Bullying is a problem all over the world, but the amount of it varies in different countries and at different times in their history. There are a few scientists who say that it is a fundamental natural instinct in herd animals; the very weak ones are attacked, and finally killed. So they do not live to breed, and the herd consists only of strong animals. This is supposed to be an advantage in the struggle for survival.
Even if it is possibly true in the case of some animals, it is not true for humans. The Spartans applied the idea; the weaker boys often died under the terribly harsh treatment they were given. Sparta became very strong in war. But they did not realize that some weak bodies hold very intelligent minds. They killed some of these physically weak but mentally strong children. Their war strategy became mechanical and fixed.
In the end, a military genius, Epaminondas of Thebes, invented a new battle formation. The Spartans could not adapt to meet it, and were crushed forever.
But some degree of austerity and hardship is unquestionably valuable in building a strong character. This has been recognized in Japan especially: there is no one-word English equivalent for ‘gambare!’ or for ‘gaman-zuyoi ‘ (except possibly stoical, which is not a common word).
I knew the great shogi champion Oyama and when he brought out a new book he sometimes gave me a copy. In one of them he said he would write the secret of shogi: to my amazement he wrote the single character rtin, consisting of a sword-blade on a heart, meaning something like endurance. No Western chess champion would have thought of such a thing. Then in Budo, we have the idea of kitaeru, which involves hardship. But these things are designed for the ultimate benefit of those who endure them.
Bullying is simply a cruel entertainment for the bullies. They despise, or even hate, the victims. Bullying is not a thought-out and controlled policy of training (though it can pretend to be), but often a casual and vicious amusement. On a small scale, it corresponds to the spectacle of the Roman arena, where the audience cheered as they watched Christians and others being devoured by lions.
Bullying is a problem not only in education, but in the world. Here I am limiting the discussion to schools and colleges. We have bullies in Britain too, though not so extreme and widespread. It is one of those things which everyone says is wrong, but which is somehow difficult to tackle. Violence in schools is not new, but we are becoming aware that it is wrong. In my own lifetime, it has become much less. (But recently there was a terrible case where two boys about 10 years old took away a 2-year old, and threw stones at him. He died from the injuries. Several people saw the tiny boy being led away, crying; but the two elder boys said he was their brother and that they were taking him home. The adults accepted this explanation, and did not interfere. )
British schools about 1830 were rough places. Masters kept discipline by whipping, and if necessary fighting the boys, and the boys fought each other. A boy could be whipped if he made a careless mistake in his Latin exercise. We have to remember that the world around them was a violent place: the captain of a naval ship could order a sailor to be flogged, and sometimes the sailor died. (Even today, judges in Britain, and in Canada and some American states, can still in theory order a flogging for a crime of particular violence. )
So it used to be thought that the violence in schools (experienced first as a victim for two or three years, and then as the tyrant for another three) would equip the boy for the violence he might meet later in life. Towards the end of the 19th century, the idea of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ was thought to be a justification for a harsh school life. The schools at that time did produce some very hard and courageous men, but they also sometimes became anti-intellectual. That was a serious defect; even today there is sometimes a blind resistance to new ideas and inventions; British people create many new things, but the new ideas are often exploited by foreign companies.
I think that I have seen traces of the same attitude in Japan’s attitude to bullying: some Japanese think it develops the power to resist pressure, gambaru.
By 1920, when I entered school, things had improved; in the better schools, the masters no longer fought, but there was still quite a lot of violence between the boys. As for the less good schools, a man of sixty recently told me that when he was a boy, a new teacher came to his class. This teacher had found out that there was one very troublesome boy in the class. On his first morning, the master called out this boy to come to the front: the boy swaggered forward. The master then gave him a tremendous punch in the face, so that blood streamed down. Then he said: “Go back to your place’. That master never had any trouble with the boy, or with the class.
No master could do that now: the law forbids him to touch the children. They know this, and problems of discipline are coming up. Parents no longer unquestioningly support what the teachers do, and this weakens the authority of the teachers. The children are now protected from unreasonable harshness of teachers, but they are not protected against each other.
Violence between students is much less today, though it does exist. One hundred and fifty years ago, 17-year old boys at the famous Rugby School tortured a new boy by holding him in front of an open fire; he was badly burned. I discovered that at another famous school, there was just such a case about ten years ago. But we can say that today it is very rare indeed. As far as I could find out, there is nothing like the systematic taking of money from smaller or weaker students.
