieving and maintaining the same kind of goal you have.
  6. Adopt the beliefs, attitudes, and habits of successful people. Don’t commiserate, believe, or complain in the way unsuccessful people do. Instead if spending lest time with people who “share your struggle” but never succeed, cultivate friends who have succeeded where you want to – and spend as much time as possible around them.
  7. Make a specific and scheduled plan for taking manageable, bite-sized actions on a consistent basis.
  8. Schedule and prioritize those consistent bite-sized actions on your calendar.
  9. Write the personal deeply-held values that relate to your goal – and your bite-sized actions next to them on the calendar where you’ve prioritized those actions within your schedule.
  10. Feel good about keeping those values-affirming appointments.
    Reward yourself in ways that empower (not sabotage) your goals.
  11. Congratulate yourself and memorialize in writing the progress you create.
  12. Imagine and design goals where final decisions are in your control.
  13. Focus on those parts of your progress that you most control.
  14. Take consistent meaningful action. Whenever you notice something that “has to be done first”, challenge that truthfulness of that – and re-focus on keeping your consistency. Remember that consistency is a goal in itself.
  15. Make all your resolutions a reasonably achievable size.
  16. Measure progress toward a goal. Forget how much is left and focus on progress.
  17. Forget the goal itself – and how dramatic your struggle is. Instead, stay focused on the process of your transformation.
  18. Think consciously about how much attention some people get by failing. Resolve to win by winning.
  19. Make new friends by winning your goal. Whenever we take-on something new, we begin as “the newbie”. With each benchmark we achieve, we qualify ourselves to a new level “in the club” of people who have already walked that path. Remember to reach out and join the “circle of winners”.
  20. Feel both worthy and deserving. Because you are here, you are worthy of your own best effort, and your own best effort makes you worthy of progress, and progress maintained will carry you to success. Feel worthy as you step forward.
  21. UNDERSTAND and believe that successful resolutions are about the outcomes of consistent practices or lifestyles.

Please share your resolutions and personal strategies for success below. If you have comments, questions, or suggestions for the success of others, please share them below. I will do my best to answer every one!


Posted in Cultivating Character, Dealing with Fear, Decision-Making, Get Rid of Anxiety, High Performance, Procrastination, Self Esteem, Stopping a Bad Habit | Comments Off on 21 ways to New Year’s Resolution Success

How to Fail at New Years Resolutions

Quality failure requires proper planning. Here are five stealth methods for failing your New Year’s resolutions – because success would be lonely.

Most people think a “lack of willpower” is enough to guarantee failure – and that’s one excuse, but that’s the wrong answer because your friends and significant other know it’s a flaccid, pitiful, unoriginal – and totally obvious excuse.

resolution failMost people aren’t broken or “lacking willpower”. So, a quality New Year’s Resolution failure needs a truly bad strategy – not just bad genes or lame excuses.

Your strategy has to have decent stealth features, or it’ll be too obvious, and people will laugh at you for even saying it.

Here are FIVE strategic ways to guarantee a quality New Year’s Resolution FAIL:



  1. “I will lose 20 pounds by the end of February.”
  2. “I will spend more time with my family.”
  3. “I will get Nancy to marry me.”
  4. “I will make a million dollars.”
  5. “I will weigh 125 pounds.”

These are typical resolutions. They are all stated in positive terms – which makes them ideal stealth-failure resolutions!

Check Them Out:


1. “I will lose 20 pounds by the end of February.”

This goal is positive, and healthy, and that “end of February” deadline is the perfect kind of overly-specific booby-trap to trigger stress-eating – or just plain stressing – which causes the body to retain weight.

People who want to stay fat (or even gain weight) should try to do stress-eating. And, they need to avoid being active and getting outside. Going outside burns calories. It also exposes a person to sunshine – which helps their body synthesize serotonin. And, that totally ruins the seasonal affective depression that helps them binge on carbohydrates like pretzels, chips, and pasta.

Physical activity relieves stress – which interferes with stress eating and the hormone levels you want to maintain to insure you maintain or gain more fat.

January is the best time of year to make excuses for staying inside and inactive. It’s cold, it’s snowing, it’s miserable, you get a cold, it’s flu season, you have to brush off the windshield, it gets dark early. And, if any of those fail, you can always misplace your gloves.

The more non-perfect performance days that tick off through January, the more weight you have to lose PER DAY to avoid failure.

At some point, even your significant other will forgive you for just surrendering – taking the couch-lounging path that ultimately gives you 11 months and 4 days of peace until you have to do it again. (If you don’t count your significant other totally checking out the hot-bodied so-and-so at the lake.)

If you really want to fail your New Year’s Resolution, make sure you put your goal on a deadline.

2. “I will spend more time with my family.”

