Another Week Ends

1) A provocative new study from The National Post sheds some new light on contemporary […]

Ethan Richardson / 7.31.15

1) A provocative new study from The National Post sheds some new light on contemporary understandings of bullying in schools and beyond. The focus of the conversation stems from the (argued) misconception that bullies are socially maladapted, due to some underlying issues at home. The role of schools, then, is to combat these tendencies with positive and negative reinforcements upon their behavior—carrots and sticks.

The new study in Canada finds, to the contrary, that bullies are better adapted to their environment—more socially adept than their peers, less likely to be depressed, and more likely to have higher social status and self-esteem (I wonder why…?). This may not sound like news, but its implications are important. Rather than intervene in behavior modification programs, this research urges that bullying is hard-wired into some of us, and best combated when “bullies” are given an outlet to free their aggression (ht BJ).

IdohbotWong recommends that, instead of trying to change how bullies think, schools expand the range of competitive, supervised activities they can participate in — giving them a less harmful channel for their dominating tendencies.

Indeed, fascinating research involving another Canadian expert offers some support for that idea. A pilot project at an Arizona school sought to steer students identified as bullies into high-status “jobs” — like being the school’s front-door greeters — to focus their aggression on something less harmful.

Bullying fell “dramatically” in its wake, says Tony Volk, a Brock University psychologist who helped pioneer the genetic theory of bullying and took part in an upcoming study of the Arizona project.

It sounds like common sense, to air out the truth, call a thing what it is and face it. As we know, the boys in the basement will eventually make their way up, in one way or another. This methodology seems to understand this, and prizes that knowledge over the efficacy of the bitter carrot and the ever-so-short stick.

Of course, this kind of passive resistance to such a pressing (and personal) issue seems like giving up or stepping back, especially for those like Rob Frenette of Bullying Canada, who have seen their own children bullied or have been bullied themselves. Research that argues bullies will always be bullies leaves nothing to be done, leaves not much hope that things could change.

Instead, the study is hoping to approach a new understanding of bullies, not as products of dysfunction, but as a type of person. Professor Tony Volk describes the kind of bully that escapes the eye of the public.

But the type of bullies Frenette cites, and that often are the public face of the problem, form a separate category, well-defined by psychologists, called bully-victims, says Volk, the St. Catharines, Ont., professor. They are the ones who are troubled themselves and strike out in visible, blatant ways that quickly come to the attention of authorities, he said.

Evidence indicates it is the “pure” bullies, however, who account for 80-90% of bullying, yet are more socially adept, more popular and fly more under the radar, says Volk.


Two things of note: besides lending credence to what makes a bully a bully, it is interesting (and pretty typical) that our natural favoritism lies with the bully’s victim. Any justifying explanation, any open door, for the victim’s perpetrator is something our culture is hesitant to give an ear to. This is mainly, I think, because we view ourselves in the victim seat.

Beyond bullying, though, this is the kind of methodology we prefer for resolving any of our problems. Like Pandora’s Box, opening up a problem and letting it speak feels like a sketchy proposition. What devastation could this suppressed emotion/conflict/anxiety wreak? Surely enough, our supposed control over it tends to wreak more havoc than letting it rip.

2) DZ headed west this weekend to speak at the White Horse Inn weekend, and an event in Costa Mesa called “Love, Suffering, and Creativity,” alongside Dustin Kensrue, and this gentleman, Brett McCracken, who wrote a terrific op-ed in the Washington Post about the fall of the church of cool. Here’s my favorite bit:

Christianity’s true relevance lies not in the gospel’s comfortable trendiness but in its uncomfortable transcendence, as a truth with the power to rebuff, renew and restore wayward humanity as every epoch in history.

“If we are interested in Christianity in any sort of serious way, it is not because it’s easy or trendy or popular,” I previously wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “It’s because Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true. It’s because the world we inhabit is utterly phony, ephemeral, narcissistic, image-obsessed and sex-drenched—and we want an alternative. It’s not because we want more of the same.”

Speaking of tattoos, a long (and terrific) interview with Nadia came out via Religion and Politics.

3) McSweeney’s “How to Make a To-Do List for Your To-Do Lists” is hilarious. It begins like this, and only gets better:

512005f43e5d0.preview-620Keeping a to-do list has long been one of the most efficient methods of managing errands, household tasks, and workflow. Whether it’s grocery lists, reminders, or repairs, the feasibility of a day’s workload is made much more palatable with a simple list format. In today’s world, however, with increased demand for productivity and output, as well as the drastically increasing speed of communication, it’s harder than ever to keep track of those lists.

If you’ve ever sat down to write a to-do list only to discover you’ve completely forgotten everything that would have actually been listed, I’m here to help. Below I’ve listed concrete steps to help you prepare a to-do list for your to-do lists…

Onion of the Week: Woman Relieved to Find Soulmate Turned Out To Be In The Same Socioeconomic Bracket.

And there’s this, too: Amazing! Man Manages To Remain Anxious Even Though Nothing Is Wrong

4) David Brooks will not slow down, and neither will I. This week’s article was entitled, “The Structure of Gratitude,” and sounds straight out of the Augustine chapter of his new book. He connects gratitude with both low expectations and undeserved kindness. Preach it:

I’m sometimes grumpier when I stay at a nice hotel. I have certain expectations about the service that’s going to be provided. I get impatient if I have to crawl around looking for a power outlet, if the shower controls are unfathomable, if the place considers itself too fancy to put a coffee machine in each room. I’m sometimes happier at a budget motel, where my expectations are lower, and where a functioning iron is a bonus and the waffle maker in the breakfast area is a treat.

This little phenomenon shows how powerfully expectations structure our moods and emotions, none more so than the beautiful emotion of gratitude. Gratitude happens when some kindness exceeds expectations, when it is undeserved. Gratitude is a sort of laughter of the heart that comes about after some surprising kindness.

ike-and-tina-whats-love-got-to-do-with-it5) Changing gears a lot with a little Camille Paglia, who had a three-part conversation with the folks at Salon this week. She is certainly under no obligations, this woman, and while her connections between Bill Cosby to Bill Clinton are certainly shock-worthy, her insight on our return to 1992 is profound. As a liberal secular humanist, so, too, frankly, are her takes on Jon Stewart and Christopher Hitchens. It seems refreshing that no one is safe from Paglia’s gaze.

And then there’s this bit on human motivation (and its absence in everyday thought) is spot on. Specifically in relation to the rises cases of public shaming, Paglia says today there is no space to process “why” people do what they do.

There’s absolutely no doubt [the standards have changed for Bill Cosby since Bill Clinton], especially in this age of instant social media. In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology.  No one has any feeling for human motivation.  No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!”  “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies. Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.

6) Finally, in the tv/music sphere, Derek Webb’s Kickstarter for the 10th anniversary of Mockingbird is up! While I think he’s hit his budget, there are some great perks lined up for supporters, including a remix of the album itself. Count me in.

And I’m not caught up, but the third season of Rectify is underway, with some startlingly good reviews, including this one over at Sound on Sight.

Until next week!