When push comes to shove

Ad Council Stop Bullying and body imageOn the butt end of bullying? A spiritual argument against turning the other cheek.

BY JIM BOUCHARD – What if you could look inside the soul of a bully? What would you find?

Conventional wisdom says that the bully is insecure. He finds some sense of power and control in the world by using force to get his way. He’s often the progeny of a bully himself, was raised to bully others or at least knows no other way.

The bully, as we’ve seen in recent cases that made national news, is insensitive to the feelings of others, suffers from shallow effect and displays little empathy.

Look at Dharun Ravi, the Rutgers freshman who used a spy-cam to secretly record his roommate having gay sex, posted it on the Internet – and shamed him into a set of circumstances that prompted him to commit suicide from New York’s George Washington Bridge in 2010.

Bullies find great satisfaction in the suffering of others.

So an enlightened person would be the opposite of the bully, right?

If you are enlightened, after all, you wouldn’t think of taking advantage of others or causing pain and suffering to satisfy personal ambitions and desires. You’re always careful to consider other people’s feelings. When your needs and desires conflict with someone else’s, you’re willing to step aside to keep the peace.

You’re a nice person who lives by the Golden Rules: Do no harm. Turn the other cheek. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

But is there a point at which that code makes you more of a coward than an enlightened person?

The scars of bullying sometimes heal with time – a message that everyone from activist-journalist Dan Savage to Education Secretary Kathleen Sebelius are spreading in ad campaigns – but not always.

What can Hitler and office bullies alike teach us?

And other forms of bullying, the adult kind, go on for as long as the victim is stuck in the same workplace or social circle where the bully hangs out.

In worst-case scenarios people get physically hurt or emotionally snap. “Going postal” has entered the American lexicon because bullying can literally lead to killing.

In that face of that reality, are there times when aggression is appropriate and being nice is wrong, irresponsible or even dangerous? Historians who have studied WWII and Adolf Hitler say, yes. Their books have made “appeasement” a dirty word, which political opponents today use against President Obama and his efforts to conduct diplomacy with Iran.

To extend the above question, is it okay to prey on the weak in, say, business or sports but not in personal relationships? What about when protecting someone else?

Anatomy of a bully’s mind

Recent studies into the mindset of the bully reveal a somewhat different perspective than the traditional profile. 

The soul of the bully is that of a person who is often quite comfortable with himself.

Far from lacking self-esteem, he may in fact be very confident and have a well developed sense of self-worth. The bully is often extremely popular and may be the class president, star athlete and later the CEO, the office manager or head of the PTA.

The bully may in fact be the most popular person in the group, easily attracting plenty of friends and followers. People clamor to be accepted by the bully and are all too often eager to do anything to earn his or her favor.

Have you ever used force or coercion to get your way? Have you ever taken advantage of someone weaker or someone in a vulnerable situation? Does any part of this profile apply to you?

Now being attractive, popular, socially adept or even powerful does not necessarily make you a bully. There’s an important semantic distinction between a leader and a despot – between someone who is powerful or ambitious and a bully.

Surrender and acceptance may be the Buddhist way, but in my book confidence and courage are better counter-measures

The difference is an imbalance of power. When you leverage an imbalance of power to demean,

Cold War bully, Senator Joseph McCarthy

diminish, terrorize or destroy someone else, you’re a bully. 

The power of the bully depends on this imbalance.

You take away the power of the bully by refusing to surrender your own power. Confidence, courage and strength are the antidote for the bully. 

It isn’t always necessary to punch a bully in the face, though I will hold out that option should the situation justify it!

Standing up to the bully often means simply confronting the behavior head-on. It means refusing to allow the bully to take advantage of you, and telling him that you will not tolerate his behavio


Sometimes it means walking away – but walk, don’t run!

What did the Buddha do about a bully?

I do try to live by the Golden Rule of “do no harm.” However, I remember a very useful story in which the Buddha, traveling with his entourage, was crossing a river on a ferry.

A rather nasty, sword-wielding character was about to attack, rob and rape the group made up largely of pacifists who took “do no harm” very seriously. 

One of the followers asked the Buddha what they should do: 

“Stop him!”

The Buddha gave orders for the hit! Was this his Tony Soprano moment? Was the Buddha advocating violence? 

No. He was defining violence in context.

The robber was the one committing the violence. It was not an act of violence to stop him, even by force. In this situation, to do nothing would have done more harm, and that’s what we too often do when confronted by the bully. Nothing.

You can’t expect to change the soul of the bully, but you can resolve not to tolerate exploitation whether it’s against you or someone else. 
Standing up to the bully is an act of courage, and it’s the right thing to do. Tolerance and pacifism can be acts of courage or masks for cowardice.

I’m a simple guy (image, left) who lives life at street level. I haven’t always stood up to the bully.

Sometimes I’ve run away from him; but when I have I’ve never escaped. It may seem prudent in the moment to run, but a moment can stay with you long after any bully is long gone.

Every moment of courage builds your capacity to act courageously. Every moment of cowardice makes it easier to rationalize being a coward, and that’s a terrible thing to live with.

You may not be able to change the soul of the bully, but you have absolute control over your “soul’s code.” 

The fact is we can’t stop bullying with a policy.

One by one, however, we can stop the bully in his tracks.

Martial arts transformed Jim’s self-perception from ex-drug abuser and failure to successful entrepreneur and Black Belt-holder. As a nationally-known speaker and author of Think Like a Black Belt, you can see Jim as a regular guest on TV and radio programs such as FOX Across America.


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4 Responses to “When push comes to shove”

  1. Thank you Jim for a brilliantly BALANCED article! It is the “Dark Goddess” who stands up to the bully! She’s the one who looks after our boundaries!

    Happy New Year Soul’s Code Friends!
    ~ Mary Giuffre
    Creator ~ FengSHe.org

  2. happy new year to all!

    thanks for a fresh way of looking at bullying jim.

    as a woman i’ve often been bullied by my family, partners, and on the job. some of it isn’t overt physical or mental abuse but more a pervasive nullification of my worth because i happen to have breasts and ovaries.

    my new year’s resolution? stand up to bullies wherever they may lurk and walk away from toxic people and relationships. thanks for the reminder jim!

  3. I think bullies can in some circumstances inspire us to learn to stand up for ourselves. Eventually, the time comes when patience moves way for self preservation. Learning to voice our right NOT to be treated badly is a lesson even spiritual people have to learn. Part of the throat chakra wisdom. :) Namaste!

  4. I have been verbally abused several times in my life. In every case, a man was the abuser. In every case, I ultimately ended the relationship. I always tried to work things out first.

    Where did my willingness to stick it out to the bitter end come from? As a child, my mother taught me “Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names will never hurt you.” I was a master at hanging in there, surrounding myself with a white shield, detaching, and letting the abusive words fall where they may.

    What have I learned?

    1. It takes a lot of energy to shield myself from verbal abuse, even if I can prevent it from penetrating my heart.
    2. It is much more life fulfilling to surround myself with people who value me, love me and support me.
    3. When I have to confront abuse, I need to stay calm, prepare well, and pray.
    4. I need to walk out of abusive relationships as soon as possible. When I remove myself as a potential victim, there is no longer any abuse.