This goal is positive, and a good idea, and just non-specific enough:  There’s no method – and no metrics (tracking system). You can totally make easy excuses any time it comes up. No real action will happen, and by the time anyone notices – around the time you have that big fight in July or so – you’ll have “already failed” – and you can put it off again until next Christmas!

When you want to make a totally fail-destined resolution, making it seem positive, while structurally vague and without any way to track progress – is certain to be helpful. And, by that, I mean to insure failure.

3. “I will get Nancy to marry me.”

There’s that good positive-sounding facade – behind it hiding one of the best resolution fail tricks in the book: You aren’t really in control of it. You can make a big production, and spend money and take a trip and hire a sky-writer. You can do all that with utter security that most jewelers will take the ring back when she says “no”. And, the refund will probably let you pay off the proposal vacation you maxed-out your credit card for.

One of the best ways to insure a resolution fail – and to build-in an escape from accountability – or even create a pity-wringing victim status – is to make sure someone else is in control of the main choice(s) or actions that produce the outcome.

Consistently focus on any part you don’t fully control– especially trivial ones. Do this especially if that part isn’t actually necessary. Find ways to say that others are in control of various trivial, but essential prerequisites to you taking meaningful action.

4. “I will make a million dollars.”

By now, you recognize the “positivity paint” on this baby, and you may already be noticing that a ridiculously-gigantic and very specific goal is just the thing to insure a quality resolution fail. The “lose 20 pounds by February” resolution used time pressure to help guarantee failure. This one does the same thing, just using gigantic size instead of a short time-frame.

No matter the degree of progress, make sure you never measure progress, and always focus on how huge the rest of the resolution is.

And, the result is the same: You get out of the effort much earlier by surrendering to how much harder it seems to make a $999,000 in only seven months.

When you want to fail a resolution, don’t make it big, or even challenging; make it ridiculously huge. Nobody will blame you for surrendering. And, in the meantime, everyone will say how “ambitious” you are.

5. “I will weigh XXX pounds.”

Positive. Controllable. Right-sized to your starting weight. How are you going to fail that one?

This is the stealthiest of the fails: The outcome-obsessed fail. This one requires some greed, but most people can supply that. You have to stay focused on the outcome – like Gollum with the ring.

You have to crave and obsess and struggle with it all the time. And, it’s best if you dramatize that with your family and friends – being so brave and “strong” whenever anyone is watching. Max-out that willpower in the most dramatic possible ways.

That allows you the flexibility to rationalize and justify and excuse and deny the “cheating” and binging you’ll do when nobody is around.

It’s OK: You totally deserve all those treats and rewards for the incredible shirt-popping will-power you’re profiling.

Nobody will blame you when you boomerang around Valentine’s day, gaining back nine of the five pounds you lost before then. They’ll believe the “big boned” thing – at least when you’re in the room.

Keep in mind that nobody likes a successful New Year’s Resolution winner-bully – and everyone loves the story of a dramatic failure.

Remember, your friends will feel bad if you outdo them. Remember that victory laps are short-lived and elitist, while martyrdom and pining for unrequited success offers an endless source of conversation and attention. If you were to succeed, you would have to invent an entirely new line of conversation and basis for connecting to your friends.

Please share your own New Year’s Resolutions. Share your plans, and I’ll give you some free tips on how to insure the outcome you really want!

Posted in Cultivating Character, Decision-Making, High Performance, How to Be Happier, Procrastination, Self Esteem | 1 Comment

Defuse Bullying with Resilience and Humor

We define bullying as “social sorting through despotic means”.

In that way of thinking, we could liken attempts to bully as someone trying to seize the role of “casting director” for the social “play” at hand.

Refusing to be cast into the role of victim (either outwardly or in one’s own thinking) is something I call “identity resilience”: maintaining one’s own identity both internally and outwardly, regardless of forces that may challenge that identity.

This includes coping with both internal forces like fear and external forces like others trying to act “as if” you are someone other than the best and most valuable version of you that you can be.

This cartoon contains a beautiful demonstration of using creativity and humor as tools of identity resilience – some of the most powerful ways to defuse attempts to bully, or to otherwise commit injustice.

Defuse bullying creatively!Thanks Dave McElfatrick!


So, the notion of Identity Resilience – the art and practice of “standing up” – goes far beyond mere resistance to bullying. It is an anti-bullying force in the world, regardless of one’s current role in the social play.

Questions to ask and actions to take:

Where can you apply these strategies in your own life?

Where can you model these strategies for the young people around you?

How can you encourage experimentation with these strategies in ecological ways?

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My Special Non-dairy Mocha Recipe

Due to popular demand from clients and friends – and because I teased you in this this earlier post, here’s my favorite recipe for non-dairy mocha. I make this stuff a pitcher at a time and store in the ‘fridge in this easy-to-clean wide-mouth Nalgene water bottle.

wide mouth nalgene water bottle

It’ll keep for up to 2 weeks, allowing you to have a rich, creamy, chocolaty, coffee treat – without dairy – any time you like (and, with your own chosen level of caffeine.) It gets creamier and tastier as the week goes by.


