I read an article last week, and watched its accompanying video that discussed bullying behaviour from the perspective of evolutionary psychology. It suggested that bullies act the way they do not out of a lack of self esteem, but because they have a high one that they seek to maintain, and that bullying builds popularity and social status that eventually lead to greater mating potential. Furthermore, they’re genetically predisposed to the behaviour and there’s not much that can be done about it, except perhaps to provide alternate pathways for status and achievement to kids hardwired this way so that they they’ll not need to bully others in their pursuit of status and popularity. To me, this is akin to buying off the gangster with “protection money”. Some of this may make sense in isolation, but it seems to me that there has to be more to the story. Especially because there doesn’t appear to be any evolutionary advantage to being hardwired to be meek and gentle, and very little to being empathetic, yet all these qualities exist (though I do recognize there are theories to explain each of these qualities too).
This has been bothering me for a week and it wasn’t until I started reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset yesterday that I started to put the pieces together. Admittedly, I’m only 80 pages in, but as I read, Dweck’s description of those with a fixed mindset continually reminded my of my most difficult, bullying students. These students constantly seek to reaffirm their superiority, they are afraid to take risks for fear of demonstrating a deficiency, and seek the easiest paths to success.
Is it possible then that bullies aren’t genetically hardwired, but come to school with a fixed mindset for social prominence, or are even put in a fixed mindset by our school systems? Dweck does a great job to explain how people can be inadvertently, and intentionally put into a fixed or growth mindset, yet; she makes it clear that whatever your initial abilities or talents may be, your qualities are not fixed.
“Mindsets are an important part of your personality, but you can change them. Just by knowing about the two mindsets, you can start thinking and reacting in new ways.” p.46
And so it may be that bullies act from a fixed (but changeable) mindset that drives them to be socially dominant at whatever the cost, and the reason that buying them off appears to work is because they are also prone to take the easiest path to success–and there’s no risk involved with taking a buyout. As effective as this appeasement model may be (as long as the buyouts continue), it isn’t morally right. It would appear to me that if we can change the mindset of bullies, we would be off toward a much more successful path. I am excited to finish reading Mindset to learn more on how I can go about doing that.
Do you think traditional approaches to bullying are effective, or do either of these two perspectives change anything for you? I’d like to hear and discuss it with you!