Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ben Franklin on Bullying

Because I spent nine years writing a novel about Ben Franklin, I’m often asked what Ben would say about this or that issue. Recently, I was asked what Ben would say about bullying, a growing scourge in America that has captured a great deal of attention lately because of a rash of bullying-related suicides.

The popular wisdom seems to be that the solution to this problem (and how many others?) lies with our schools; in particular, with enforcing zero-tolerance policies on school grounds, and with educating both sides of the equation, victim as well as perpetrator.

If Ben Franklin were to weigh in on the matter, my sense is that, as a master analyst, he would ponder a moment and then ask us, simply: Why do bullies bully? 

In other words, is bullying a malady in itself, to be treated in isolation, or is it only a symptom of something larger? If the latter, is treating symptoms really what we want to be doing to solve our bullying problem, or is it instead going after the root cause?

(The same could be asked concerning drug addiction and obesity, could it not?)

If to answer Ben’s question (Why do bullies bully?) we were to follow the vector it suggests, what might we encounter? Children who are cherished and well-treated at home? Children who feel valued and respected? Children who feel useful and self-confident? Children who do their homework every night instead of watching TV reality shows? Parents who model tolerance, forbearance, and thoughtfulness?

Do the nays have it?

If so, should we continue to look to our schools for a solution to our bullying problem, or should we instead take a closer look at the state of American home life?

As the founder and commander of the Pennsylvania militia, Ben would likely pose one other question to us: Where is it written that children witnessing the abuse and degradation of a fellow human being must stand by and allow it to go on. Is not a bully only as bold as those around him allow him to be? And does it not take but one child of courage, one bold spirit, to organize and lead a local militia?