  • 1 cup raw organic cashews, soak in water for 24 – 72 hours in the refrigerator.
  • 6 tbsp organic cacao powder
  • 6 capfuls (from the bottle) of organic vanilla
  • 6 tsp of instant coffee. (I use half Folger’s decaf and half instant espresso)
  • 4 cups of filtered water

Put it all in a Blendtech or comparable device. I use this one. Process on “whole juice”, and you’ll get ~ 5.5 cups of dark, rich, non-dairy mocha.

blendtech blenderAfter it sits in the fridge, shake well before pouring and stir often while drinking. I like this as much as any commercial version, and it’s way less sugar & fat, plus nutritious. Part of my breakfast most mornings.

I hope you like the above. If you have a similar recipe you like and want to share, please do that below. If you have any questions or other comments, please leave them and I’ll make sure to respond.

Be well and happy!

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Hot Green Smoothie Recipe

Several clients and friends have asked about the contents of my breakfast drinks – my “hot green smoothies”. For a health bonus, I’m going to share my approximate recipe. I say approximate because it shifts with season and what organic stuff is available.

I specifically look for leafy greens, ginger, and hot peppers. So, the thing changes from day to day accordingly. And, be warned that any spiciness will increase in parts you keep overnight.

The recipe below often produces more juice than the blender will hold, so I do the juicing first, and then put in a large pitcher, then use as much of that juice as necessary to process the blender. After processing, then mix everything in the pitcher.

nalgene bottleThis produces 4+ sixteen-ounce glasses of healthy breakfast yumminess. Trish and I each drink one, and refrigerate the remainder in these wide-mouth Nalgene water bottles for fast easy on-the-go the second day. The investment is something close to an hour of prep every other day, and between $5-$16 worth of produce to get four nutritious breakfast meals.

This meal is nutritious and filling enough to keep me active – even climbing the mountain and paragliding – until the lunch meal, without any hunger pangs. It will, however, really keep your digestive system active (colon-healthy). So, make sure you’re used to it – and have your schedule worked-out – before you set out on long drives or hikes…

omega juicerI use this model juicer:

I’ve had it for close to 3 years, processing these sorts of meals almost daily, and certainly several times per week. It’s never broken-down, and I’d buy another one in a heartbeat.


This is my typical juicer ingredients list:

  • Several handfuls of baby spinach
  • Couple of handfuls of spring mix, or power greens, or wheat grass, or turnip greens, or kale, etc.
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 4 medium carrots
  • 1 apple
  • half-dozen small sweet peppers, or maybe an Anaheim
  • 1 hot pepper (Serrano OR jalapeno – to taste)
  • handful of ginger chunks to taste
  • Sometimes add beets, or peas – whatever else seems good

Juice all that stuff and pour into pitcher and then get the blender ready.

I use this model blender:

I’ve had it for over a year, processing these sorts of things almost daily, as well as guacamole, blender ice-cream – all sorts of stuff. It’s expensive, but a really great kitchen device.


The typical blender ingredients list will be something like this:

  • Whole orange, organic, HALF-peeled (keep half the peel for nutrients – the whole peel will make it a bit bitter)
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1 small or medium tomato
  • 1 handful of raw cashew nuts
  • 2-3 large spoonfuls of Greek yogurt
  • 1-2 cups of seasonal berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries – whatever I can get)

Add enough juice from the pitcher to allow blender processing. When done, mix it all in the pitcher by hand. Pour and enjoy. The extra will last 24 hours or more in a refrigerator before beginning to taste bad.

HOT TIP: If you get a juice that’s too hot for your taste, and you don’t mind dairy, you can cut the heat considerably by adding some cream or half/half or milk and stirring. I recommend doing this right before drinking rather than storing that way.

I chase my juice drink with 16 ounces of water, and a special non-dairy mocha drink – the recipe for which I’ll share sometime soon.

Hope you like the above. If you have a smoothie recipe you like and want to share, please do that below. If you have any questions or other comments, please leave them and I’ll make sure to respond.

Be well and happy!

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Stop Group Bullying (2)

Last time, I revealed how humans have intuitive, unconscious, evolved awareness that being mean can be socially profitable. That (unconscious) awareness of this is not lost on our little darlings. And, if we want to stop group bullying we’re going to have to realize and deal with this reality.

Last time, I promised to reveal how it’s “Good to Be Mean” – the path of escape from good nature and good nurture to participate in group cruelty.

Standing in the way of cruelty-based social profitability is something called empathy – feeling others’ pain.  And, there’s also a troublesome sense that cruelty is just … wrong. Our innate sense of morality gets in the way.

We need a way to escape our empathy and morality – to be free to profit socially through cruel actions, whether we initiate, participate in them, or just watch from the sidelines.

