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Born To Bully

Instead of preaching kindness, we should realize, as the Bible did long ago, that we’re all bullies—and that the best advice is to give in to that reality

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How To Stop a Bully

Even as the Harvey Weinstein-produced film Bully falls flat, Jewish schools are trying new programs that do more than simply raise awareness

These are tough times for the American bully.

Last week, after a young man opened fire in his Ohio high school, killing three classmates and wounding two, renowned scholars of adolescent psychology such as Charlie Rose and Marlo Thomas were quick to prognosticate and assert that the alleged shooter, the gawky T.J. Lane, was just a bullied kid taking bloody revenge on his tormenters. That the theory turned out to be utterly false did little to satisfy the national hunger for bully-flavored sanctimony. Speaking at Harvard University, Lady Gaga unveiled a foundation dedicated to nurturing a more congenial environment in school, aided by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, and by society’s Empress Emerita herself, Oprah Winfrey. The singer decided to start the foundation, she said, because she had been a victim of bullying, and she hoped the foundation would help make kids kinder to each other.

Gaga is sweet, but she’s misguided. The problem is not what to do to defang the bully, but what to do to galvanize his victims. The answer is simple, stark, unfashionable: Teach victims to hit back and hit hard.

I learned this lesson at 6. A boy, a year or two older, approached me in the schoolyard and demanded that I meet him the following day and surrender a particular Star Wars action figure he knew I had in my possession. If I refused, he said while gently rapping his knuckles against my cheekbones, my well-being would not be guaranteed. As he looked a lot like those giant walrus-apes in the trailer for John Carter, I was inclined to comply. That night, I sheepishly confessed my defeat to my father. What followed were words to live by: Without a trace of emotion in his voice, my father instructed me to go to school the following day, face the aggressor, and unleash upon him every bit of terrible violence and holy rage I could muster.

I did. The bully, nose broken, blood dribbling down his chin, lay in the dirt. I was expelled for a few days but then returned to school triumphant. The bully had little unkind to say to me thereafter. Nor, for that matter, did anyone else.

Occasionally, at dinner parties, I’ll share this story with my friends, and they, especially those who have children old enough to face a similar situation, will rebuke me for my appalling behavior, remind me that violence is never the answer, lecture me about vicious cycles and grim consequences, and overall imply that I might feel more comfortable taking the remainder of my meal out in the street, along with the rest of those roughs who were driven to howling by misfortune and madness. In response, I generally sip my wine and quote my Proverbs: “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.”

You can see this attitude in action in many of the Good Book’s numerous accounts of bullying. When Joseph, our most celebrated victim of bullying, was tossed into a cistern and sold to itinerant Ishmaelites, he emerged empowered and took his revenge, submitting his brothers to a protracted power play and asserting his primacy by flaunting his might.

One can hardly resist imagining what Gaga might have advised our multicolored-coated patriarch. Judging from her foundation’s mission statement, she might have spoken of the need for “creating a safe community that helps connect young people with the skills and opportunities they need to build a braver, kinder world.” And she’s right. But these skills, as Joseph learned the hard way, involve the ability to do things like planting a silver chalice in his brothers’ possession and then holding one of them imprisoned for a spell until he could reveal his true identity and forgive them their past wickedness. In doing so, Joseph was not merely taking revenge, but had struck back and corrected the basic balance of power between himself and his brothers. Only then could reconciliation begin.

And yet, when we talk about bullying, we reserve most of our vim and vitriol for the perpetrators, motivated by the belief that these cruel ogres can somehow be reformed. They cannot. The desire to torment the other, to harass those different than us, to lord it over the weak is all too human. It’s worth remembering here that Joseph’s brothers are the men from whose loins sprang the tribes of Israel—which is to say, to an extent they are the progenitors of most of the people who are likely reading this article. Like them, we too have it in us to be terrible meanies. Suppress that urge, and you deny us our natural birthright.

Which, of course, isn’t to advocate brutalities. Limits must be observed. But attempting to make children preternaturally nice to one another is very much like trying to convince puppies to chew with their mouths closed—we may succeed, but we would have ruined what makes them such jolly beasts, and we would certainly impede their growth. Children grow in part by testing the boundaries of their own abilities, and such testing is always applied vis-à-vis others. They tease and hit and threaten, some more maliciously than others, just to see what happens. If balance is kept, if the victim swings back, peace is restored. If not, a message is sent, clearer than the admonitions of a thousand teachers, that bullying is tremendously effective.

