Norman Rockwell's Girl With Black Eye (1953)

The “bullying epidemic” does not discriminate. It infests not only all races, religions, and sexual orientations, but all political orientations as well. However, because anti-bullyism is, in essence, a product of left-wing thinking, critics are more likely to come from the right.

Matt Walsh is one of them. He also writes as a Christian. His recent article in The Daily Wire, “We Teach Our Kids to Be Doormats and Then Wonder Why There Is a ‘Bullying Epidemic,’” has been picked up by other rightwing sources, such as The Patriot, with an article by Louis DeBroux, “The Answer to Bullying Is Strength, Not Submission.

Several days later, the traditionalist parenting columnist John Rosemond wrote an article, “How to Handle Bullies,” making a similar case. Was this a coincidence, or was Rosemond also inspired by Walsh?

The need to criticize antibullyism

Anti-bullyism is one of the most popular social movements in history. But it’s failing, and few people bother to question it, because the idea of getting rid of bullying sounds so right. Every additional influential critic, such as Walsh, should be welcomed.

Walsh laments that the onslaught of anti-bullying efforts, including laws, programs, posters, and bumper stickers, have made little dent in the problem, with “spiraling into depression, sometimes suicidal depression, at a much higher rate today than in the past.” He correctly asserts that bullying is “an inevitable result of the human condition” and is not going to be eliminated by protesting against it.

He also surmises that “our children are less equipped to cope with it… [for] several reasons, but one of them is certainly the fact that we are conditioning our kids to be victims.”

This statement hits the nail on the head. The rest of his article, though, doesn’t.

Nostalgia for the “good old days”

The brunt of his piece contrasts today’s school policies with those of the past when kids were encouraged to fight back as the solution to bullying. Now, though,

…every school in America has adopted the profoundly insane position that “it doesn’t matter who started it,” everyone involved… will get in trouble.

Therefore, Walsh assumes, kids prefer to wimp out rather than get punished for standing up for themselves.

But few authorities today are actually telling kids to “slink away.” Yes, they don’t want kids to hit back, but they do encourage kids to confidently stand up for themselves, to tell their bullies to “stop,” to “walk away” from confrontations with assertiveness, and to have the courage to stand up for others.

The problem is that standing up to bullies was never a reliable remedy, or bullying would not have been an ever-present problem in the days when it was supposedly the universal recommendation. In fact, standing up against bullying is a fairly reliable way of perpetuating the bullying, as can be seen in the first half of the following video clip:

Regarding physical fights

The major weakness of Walsh’s article is that it equates bullying with physical fighting. That’s probably because, in years-gone-by, bullying usually did refer to physical assault.

That’s no longer the case. For one, there has been a dramatic societal reduction in physical aggression over the past few decades, including in school. So there are simply fewer physical attacks for children to contend with.

Secondly, it wasn’t a universal policy of schools to permit kids to fight it out or to hold victims blameless for retaliating. Kids could certainly get punished for hitting a kid who bullied them. But that was the price to pay. You show your bullies you have the courage to fight them, and you take the punishment—both from the school and from the bullies. The famous Norman Rockwell painting, Outside the Principal’s Office, reflects this theme beautifully. The movie Cool Hand Luke provides an excellent adult example.

Even today, kids still have the choice to fight, and many do take it. However, fighting back never was always effective. Sometimes it would get you into repeated fights—and in trouble with the school. Retaliating against a more violent kid can get you seriously injured or even killed (would Luke have survived the portrayed fight without brain damage?). And some of us are so averse to violence that telling us to fight back leaves us feeling totally inadequate. Not only can’t we muster the courage to fight, but we are also disappointing the adults who are encouraging us to do so.

But more importantly, the concept of bullying has come to include all unpleasant acts, predominantly insults, and secondarily rumors, gestures, cyberbullying, and social exclusion. Retaliating physically is almost always unjustified, and does warrant punishment. 

Freedom of speech and the Golden Rule

If Conservatives like Walsh want to rail against anti-bullyism, they have better reasons.

The most substantial is that it has made it a punishable offense to say things people don’t like to hear. Ironically, freedom of speech is actually the solution to verbal bullying. It’s the Constitutional version of the traditional slogan, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

When kids realize they need not get upset by insults, they can put a stop to the bullying, as demonstrated in the second half of the first video embedded above. But anti-bullyism deems the slogan a lie, insisting instead that “words can scar me forever or kill me.” Kids who buy into this get even more upset by insults, so they get picked on even more.

And how about the time-honored Golden Rule? 

It’s undoubtedly cherished by tradition-loving Conservatives as well as Christians. Jesus taught a solution to bullying: the Sermon on the Mount is a practical guide to the Golden Rule, instructing us to love our enemies, not to respond with anger to provocations, to resolve issues directly with our adversary rather than going to the authorities, and to turn the other cheek in the face of mild aggression (a slap).

Unfortunately, most people think turning the other cheek is a recipe for losing and leads to repeated attacks. On the contrary. Facing one’s aggressor non-violently, without anger and fear, makes one the winner and tends to prevent another slap, as demonstrated in the following video.

The author in a role-playing sketch

So Conservatives and Christians, you now have reasons to oppose anti-bullyism that tap into your true philosophical roots.

Izzy Kalman

Izzy Kalman is the author and creator of the website Bullies2Buddies.com and a critic of the anti-bully movement.