Would you feel bad if you stepped on a child’s foot and made them cry?

How would you feel if you stepped on your pet dog’s foot and made it yelp in pain?

Do you feel pain and guilt for stepping on a cockroach?

What’s the difference?

Remember that membership to the in-group defines who is protected by fair treatment – and that in some primitive cannibalistic tribes “not us” gave a whole new meaning to them “having you for dinner”.

The difference is in the label.

calling namesLabeling someone as part of an out-group – or as less-than-human – makes it “fair” to subject them to any other kind of mistreatment – including violence. (It is common in propaganda to refer to enemies as “cockroaches” or “vermin”.)

Dehumanization through name-calling and labeling is something I wrote about in this previous post from the series.

lookoutLet’s look through the lens of animal behavior we used last time, and imagine the instigator of group bullying is like the “look-out”. His initial name-calling is like a warning cry to the group. Other group members spread the warning by repeating the name-calling that identifies the target as an enemy.

Group defenders take action, soon in competition with each other for who is doing the most to harass the outsider. Their actions will become bolder and more aggressive as long as socially profitable. Dehumanization can be very dangerous when it shuts down empathy and disconnects morality: Sticks and stones can break your bones, but name-calling can actually get you killed.

Discrimination2Discriminatory Comparisons are helpful to disconnect empathy and disengage morality: “People who aren’t members are worthless”, or “our group is better than some other group” (racism is an example). Discriminatory Comparisons act on the brain much like name-calling.

Delicate Language is another way to feel less empathy and to disconnect morally from the things we are doing. We use this emotion-relieving strategy in other contexts quite often:

A dentist doesn’t pull your teeth out; he “performs a procedure”.

We don’t kill our dog for being old and sick; we “put them to sleep”.

SleepingDogGeorge Carlin did a whole comedy routine around this “softening of language”. And, bullies do the same thing with euphemisms for various acts of abuse. Many people are familiar with the term “wedgie”, but perhaps not as familiar with the “front-side” version of this abuse designed to injure the genitals. The technique is known as the “melvin” or the “minerva” for boys, or girls, respectively.

There’s also “pantsing”, the “tittie-twister”, the “noogie” (knuckles across the scalp), and the venerable “swirlie” – which sounds so much sunnier than holding a victim upside down with their head in a toilet while flushing.

This emotional trick allows people like nurses and surgeons to do their jobs without emotional distress. Bullies use it to free themselves of empathy and morals – for maximum social profiteering through meanness. Wherever we detect or use euphemistic language, someone is disconnecting from empathy and morality.

Denial of responsibility is also useful for silencing the nagging voice of conscience. There are several ways to do this:

Denial of harm is one of the easiest: “It didn’t hurt that much. He’s fine.”

Denial of malicious intention is another: “It was an accident. I didn’t know she would need stitches.”

BlameDenial of personal responsibility is one of the great advantages of group bullying.

  • We can blame it on the “leader” we were just following.
  • We can blame it on others in the group.
  • We can diffuse blame to the group as a whole.
  • We can deny participating in “the bad part” by admitting to involvement in only “the harmless part”.
  • We can say the target caused their own misfortune. “If he hadn’t fought back he wouldn’t have fallen down.”

Discrimination2Denouncing the target as Deserving mistreatment is one of the most powerful and important ways to release ourselves from empathy and morality so we can profit by harming others. This one goes hand-in-hand with Dehumanization through labeling: “Vermin deserve to be destroyed.”

These are the five categories of psychological tricks to disengage empathy and morality.

  1. Dehumanization
  2. Discriminatory Comparisons
  3. Delicate Language
  4. Denial of Responsibility
  5. Denouncing the target as deserving of bad treatment

If you are honest with yourself, you will notice the ways you use these emotional manipulations yourself – to make killing the cat easier, for instance.

When these five mind tricks come into play in the context of social profit through group bullying, the foundations of good nature and good nurture will crumble. Add to this the forces of peer pressure and conformity bias, and we can see how frighteningly easy it is for our little darlings to do wicked things.


What Can I Do?

Recognize it’s normal, and part of human social interaction and development (like sex). The most important thing is to admit that you do it.

The second thing is to notice where you’ve done it and improve the modeling you’re providing for others. Develop a cautious and aware ear that notices the methods of moral disengagement above. Practice and model shifting your language in specific ways outlined below.

In age appropriate ways, teach your children the power of language, and how manipulations of social order are done. Train them to behave according to your values – and to keep their focus on values and the outcomes of their choices.

Practice, Model, Teach, and Expect intentional application of the Six Empathy & Morality Activators to stop group bullying:

Humanization: Labeling and name-calling reduce perception of humanity; Using a person’s given name increases empathy and connection. Because humans are hard-wired for empathy, connection is increased when we make eye contact and look at their face.