Rather than see bullies as abhorrent and in need of mending, let us realize, per our tradition, that they are us. And rather than forbid malice, let us instead teach our kids to strike back. They’ll be much happier if the biblical justice was allowed to prevail, unimpeded, in the schoolyard. After all, they were born this way.

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lazer says:

Didn’t expect much else from Liel “guns for everyone” Leibovitz.

philip mann says:

I`ve always wondered if a simple yet strong action,like Liel did,could change a course for a person`s life. It means you have a confidence in yourself,and know your abilities, as opposed to always just getting along.

meir says:

and the biggest media bully/coward these days is Rush Limbaugh. As George Will noted, the 3 top GOP presidential hopefuls can’t wait to go to war with Iran, but they won’t dare criticize Rush for his “slut” comment.

Dick says:

This is a heartwarming and classic response to the bully problem It doesn’t always work. Asperger kids, for example, get bullied and don’t really have the repertoire to strike back. Beyond that, I don’t think as a society we ought to tolerate brutishness, of either the verbal or fisted variety. We are better as a people when we do all within reason to assure civility. Adults have to answer to a variety of laws if they engage in bullying. It should be the same for children.

Steven says:

This is terrible and inexcusable. Kids can mostly be taught decent behavior and be happier for it. I’m sorry you had to fight as a kid. The school and parents should have made it unnecessary. Letting kids bully and tease and abuse isn’t the answer.

Bennett Muraskin says:

And if the bully was a more skilled fighter than the young Liel Leibovitz–then what?

Or if the beaten bully had a vengeful older brother….

Maybe then Liel would have brought a weapon to school and really taken care of business.

Now we are getting somewhere!

Anthony says:

Could not disagree with this opinion more.

Gandhi said that an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind. And Heschel in his writings would agree.

Beyond the escalation of person-to-person violence that such willfulness would engender, it commits blasphemy insofar as it places judgment in the hands of man and not in the supplication to God’s Mercy and His Will.

Hate is hate. Vitriol is vitriol. And violence is violence and is not, even when ‘permitted’, the correct course of action in application.

MethanP says:

I was bullied until I left High school. Most of it was anti-semitic, some was not. What sticks in the mind is that when I fought back, I was always the one in trouble. Bullies strike when no one is looking. The response is usually loud and public.
The other thing I remember is that the ordinary bullies respected me after I fought back, usually unsuccessfully (I wasn’t tough). The anti-semites alwas struck from behind and nothing would make them stop. If you doubt the anti semitic nature of most of this, I would have pennies thrown at the back of my head, at the cheap Jew in study hall. The teachers never saw nuthin! And if I spoke out, again I would be the one in trouble. I still will not pick a penny up on the street.

I’d be interested to hear Liebovitz’s guidance about online bullying. Though I can reluctantly accept this article’s position in real life situations, I can only see the “hitting back” approach in digital arenas like Facebook spiraling out of control. This in fact occurs on a daily basis with devastating effects for kids.

Laurie Weinberg says:

Stories come out well when we pick our narrow range of data. This worked well for one person who did not mind breaking someone’s nose. Who knows how it affected the aggressor turned victim and how many people he injured to soothe himself from that beating. Retaliation may at times be the least bad of bad options but clearly aggression grows more aggression. T

Rachel Eryn says:

Leil, I really like your work and was excited to read this, though disappointed in its bottom line message. I agree that we must own our inner bully/shadow/violence yet responding in kind does indeed create a cycle that impedes the development toward a more whole and loving world. The thing to teach kids is to stand up to bullies–agree with you there–and to do so by being stronger/wiser/smarter/more skillful– while still embracing the tzelem elohim of person using bullying behaviors.The whole field of conflict transformation is about these skills and they can be taught at any age–the evolutionary trajectory is away from us v. them and toward “it’s all us!”

JCarpenter says:

Self-defense, defense of the weak, necessary evils. If the blows/sanctions are just to stop the bullying, the task is incomplete. The ultimate goal is reconciliation. After the power play, the humiliation, the hard-lesson-learned, Joseph received his brothers in love.

philip mann says:


If you take that approach,you`ll always wind up second.I was on the receiving end,and taking the cautious way,worrying about big brothers,friends,and the like,means you`re beaten before anything starts.

pinchas in boston says:

amazing how Christianized/Reformjudaized/feminized/castrated/lobotomized the jewish goody goody readers of this article have become! Remember this, you jewish wimps: If someone comes to kill you, rise up early and kill him first. This famous Talmudic dictim is a variant of Hillel’s famous statement: do unto others as you would have them do unto you, i.e., mida k’neged mida.

