Young Males and Bullying: A Little Sun Tzu Never Hurts

NOTE:  While this post is targeted primarily at males, women can take something from it as well.

Mark Tapson, a contributor for the website Acculturated, wrote an article titled “We Are Raising A Generation of Wimps,” in which he cited several instances of activities children once engaged in as now taboo actions requiring immediate discipline and intervention.  While the headline has a clickbait sound, Tapson makes some salient points about how children aren’t being given the opportunity learn by mistakes and pain.  Where he is especially on target is his point about bullying.

“We now aggressively confront bullying, which is a positive thing – except that children who physically defend themselves from bullies are being punished as well, as if self-defense is equally reprehensible. Sometimes in the real world, the only thing bullies understand is a dose of their own medicine, and our children need to be ready for this reality and to grasp the moral distinction.”

These two particular points are as on the money as one could possibly get, and Tapson couldn’t be more accurate about the former.  As a young boy growing up, I encountered my fair share of bullying, and I usually did nothing about it for two reasons.  First, I was terrified of my own parents’ reprisal for being labeled by teachers and administrators as a “trouble maker” or “problem child” (trust me, it did happen).  Their own anger at me for being disciplined at school for self-defense caused its own emotional and psychological damage, but I’ll save that for another day.  Second, I was certain that my teacher or the principal would take great delight in nailing me to the wall for perceived misbehavior, regardless of whether or not it was in self-defense.  This was based on experience.  Decades ago, it was the norm for parents to not trust their children, take what the teachers and administrators said as gospel, and we kids pay the price for preconceived notions.  Many teachers and principals had their “favorites” and, whether these children had behavior issues or not, they were given a free pass, often because their parents ingratiated themselves to the school system.  Today, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme, with the oft-derided joke about children being “special little snowflakes” stemming from doting parents who believe whatever their kids tell them, even if it’s a bald faced lie.

Today’s playground still features bullies, but there is a far more aggressive strain of social-darwinism infecting it.  Much of this can be attributed to the hyper-partisan climate parents are bombarded with and their kids, having developed little impulse control, transmit this learned behavior to their own social circles.  As a result, those young males perceived as “weak,” “wimpy,” or “different” for whatever reason, are targeted for violence.  For that reason, what I am about to put forth is a suggestion to the so-called “wimpy kids” of the world which parents, teachers and those in authority will likely regard as the worst advice ever.  It comes in the form of a quote from the man widely regarded as the greatest military mind in history, General Sun Tzu.

“So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.”

In other words, fight dirty.

I’m not, repeat, not referring to the use of lethal force or any sort of weapon on the playground; this is about sending a message with your fists (or feet) that others should think twice about picking on you.  When someone starts picking on you, the answer I suggest that you come back with is “yeah, so what?”  Don’t worry about the “why” or “what did I do?” or “what can I do?”  This isn’t about pleasing someone; it is about intimidation.  Tapson is on point in saying that often, bullies only respond to their own medicine.  In one instance where I did stand up to a bully, I got in some serious trouble with the principal, but so did the bully.  The principal, though no fan of me, had no choice but to accept that the bully was guilty as sin, and made sure to let him to know while I was in the room.  This has a likely unintended consequence of allowing me to feel empowered about my own self-defense.  Ironically, we are now acquaintances online and have grown to respect each other.  He knows I won’t tolerate anyone’s bullshit, and I know he’s a strong, capable father who is both compassionate, honest and intelligent.  Granted, this is usually the exception rather than the rule, but I am grateful for this exception.  It’s a good lesson.  Yes, there were other examples where I did nothing, ran away, or “turned the other cheek,” but there were times where I fought dirty, aiming for the known weak spot on someone.

Was it cheap?  Damn right.  Was it “dirty?”  Hell yes!  Did that bully bother me again?  Not a chance, because he knew I wasn’t going to “play fair.”

This was a street fight, and if I was perceived as a wimp, I was going to use that as a strength.

General Sun Tzu’s words, when I first read them as an adolescent, resonated with me.  He understood that not all men were strong, but that weakness can transform into strength when developed properly.  Do you have poor upper body strength?  Not an issue; your legs are naturally more powerful than your arms, they support the body, after all.  Learn how to kick first as you strengthen your upper body.  Overweight?  Not an issue; ballast (bulk/heft) is a valuable tool against an attack – learn how to use your weight as a counterbalance or even a means of pushback.  Perceived as dim or unable to talk trash, that’s excellent.  Silence and meekness are the essence of deception; those who attack you will rarely see your true strength until it’s too late.

Will you always win?  Not a chance.  The goal is to send a message.  You may get bruised, bloodied and each sustain a broken nose or bone, and even a knocked out tooth, but as long as your assailants come away sustaining the same level of pain, message sent.  They will think twice about attacking you again.  Most important of all, never fight first, let them throw the first punch.  If they knock you out with a sucker throw, learn from it; remember the windup movement, and learn how to dodge next time and swing back at least as hard, only aim for the weakest spot you can.  If it means a kick in the balls, then kick like it’s the winning field goal in the Super Bowl.  They may regard you as a cheap-shot artist, but I’m fairly certain you’ll be left alone in the future.   The important lesson is you learn to take a punch; if you are really studying, you learn to take the punch and remain standing or, at the very least, get back up quickly and engage.  Remember, there is zero honor in a street fight, and all playground brawls are baby street fights.  On final caveat for guys; if it’s a girlalways simply walk away.  That is one battle which, culturally, cannot be won.

Administrators, teachers and parents, I have a message for you, as well:  recognize the bully for who and what he (or she) is.  Don’t believe everything they say as gospel, and don’t punish to the child who chooses to fight back.  That sends the worst message possible; fighting for yourself is useless, submission is the only acceptable option.  Bullshit.

We’ve spent too much time trying to teach young males how to “talk” their way out of situations.  I’m not advocating violence as a means to resolve problems, but rather as last-resort means of self-defense and sending a message to assailants.  Young men who choose to target “weak” and “wimpy” peers do so because they can, and we are too focused on zero-tolerance policies and avoiding lawsuits from opportunistic parents seeking a payday for their own children’s bad behavior.  Websites and pundits spend their days slamming “wimpy” and “weak” males, but fail to see that, oftentimes, these insults are hurled because they perceive weakness within themselves and wish to bully others so they can ignore their own failings.  Rather than trying to protect young men from their peers, we should encourage them to stand up for themselves, show the world they aren’t to be trifled with, and remind those who wish to intimidate and assault others of Sun Tzu’s words.

To those of you young males who are perceived by their peers as weak or wimpy, I highly suggest reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.  It will help you both growing up and as an adult.

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