Practice and model avoiding the use of labels and embracing the use of given names. Consistently look at the faces of others and make eye contact when you meet or interact. Teach, and expect children to use names and make eye contact. This activates empathy in them, and also in the people they interact with, making this simple habit doubly-protective.

Inclusive Comparisons: This is the opposite of discrimination – which is based on seeking and magnifying human differences. Just as the brain can sort for differences it can sort for similarities. Practice and model an intentional search for similarities with others. Use age and context appropriate teaching and expectations for young people to exercise the same skill.

Straight Talk: Tommy did not “get a wedgie”. Tommy did not receive anything. His clothing was damaged. And, he was humiliated and caused physical pain. Notice yourself using euphemistic language and challenge yourself about who it serves. Model using straight talk – and requiring straight talk – from both adults and children. Expect youngsters to talk straight about the outcomes of their choices.

Embracing Responsibility: A fundamental principle of Motivational Literacy is that power goes along with responsibility. Escaping responsibility requires focusing attention on what one doesn’t control. The mental process of escaping responsibility creates a world-view of powerlessness. A world-view of powerlessness aggravates social insecurity and often creates anger – feeding a cycle of bullying – and responsibility evasion.

“Control the controllable” as my friend Chris Dunn says: Focus on what one does control – and seize responsibility for that part of the system. Stay focused on what you control, your actions to do that, and the real outcomes your actions make. When we practice, model, teach, and expect this, we create what was once called “self-reliance” and “work ethic” – emotional habits that produce success – and within our moral values.

This builds a habit of planning good choices, protecting children from participating in group bullying. It also empowers potential target children to seize responsibility for every scrap of control they can find – which encourages tenacity and perseverance – rather than surrendering to an identity of helplessness.

Defining “Deserve: Most moral and religious systems tell us to refrain from judging others because of things we cannot know. The Founding Fathers of America built into the Constitution a concept of fairness & due process. Always, and without exception. Practice, model, teach, and expect – as part of your values system that nobody is beneath fairness and due process. Without exception. This is another doubly-protective training: Children with a strong foundation of fairness are less likely to take part in unfair play; and are more likely to assert themselves against it – to protect themselves or others.

Resist conformity bias & membership to a group of cannibals: Recognize social groups that always have to have someone to abuse. Ask whether you want to be a member of a club with such a despotic organization. Seek other environments, even it means changing jobs or social organizations, etc. We cannot expect youngsters to learn to “stand up” if we do not show them how that’s done. Any challenge you face as an adult is an opportunity to model for your child.

Remember the FOUR specific verbs:

  1. Practice – making the effort to notice and continually upgrade your own performance.
  2. Model – make sure you demonstrate the behavior to others in clear ways.
  3. Teach  – reveal explicitly the structures behind the behaviors.
  4. Expect – anticipate that youngsters will exercise awareness, empathy, and morals – and to help them notice and upgrade their performance as necessary.

Next Time: What Schools can and should be doing.

In the meantime, if you have comments or stories to share, please do that below. If you have questions, please ask them below and I’ll do my best to answer!

Posted in Anger Management, Bully Blog, Cultivating Character, Dealing with Fear, Dealing with Shame, How to Be Happier, Self Esteem, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Stop Group Bullying (2)

Understanding Group Bullying (part one)

Why do Bullies Gang Up on Targets?

Besides it being “safer” for several reasons we’ll explore in this post and the next one, when we want to understand behaviors, we pay attention to what they achieve.

Gang-up-bullyingThat’s why we define bullying as “social sorting by despotic means”. The despotic means are used against a targeted person. In group bullying this arises as a natural part of people trying to sort a social group.

In that frame, there are three reasons for a group to gang-up on an individual:

  1. The individual is a member of an identified out-group (enemy).
  2. The individual is not yet established as a member of the in-group (newcomer).
  3. The individual is a member of the in-group, but breaking some social norm of the group (law-breaker).

In adult society, these things are formalized, with the military to gang-up on enemies; the border patrol to gang-up on newcomers; and the police to gang-up on law-breakers. Each of those groups (military, border patrol, police) enjoy elevated social status and advantages.

Child society isn’t formalized in this way, but keeping these ideas in mind will help understanding of group bullying behaviors.

What Shape Has Only Two Sides?

As the old riddle goes, the answer is a circle, which has an inside and an outside. Just as a circle has to have two sides to define it, every in-group REQUIRES an out-group to define the boundaries – and the benefits of being a member.

Why is a group important at all?

In the primitive world where our brains were formed, being in the group is better than being out. Acceptance was a matter of survival based on mutual protection from predators, warmth, shelter, and shared food. And, in some cases membership to the group was the difference between protection – and being fair game to actually be eaten by the group. This history is behind our instinctive terror of being excluded from a group – and the intense shame we may feel if rejected.