Every Jewish kid should do thefollowing when mocked or bullied: protest, yell quit it; when that doesn’t work, complain to the school principal or the equivalent; and when that doesn’t work, it’s time for strike 3 you’re out: like the author’s dad said, punch hard and fast and do it with fury and full intention to win the battle. (Are you listening, Iran?)

Yes, the kid might lose, might get even more beat up,etc. But he will learn SELF RESPECT and HONOR, words many jews just don’t understand.

    fairytale says:

    I wonder which specific posters you a referring to as wimps? The problem with the initial article’s point is that it does not advocate self defense but of admiration of fighting, whether defenders or attackers. What happens when you lose and not only get beat up a little (like in cartoons)? Will you feel proud of engaging in violence when you are paralyzed and bedridden?

If I had not known from the outset that this column had been penned by Liel Leibovitz, I might have thought that some Southern – tea party-white cracker was simply lamenting the intrusion of civilization on a more simplistic, primitive back-country way of life. Mr. Leibovitz, if children cannot be taught not bully and fight; if children cannot be taught right from wrong who how to manage their most aggressive instincts, we may as well all give up on parenting and civilization. I’m stunned that educated academic of stature would suggest that we encourage victims of bullying to lower themselves to primate behavior of their tormentors.

Greta Dorfman says:

I TOTALLY DISAGREE, and I think it’s a dangerous position to take, that we need to accept the reality and fight back.

I attended a workshop with Peter Yarrow in March of 2010, held at Sheba Medical Center in Israel. His program, Operation Respect, recognizes that you can’t have much impact on the kids who are bullies because you can’t change the environment they come from. But we CAN educate the kids in the middle, the by-standers, not to let the bullies have control.

Mr. Leibovitz is clearly beyond redemption, but anyone who is interested should visit Peter Yarrow’s website:

Greta Dorfman says:

Correction – the workshop was March of 2011.

Jess says:

I have three young girls and I teach them to fight back, and hit hard, especially to other boys. A kid spit on my daughter’s face last year, and she didn’t know what to do. She ran to the teacher, but everyone knows they can’t do anything. After that, we practiced her slapping my hand as hard as she could. Girls are not punching bags for boys, or anyone. Self-respect and self-preservation are key. A few slaps and quick kicks in Elementary school might do these bullies some good. Boys are no longer taught that girls are “off-limits.”

Do not mess with my three Jewish girls on the playgrounds of Jersey.

Ann Siegel says:

This article is another form of bullying and it is an embarassment to see it published as a constructive response to the problem. The fact that human beings have impulses to exhibit bad behavior does in no way establish that this behavior is appropriate. Someone should have taught Mr.Leibovitz that you DO NOT LOOK TO THE PERPETRATOR FOR GUIDANCE. You look in the mirror. I am horrified that this article was published!

Aimless1 says:

I 100% disagree with this article, just as I disagreed with the article Leil wrote taking the same stance last year in the wake of the Phoebe Prince suicide.

Part of the problem is that we call this behavior “bullying” instead of what it really is – stalking, harrassment, assault. When grown adults have to endure this behavior it is considered unacceptable and they are entitled to legal protection and assistance. But yet we expect little children to handle these exact same situations on their own?

Anecdotally, but with some observed confirmation, the worst bullying among younger children in our suburb is between siblings of roughly the same age.

I am not against hitting back. Sometimes a strong verbal attack works against a bully, too — it’s an unexpected shock.

Standing up to a bully, whether verbally or physically, accomplishes two good things. One, it makes the bully less likely to be as aggressive in the future. And two, it shows the other person his/her own power. We often don’t believe in our power until we see its effect.

I am a woman and was recently verbally and physically threatened (but not actually touched) by a man. I yelled back, and he backed down. That experience means a lot to me.

Cole Simmons says:

Everyone is acting as if telling your kid to give ‘em a knock back is the end of the world. “Dangerous” even! Really? I think its more dangerous to habituate your child to always rely on mommy, daddy or authority figure x for problem solving. They’re kids, they say mean things. Get over it. You certainly aren’t going to change it.

    fairytale says:

    If you are so sure it is not dangerous, when a child reading your post decides to retaliate against his bully and is sent to prison because of it (knock back resulting in falling and head injury) will you serve his sentence?

