What’s the nature of bullying, anyway? How does it work? Why do others join in? Why do more and more – who actually care less and less compared to the leader that drives it – participate in a behavior they likely don’t agree with at all?
Why is it that people who aren’t bullies act like bullies?
This post was something I felt compelled to write after having watched this week, The Pianist, the story of a gifted Polish Jew in occupied Poland during World War II, and after having read Auschwitz, a memoir of one Jewish doctor’s experiences at the infamous death camp during that same period.
Both made me realize – if I didn’t feel it already – just how unique this period was in the history of the world – how despite all we as humans have endured, and all we as people have inflicted upon ourselves, or others – there has never been a time where the totality of human suffering was so great as it was then, during the second World War.
There was never a tragedy which so greatly affected so many or so large a portion of the world. There was never an event to which so many were made a part – despite their distance from it, and their irrelevance to it. There was never a time so sad, or scary, or evil even.
And yet, we’re so far removed from it now that it’s easy to forget just how horrible that time was, because so few remain who know that horror.
Here in the U.S…
…the government just recently concluded a very long and costly 10 year war. And on their withdrawal, we were reminded of the price our nation paid for that war.
We were reminded of the money spent, and the effects caused. We were reminded of the tens of thousands hurt, and the families ruined.
But mostly…we were reminded of the nearly 4,500 American soldiers lost.
A lot of men and women.
Each tragic. Each horrible. Each loss affecting countless more they knew and loved – forever.
Mostly men, of course.
A son lost. A brother gone. A husband they’d never hold again. A friend they’d never see again.
But 4,500 in 10 years.
Modern genocides lose far more in weeks. Ancient battles lost far more in minutes.
And in World War II, 27,000 people around the world lost their lives EVERY DAY – soldiers and not.
In battle, disease, and hunger, and murder.
Roughly 100 million men were mobilized in all, sent to the farthest reaches of the earth, to places most did not care for, many did not know, and nearly all – in a time when travel was still difficult and very much restricted to the wealthiest – would never have seen in anything but newsreels had it not been for this war.
And yet there they were sent. Thousands of miles from home, and given weapons and told to kill these people, of which they knew nothing more than what they were told.
Because their governments disagreed. Because some ruler they had never met, in some place they had never been, wanted more money he could not spend himself, more land he could not walk himself, and more fame he could only call his own for a time.
For the few years he had left on this earth.
For simply the glory and power that comes with owning a bit more color on a map.
And for that hubris, 50-70 million men, women, and children – including the enfeebled and the handicapped, the young and the old, the most helpless and the most innocent – lost their lives around the world.
And not simply in their sleep, or in the comfort of their homes and with their families, but in the most horrible ways, the most terrifying ways, the most painful and tragic and evil ways.
Alone. Shivering. Starving. Torn open. Bled dry.
The Effect of Group-Think
And though the simple carnage fascinates most – though many preoccupy themselves with the actions and insanity of the Nazis or the helplessness and tragedy of the Jews – what amazes me far more are the actions of not any particular nation or people, but of the individuals – of the men who carried out such orders and participated in such carnage.
The world is made up of individuals, after all; of independent men and woman who every day choose how they will act and be. But groups? Groups are the creation of society – of our desire and need to organize what we see, and classify who we meet.
Us as “us”. And them as “them”.
But that’s what happens when countries are drawn on earth, and one people are made to feel different or opposed to another. That’s what happens when people submit to the whims and prejudices of The Group.
Suddenly you find yourself in conflicts you have no part in, part of a mob you can no longer control, committing acts you would feel ashamed to commit.
Suddenly you find yourself hating not just a single person, but every one and every thing like them simply because you’re told that what they represent is different than what you represent.
Whatever that even means. However ridiculous that in fact is.
And so that’s why – when watching movies like that, or reading books like that – I’m far more amazed by the actions of those individuals – the men told to shoot children, and murder the old, and herd screaming, crying, pleading human beings into gas chambers.
Because the cruelty and evil of the orders themselves one can easily explain: the cruelty and insanity of a single person. But it’s the execution of the actions, by people not mad, that one finds so hard to stomach.
Because as I thought to myself as I watched it: I have no doubt that there were Nazi murderers who were far less monstrous than we’d imagine, who may yet see heaven so to speak; people who were as horrified by their actions as they were at what they were forced to do – by their own fears, by their own disbelief at what was happening, and by the guns at their backs.
But it speaks to the danger of what you get caught-up in in life – the crowds you hang-out with, and the people you call your friends; that you see to it that you remove yourself from situations you think may lead you into uncomfortable positions and force upon you choices you would rather not make.
The cliques you hang with.
The gangs you join.
The bullying you participate in.
Because when you become one of The Group, you cease to be an individual. You lose control of your Self. You surrender your will to the will of the mob, and give control of your actions to the whims of them – to the “friends” whose acceptance you’re so desperate to win, and the camaraderie you’re so desperate to feel.
And suddenly the group’s beliefs are your beliefs, their actions your actions, and their hatred your hatred.
And that’s why your enemies are ridiculous.
That’s why it’s ridiculous that you even have enemies.
You pick on that boy, or that girl, because of how they dress, or how they look, or who they know, or who they call their friends. The cool pick on the uncool. They strong prey on the weak. And whole groups of very different people – individual people – in differing circumstances, and of differing personalities, are grouped as one so it’s easier to hate on them.
Because of what they represent. And not because of who they are. Because, in reality, you don’t know who they are. You don’t know them.
You just “know” they’re different. They’re this or that. They’re the enemy.
But you don’t know them because you’ve spent your time hating them instead – picking on them, or bullying them, or quietly or openly mocking them.
But minus that crap, what prevents you from making peace? What prevents you from becoming friends? What prevents you from simply being civil and understanding of a fellow person, as you deserve, and they deserve, and all deserve?
Just what you think others will think – your friends, your peers, The Group.
Just how you think they’ll react.
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