Two important points about groups:

  1. The group boundary is defined by who cannot be a member.
  2. Membership defines who is worthy to fair treatment.

A third point is that status within a group is a zero-sum game. Status is like a pie – every member getting a slice of some size, and no left-overs. And, for one person to get more pie, someone else will surrender some of theirs.

Many people think the most intense competition is over who gets the biggest slice of pie – the top-dog slot. In reality competition to avoid being last – eating only stale crumbs – can be the most brutal. And, that is one of the missing pieces of the bully puzzle.

Awareness of social position and deliberate investment in improving social position is seen across the animal kingdom. And, our cousin primates often encourage their offspring to “play with the rich kids” (socialize with higher-ranking offspring).

The Four Social Roles

For social animals, all behavior has a social meaning or use. For social animals, including primates, elephants, meerkats, etc – a member of the community acting as a “look-out” gives a warning cry to alert everyone else of a predator or outsider. Often, look-out duty is reserved for high-ranking members.

The “look-out” defines the boundary and identifies the stranger. Then, some members  mobilize in group defense. Other members defer to the authority of the look-out and the defenders’ actions. And, a stranger who defies group territory has to deal with the consequences.

In this primitive and foundational group behavior, we find four roles defined by the actions group members take:

  1. Defining boundaries and rules (Leaders & Look-outs)
  2. Defending boundaries and rules (Soldiers & Police)
  3. Deferring to boundaries and rules (Members)
  4. Defying of boundaries and rules (Criminals or Enemies)

The Incentive to Be Mean

Each of these roles offers an opportunity for social profit by starting or participating in aggressive behavior.

Defining a boundary by noticing or creating a reason to call someone an outsider is like finding a status-token the whole group can share. If the group follows, the instigator earns status points. And, everyone who doesn’t share the outsider-marking feature gains the benefit (often the relief) of belonging.

AngryMob2Defending boundaries and rules by following the leader and harassing the “outsider” gains social capital both with the leader, and in the overall group.

Deferring to the boundaries and rules set by the leader, and defended by the soldiers, mere members either watch idly or are drafted to participate in some way. Whether soldier or mere member, once someone leads the charge and the action seems politically and physically safe, members will jump in and collect easy social status points.

Sometimes, even non-members can leverage points by demonstrating group loyalty through these actions. For example, Macaque monkeys can gain membership acceptance to a group by attacking a predator on behalf of that group. And, so it is with humans.

Defying the social order by refusing to be drafted, by “ratting”, or by standing-up in protest is also a defiance of leader authority and group rules (formal or informal).

Defining a boundary:

Children will ignore significant things – including race in many cases. But, they will find the most trivial excuses to define group boundaries – things never noticed until they became socially significant – or could be made socially significant.

When one child notices something “amiss” in another child, they give an “alarm call”: The leader or look-out defines the boundaries; the soldiers take defensive action; the members follow in deference; the outsider is harassed.

This is a primitive foundation underpinning much of what we call bullying behavior.

We can witness a rather pathetic “adult” version of this social profiteering in what some call “<like> farming” on social media. Attacking or piling-on against a “safe” target on social media will collect <likes> and yes-comments from click-surfers. Here’s one example:

gang up bullying

In a period of twelve hours on Facebook, this poster got 379 <likes> and 213 <shares>.

That’s social capital in the form of approval, group membership, and KLOUT score. It’s also literal profit through free advertising of <shares> and the traffic that drives to the outside web site selling T-shirts, printed posters, and the like.

Defending boundaries or rules:

We see this symbolically “courageous” activity in the comments from “adults” about the above poster. They included a variety of agreements, praise, “volunteerism”, and sadistically creative enhancements (one-upsmanship) including:

“why not birdshot? let it sting and let it burn before they die, so they will feel pain”

“What about dull pocket knives, for castrating the sorry POS”

“A thousand cuts with a razor and turpentine”

You can find similar “social profiteering posters” about any unpopular group or public figure – with similar agreements, “volunteerism” and one-up enhancements.

Here’s one that’s a tiny bit more subtle:

group bullying

Regardless of your personal politics, the structure is what we’re studying, here. The poster advocates DIFFERENT RULES for different groups of people based on an arbitrary label. Remember that only a behavior can be wrong or illegal – a person cannot be illegal or wrong. Remember from this post  and from this post that making a person themselves inherently wrong or bad is the structure of SHAME – and that shame is one of the primary contributors to bullying.

If you want to see more examples of this sort of pathetic social-scavenging committed by adults, try searching images for “Trayvon Martin poster” or “George Zimmerman poster”.

It is most important for real adults who want to make a real difference to understand the times, places, and ways in which they may be modeling this kind of “soft bullying” behavior. Because, when adults can’t resist the temptation of such low-hanging social fruit – and aren’t even aware of what they’re doing – what do we expect of children with developing and curious brains?

Deferring to group action:

When people “go along to get along” – either actively or passively – they gain by maintaining their own social status of “membership”. And, they avoid falling into the social status of Defier of the social order or group boundaries.

