EYE ON THE PIE: Bullying behavior beyond the playground

  • Comments
  • Print

Bully: “a blustering browbeating person; especially: one habitually cruel to others who are weaker” (Merriam-Webster’s On-line Dictionary).

I don’t want to overstate the case, but much of the news lately has been about bullies.

Without any psychological qualifications, I see bullies as those who view themselves as weak persons or victims of abuse. They then use intimidation or violence to compensate for the injustice and indignity they perceive being imposed on them. The Virginia Tech massacre appears to have been such a tragic transformation of a self-perceived victim into a violent campus bully.

We all grew up with bullies. There were boys in my neighborhood who were eager to fight at the least provocation. We avoided playing marbles or stickball with them because the price of winning could be a beating or worse. Before they became teens, they carried knives, and one carried a gun.

The Don Imus affair was a bully finally getting his due-more than it was about sexist, racist remarks. Al Sharpton is a bully, playing the race card on every possible occasion to push himself to the front. The prosecutor in the Duke University lacrosse players’ case was a bully, insisting on dogging those young men without credible evidence.

Hitler was one of the all-time bullies. He took a nation that was in economic and psychological crisis and gave it strength that was used to bully Europe. Today, Iran and North Korea are seeking bully status. Current U.S. foreign policy is seen by much of the world as an effort to bully both our friends and our designated enemies. Israel’s behaviors are perceived as bullying by the Palestinians.

Terrorists are bullies seeking to impose their will by killing the innocent. Their acts are based on the belief that historical wrongs can be rectified only by violent intimidation.

In the economic sphere, John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and others of their time were considered bullies. They used their economic powers to compel submission to their demands. Some businesses believe that unions are essentially economic (if not physical) bullies. Today, Wal-Mart is accused of bullying its suppliers and thereby gaining unfair advantage over its smaller competitors.

Recently at the Indiana General Assembly, I was struck by the supercilious, bullying behavior of those in leadership positions. While many legislators are humble and helpful, those with some degree of power often (not universally) are overbearing, self-important bullies.

Domestic abuse-whether physical, verbal or emotional-is a form of bullying. Some of us become bullies on the road, refusing to yield where appropriate, attempting to intimidate other drivers. The Soup Nazi on “Seinfeld” was funny because he represented those bullies we meet in retail transactions.

Kind and generous faculty members may become bullies when they acquire administrative authority. Worse than that, some timorous souls become bullies when they stand in front of the classroom.

I confess to this fault and hereby apologize to the hundreds of students and audience members who were subjected to my “humorous” jibes. Too often, these were rationalized as attempts to keep the proceedings light and to retain attention to the matter at hand. But the style was bullying, an abuse of position, and disrespectful of the dignity of others. I will seek to mend my ways.

Bullies impose severe economic costs on us. Think of the heavy price we pay for domestic security and foreign adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Think about the costs of security we now bear in public buildings and schools. Consider what will happen at colleges because of one deranged man at Virginia Tech.

Bullying behaviors must be stopped. They are best prevented by intervening early in the process, by helping those who see themselves as victims to find non-violent means of restoring their self-respect. This difficult task applies to children as well as to nations; it may be our most urgent priority.

Marcus taught economics for more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.