The question is, what can be done about it? The help teachers can give is very limited: they are not present when the bullying takes place. It is the other students who know what is going on. The point is that many of these students would like to help the victims, but they are afraid to do
anything. Why? Because if an individual intervenes, he will face three or four of the little gang of bullies. Then he will himself be beaten. Others will not help him, because they too think that if they come forward, they will be one against the gang, and will be beaten. I am one against many; what can I do? It will make no differrence’. So they do nothing. Usually they look away, and pretend that they have seen nothing.
If there are twenty boys who see the bullying, they all think the same way: ‘I am only one, and this gang is five. What can I do? There are others here, but they will probably not support me or help me’.
This is the point. Most of the boys do not approve of the bullying, but each one feels, ‘I am one against many’.
I believe that a single Japanese boy or youth cannot be expected to interfere unless he knows that he is supported. The support can be of two kinds:
(1) Support from the whole community, and ( 2) Active support from his own group.
First, I would like to look at Support from the Community. The newspapers and TV should run campaigns, and publicize letters from the general public, condemning extreme forms of bullying. The public should be encouraged to give some support, at least verbally, to anyone who is rescuing a victim. The public consciousness can be roused, so that people will act together.
To show how this is possible, I will give an example from British social history. Typically, it concerned animals. (The French say the British care more for animals than for humans.) Anyway, the first Act in the world against cruelty was to protect cattle; it was passed in 1827. After some years there was a general Act forbidding cruelty to any animal. This law was soon taken up in the United States also. There was still no law against cruelty to children, unless it amounts to serious bodily injury, or death.Then a lawyer in the United States had a brilliant idea: a father who whipped his children unmercifully was successfully prosecuted for cruelty to an animal on the ground that a human is a rational ‘animal’, as Aristotle had said. Soon after this, in 1884, a strong law against cruelty to children was passed in Britain and the United States.
In an English street today, if a man beats his dog unreasonably, someone (often a woman) will go up to him and cry: ‘Stop that! ‘ Several of the passers-by will come forward and form a little group, prepared to restrain him. This is hardly ever necessary; confronted by a group voicing their disapproval, the man will stop. They do not know each other, and afterwards they go their various ways. I have given this little example, because I believe it illustrates the effectiveness of a general public attitude. I do not say any of them would necessarily act if quite alone, but after all, there are generally a few people around.
I gave as an example of a Too Much nation, the French, and I recalled that in the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century they had executed the King and some 2,000 aristocrats. But they went on executing; they could not stop. Finally they began to execute even their own leaders. Altogether about 30,000 were guillotined. Then about a hundred years after that, the workers in Paris rebelled against the government, and set up a Commune. The French President crushed them, killing or exiling about 30,000.
Then in the middle of this century, when France had been defeated and occupied by the Germans, the Allied forces invaded France from Britain, and drove out the Germans. It took a few days to set up a new French government and administration : so for a very short time, there were no police and no public order. In those few days, the French citizens lynched many of the Frenchmen who had accepted jobs under the German administration. Frenchmen never talk of those few days : as far as I know there are no official figures for the murders, but the estimate is…yes, 30,000. Some Frenchmen who were there say that the figure was nothing like that: ‘a few people were shot’. But others, who were also there, say it was a three-day civil war. Perhaps the truth will be known only when everyone concerned is dead.
From the British point of view, there is sometimes an extreme bitterness in the French attitude to enemies, and even a certain acidity in their attitude to friends.
This is summed up by a maxim of the famous French wit, the Duke of La Rochefoucauld, in 1665 :
In the misfortune of our best friends we always find something which is not displeasing to us.
Would we like a friend like this ?
It is true that this was said a long time ago, but every Frenchman knows this writer: he is in the schoolbooks. The French say that British people feel the same way, but do not talk about it. There is some truth perhaps in this, but I think the difference is that the Frenchman says ‘we can always find something pleasing in the good fortune of our best friend’. This is too much cynicism.
If we look at French civilization, however, we can see that their great geniuses were countering this hardness and bitterness. The greatest French poet is probably still Victor Hugo.
© Trevor Leggett