Defying group rules or boundaries:

Just as adult dissidents and whistle-blowers are subject to police brutality, persecution, or exile – children who defy the social order are subject to the same kinds of reprisal – from social demotion, to physical harm, to exile from the group.

A person who “stands up against bullying” has only three possible paths:

  1. Redefine the leadership of the group (prosecute a coup)
  2. Redefine the group culture (cultural revolution)
  3. Redefine their own membership (exit the group)

Just like the adult world, the rate of success for the first two paths is not high. Stories like that of Martin Luther King outnumber those of people like Lech Walesa. And, paths that consume decades of time aren’t relevant to a child in grade-school. More often, we wind up with stories like that of PFC Joe Darby, who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib torture practices – and was promptly exiled when outed by his own embarrassed Secretary of Defense.

What Can You Do?

  • Notice the primitive and simple structure, and the four social roles involved in group bullying.
  • Notice that children in those roles are spontaneously recreating rules and roles that we formalize in adult life.
  • Notice the limitations they have in terms of genuinely possible behavior – and the real dangers and consequences they may face by becoming a Denier.
  • More importantly, notice the ways that adults model social profiting by participating in informal four-role structures like the political poster above.
  • Ask yourself in a very frank way how you may be modeling this sort of social step-stool in your words or actions.
  • Ask yourself how you may learn to notice this behavior more in the world around you – and how you can point out the structure to your children in age-appropriate ways.
  • Through this process, help your children identify the structure, and the four roles, and the pathetic nature of trying to socially profit by attacking weak targets.
  • Most important of all, suggest, model, and facilitate adventurous and genuinely contributory pathways to self-esteem and durable social standing.

Next time: “It’s Good to Be Mean” – how children escape good nature and good nurture to participate in cruel group bullying.

In the meantime, please leave your comments about the articles, and your questions about bullying – or about shifting behavior or culture in general. I’ll be happy to answer.

Posted in Bully Blog, Dealing with Fear, Decision-Making, How to Be Happier | Comments Off on Understanding Group Bullying (part one)

Understand Bullying: Overcoming Shame

Welcome (back?) to Understand Bullying – Overcoming Shame. Last time, I promised to reveal how you can protect your children against the most destructive dangers of shame and how to challenge shame that may exist.

Shame is the most potent and concerning emotion related to bullying and the centerpiece of the emotional system that drives the three actions of bullying:

•    taking Advantage of power
•    using Aggression
•    and Accepting mistreatment

Shame places people at risk both for being targeted and for engaging in bullying. And according to psychiatrist James Gilligan: “Shame is the primary or ultimate cause of all violence”. So, again, according to Gilligan: “What is most needed is a non-violent means to protect or restore self-esteem.”

Institutional environments like prison (and public schools) are massively shaming. They crush individual identity, creativity and self expression in the name of “order” (convenience of the management).

The least tolerated trait is not laziness or poor performance but non-conformity. And, the most valued human trait is neither innovation nor excellence, but conformity.

bullying shunningThe depersonalization of massive and enforced conformity is eroding to self esteem and a healthy sense of personal identity. In schools, we teach children about the Constitution – and all the high principles that they are not worthy of because their rights and human dignity are secondary to the “need” for conformity and compliance. They don’t have rights to free expression, or privacy, or security in their persons or possessions, or due process, or to refrain from incriminating themselves.

They are forced to memorize and repeat the list of rights and ideals by which our society counts itself better than others. Then, we both tell and show them they are unworthy to share in those protections – in most cases, merely because we find it convenientand we have the power.

In an earlier post, I mentioned the harmfulness of bullying by social exclusion. We force youngsters to live outside the fold of normal social protections and dignity, and then wonder why they don’t “respect” the social norms they’ve not been allowed to share.

The meaning a person gives to their experience may not be the meaning you expect them to take from it. Our challenge is to have empathy with the meanings people are actually forming – especially if those meanings are different from our intentions. Empathy, as you will see below, is one of the key skills to understand bullying so you can stop bullying.

The Simple Picture:

Last time I promised to package the material on emotions into a single picture that you can understand and act on easily. Here are four steps in graphic format. Have a look at all four, and read the text, and you’ll only need to remember the last one.

In earlier posts I talked about the Fight-Flight continuum, and how Posture and Submit are lower-intensity areas on the same line:

understand bullying shame

All conflict appears on this continuum somewhere:

  • from homicide to running for your life
  • from pushing into line to giving-way
  • from a bold step forward to a timid step back
  • from making an offer to making a compromising counter-offer

Bullying behaviors fall toward the extremes of the continuum:

understand bullying shame

This is an interesting reflection of how those most at risk for bullying behaviors also fall toward the extremes of their social metrics.

