What is a Bully?

bullyThis month the New Jersey Commission on Bullying in Schools released a 66-page report on how to further reduce bullying in schools. The report estimates that implementation of their 22 recommendations would cost $1,500,000. Approximately $900,000 would go to the establishment, staffing and supplying of three TAC (Technical Assistance Centers) sites. These sites would be centers for training and disbursement of resources for school districts.

One recommendation called for a more precise definition of bullying, but in actuality it is a broadening of the definition. Presently, a student can only be subject to bullying for a specific reason such as race, gender, sexual identification, or ancestry. If a student was subject to bullying for no specific reason e.g. -“I don’t like your face”- it really was not bullying under the law.

According to the report, “Since there is a lack of understanding by many in New Jersey about what bullying is, a new definition is necessary in the law that more precisely defines harassment, intimidation or bullying as based on a power imbalance or power differential..” This is an admirable effort to eliminate behavior that can have long term negative consequences for victims, and exacerbates the mental imbalance of the perpetrators. But some may find it disconcerting that the state Commission believes “…there is a lack of understanding by many in New Jersey about what bullying is..”.

Contrary to the The Commission’s belief, an informal survey of New Jersey residents questioning their understanding of bullying can be summed up in the phrase, “Ya, big bully”. This would indicate that most residents fully comprehend that bullying is about a “power differential”. Rather than seeking a more precise definition of bullying, The Commission is seeking to catch up with a definition that has existed for generations.

There was no mention in the report about offering a more precise definition for the presently utilized term “bully”. While the term “bully” maintains implications of offensive behavior, it also has connotations of strength – that’s because of the “power differential”. Some parents are calling for schools to employ more modern marketing techniques to diminish incidents of bullying in the schools, and an effective marketing campaign against bullying might require a law that “more precisely defines” a bully – rebrand the image of bully.

A more precise term for what is presently defined as a bully might be “loser”. Redefining bullies as losers offers a more accurate descriptive noun, and provides professionals with a base from which to counsel both victim and perpetrator so as to resolve the situation. The bully, being a loser, tries to project his/her own lack of self-worth onto the victims and make them feel like a loser. Redefining bullies as losers offers logistical problems. The noun bully and the verb bullying are very effective for grammatical implementation, and a more precise definition of a bully should offer that same quality.

Terrorist is a potential option depending on public reaction of some parents being resistant to having their children described with such an inflammatory term. There is also the concern that labeling school bullies as terrorists might dilute the meaning as it applies to political terrorists. The motivations and means might differ between the bully and the terrorist, but they share the same end result which is to impose fear and/or terror.

The 66-page report, available by clicking here, examines the complexity of addressing an age old problem. It also discusses the more recent expansion of bullying into the digital world of the Internet, text messaging, and cell phones. These modern technologies offer a bully even more avenues by which they can terrorize a victim, and add to the need for definitive solutions. The report offers suggestions on how to remedy and prevent bullying situations, but fails to address the lack of stigma attached to being identified as a bully.

Loser or terrorist are terms that could be used in place of bully, and potentially reduce the Commission’s next report down to only five or six pages.