Beyond Bullies

The New York Times ran an op-ed piece on bullying March 12 by Emily Brazelon. It’s worth reading for those of us interested in scapegoating. She has written a book,  Sticks and Stones, which I haven’t yet read but it promises to be useful. Here’s her definition of bullying, culled from psychologists: “physical or verbal abuse, repeated over time, and involving a power imbalance… It’s about one person with more social status lording it over another person, over and over again, to make him miserable.”

Good as far as it goes, but I wish she had mentioned more about the group’s role. I think it’s also  important to place bullying in the category of small and large group dysfunction. Of course bullying may be manifested through an individual, but looking closely into any bullying event reveals the dynamic of a scapegoating group.

Brazelon talks about “harnessing the  power of the majority” to make bullying “outlier” behavior, meaning turning the bullies into scapegoats. Really? But what will happen then? The group has found a new scapegoat and the old one harbors revenge.  Understanding the whole scene of scapegoating groups, meaning the tendency of all groups to find ways to export problems, must be included in any analysis of bullying and its antidotes. Still, it’s great that the subject of bullying has gained such a literate, thoughtful scholar and practitioner.

Women, Religion & Suicide

Bullying is not an ample word to describe the situation of woman in too many places in the world. I’m all for the prosecution of war crimes by the Hague, but how do we prosecute an entire religious culture whose mainstream behavior is criminal. I’m talking about the men in many muslim nations who are in a scapegoating war with their own women. In the same NYT edition, we read about an Afghan teenager who was hounded into suicide because she fell in love with a young man, which then precipitated the suicide of the first victim’s sister, who had tried to talk “sense” into her. When have teen agers not fallen in love? If I understand the article, their father commented, after viewing the two coffins, one of which held his daughter: “Dying this way just doesnt make sense. I wish they would have died in an accident.” It’s more than understandable that suicide turns out to be epidemic among young women in this’and similar societies.

I’ve visited many Muslim nations and they all have this powerful dynamic in greater or lesser degrees. More than a billion people are effected. Some may be changing. Some not. In my view, religions are not held and do not hold themselves sufficiently accountable in this area, as the scandal around abuse in the Catholic Church amply suggests. People’s beliefs and nationality are largely an accident of birth and geography. Scapegoating women is evil and must not be hidden behind the accidental.


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