Near the middle of the continuum of social conflict, we find business negotiations, informal partnerships, and the like. The parties come to the situation with empathy and openness as well as confidence and resolve. Often such leave all parties happy:

bullying shame fight flightWe won’t resolve every single conflict in such a way, but we can certainly find out what influences the system to bring more people to resolve more often. The area of resolve requires us to bring our own sense of confidence and worthiness – as well as empathy and openness to new information and perspective. Healthy self esteem empowers those emotional responses – just as fear and shame dis-empower them:

bullying fight flight

This is the diagram you really need to remember.

When we understand that the forces of self-esteem and empathy move us toward resolve – and the forces of fear and shame move us away from it – the picture becomes even more clear. Luckily for us that shame and self esteem are exact opposites – a belief of unworthiness versus a belief of worthiness. Whatever builds one will erode the other.

The “Curse” of Shame:

A person who believes themselves cursed will become hyper-aware of every mistake, misfortune, and missed opportunity. And, as they become stressed-out about that, they make more mistakes – and so forth. An internet search reveals “the top ten signs of being cursed”:

  1. Nightmares
  2. Loss of energy
  3. Misfortune of loved ones
  4. Financial or property loss
  5. Relationship trouble
  6. Deterioration of health
  7. Legal trouble
  8. Direct perceptions of being cursed
  9. Sudden and serious illness
  10. Death

Almost any drug addict, accident victim, or severely ill person can qualify.

The things we think we know are the greatest barriers to our progress.

Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to notice, accept, and reference information that confirms what they already believe – and to ignore or dismiss information that conflicts with what they already believe.

Confirmation bias makes shame a catch-22:

Once a person believes themselves unworthy, they begin to interpret the world as if that were a true fact. Every inflection and gesture takes on meanings of rejection, contempt or exclusion. To believe ourselves unworthy is painful, but we can at least feel sane and “right” about what we “know”. Most people feel quietly sane and “right” about being unworthy – rather than risk a more public shame for causing loss due to “being a fool”, weak, wrong, or “crazy”. Every mistake, misfortune, or missed phone call becomes more “evidence” to support our belief – our rightness and our sanity.

This is the vortex of shame. And, if we throw in some actual targeted exclusion or mistreatment, we may have a whole committee helping to “make the case” and keep it spinning.

Challenging Shame:

The best I can tell, everyone questions their own worthiness at some time. And, the possibility that we could be unworthy is frightening. But, there is a difference between fearing unworthiness and collecting evidence to prove it.

We all fear unworthiness. Those with shame have convicted themselves of it.

“Secrets intensify shame.” according to Brene Brown, one of the most prominent researchers in the field. Luckily, she also tells us that “Shame cannot survive being spoken”.

Protect children from bullying behaviors by protecting them from shame.

Speaking about shame – a fear or belief of unworthiness – exposes a secret vulnerability, and so requires great courage. But, acknowledging vulnerability is only acknowledging reality. We are all vulnerable to something. And, as far as I can tell, we all have some fear of unworthiness.

We all believe things about ourselves that if said out loud – or about someone else – would be recognized as ridiculous. To speak it is to tame it:

Whatever unworthiness you fear, say it out loud, only say it about someone you care for. Include the reason or evidence you would use against yourself.

In other words, if that person you care for did, or failed to do, the same thing, would they be proven unworthy?

Reality check it another step further: Is there anyone in the world, who committing the same act could still be worthy?

Ask if someone committed the same act, and was unworthy because of it, could there be anything they could have done before – or after – that would counteract the worthiness measure?

This is the beginning of unraveling a sense of unworthiness in yourself or someone you are very close to. I do not recommend you get into playing amateur therapist with your kid if there’s some extreme issue. That’s what professionals are for.

What I do recommend is develop a family culture where fears – including the fear of unworthiness – are something that is normal to communicate about. Make it normal to openly interrogate any unworthiness bogy man that shows up.

Detailed conversations around these sorts of feelings tend to dispel them. And, a family culture where you do that tends to have a protective effect against little ones getting out of control – even if the mean girls committee is prosecuting the case.

Model the behavior – and lead kids through it: What you make normal will be normal. If you have fear (squeamishness) around doing this sort of thing, this is your crucible of character – urges versus values. When the character is revealed, what will it be?

Building Self Esteem (the anti-shame):

I did a post earlier in this series on building self esteem. I hope you check it out again in context with the above, and find new perspective and value in it. Use the information there to inoculate your children against shame – by filling them with self esteem, the anti-shame!

Next time, I’m going to unlock the secrets of the “pile-on” – group bullying that can be some of the most crushing – or even dangerous – to experience. I’ll decode some of the dynamics, and disclose things you can do to help turn the tide.

Meantime, I hope you’re getting value from this series. I’d like to hear your stories, comments, requests, and questions. Thank you for asking below!

Posted in Bully Blog, Dealing with Shame | Comments Off on Understand Bullying: Overcoming Shame