Cole Simmons says:

Also, @Greta, beyond redemption!? That is terrible thing to say! If he is told over and over he is beyond redemption, well, one day he might believe it. And then who knows what terrible thing he will do. This bullying is unacceptable among adults! We should regulate the hell out of it.

VHJM van Neerven says:

Dear Liel (and other readers),

How very interesting to read your story on Purim, Strange that this is noted only in in 23rd place. It was gratifying to read the reference to reb Hillel, because I’d think he had, amongst other things, the Story of Mordechai and Esther well in mind when he wrote his golden rule.
To bring up Gandhi’s saying on that same level looks very off. ‘An eye for an eye’ refers to a legal system, not an individual’s actions. And individuals are the subject of both Esther’s and your story.
So I also found it of great interest to see the difference between the comments relating individual stories and those speaking of general, or even universal, precepts. It seems well worth considering these two different positions and their outcomes.
As for the personal attacks on you, Liel: ah well.
All the best to you and all those who teach their children to stand up for themselves and their kin and who, like Kay, keep some things in life as simple as they are.

VHJM van Neerven says:

OK, 25th place, with hat tip to Cole Simmons!

Jason VanBorssum says:

I sympathize with much of the basic message herein, but the overall tenor and tone is really off-putting and a bit depressing. In reply to @pinchas in boston, who asserted, “amazing how Christianized/Reformjudaized/feminized/castrated/lobotomized the jewish goody goody readers of this article have become!” Let me offer a bit of Christian perspective, albeit within the context and matrix of the First Century.

Pretty much everyone knows the “turn the other cheek” teaching of Jesus. I think it has been almost universally misunderstood and misinterpreted, as if Jesus is saying, “Be a doormat. Be a wimp. Do not resist, and let the blows rain down upon you.” That’s not the message at all. In the culture of First Century Judaism, and as is still the case in many cultures/parts of the world today, a person never, ever used their left hand in public. Never. The right hand was the only hand ever used, and you certainly would never touch anything or anyone with the left hand, which was viewed as unclean. So if a bully hit someone on the right cheek with the right hand, that meant that the aggressor was striking with the back of the hand. Culturally, this conveyed through body language a clear message: “You are inferior, you’re a piece of dirt, you are trash. I dismiss you as subhuman.” If the victim gets up and turns the other cheek, the left cheek, and is hit again, the bully must strike with an open hand, using the right palm. You can’t use the back of your right hand to hit someone on the left side…it’s almost physically impossible. So the victim may get hit again, may get hurt, but not before forcing the aggressor to non-verbally acknowledge social and cultural equality. In this way, the victim reclaims and asserts his dignity and cuts the aggressor down to size. Forcing a bully to acknowledge that may, in certain settings, may be more painful and degrading to the bully than the blows which the victim receives. (BTW, I am Christian but of paternal Jewish heritage.)


Either way the message is clear — you are supposed to take a beating.

And if you take a good beating forcing the bully to hit you with the front of his hand won’t make much difference at all.

Ellen says:

2 ways I got back at bullies:
a. 9th grade; punched the girl in her neck HARD in front of the whole class. She never touched me again.
b. 12th grade; another girl threatened to fight me. I told her “No biting, no scratching, no pulling hair, and not inside school because I have a very good rep to uphold.” The girl looked at me, said “You’re f-ing crazy,” and walked away.
Yes, sometimes you have to confront bullies.

David77 says:

What terrible advice! We should not teach victims to hit back. We should not be encouraging fighting. We should teach the children as community that bullying is cowardly and reprehensible, so that the children themselves stand up for victims and control or ostracize the bullies.

Steven Hansmann says:

No, we’re not all bullies. Original sin is one of, if not the, most vicious lie of christianity. I agree with you about striking back though. I spent most of my elementary school time pounding bullies into the ground, mostly older kids who were attacking my younger brother at the Catholic school we attended. But, often there is no chance of a victim of some thug being actually able to hurt their attacker. Then, cooperation. Dogpile his assaultive ass, rub gravel in his eyes, stomp on his hands….sorry, got carried away for a moment.
Seriously, this needs to be a two-pronged approach; virulent self-defense, and Lady Ga Ga’s approach.

FWIW, I’m with Liel.
People become bullies because they are permitted to be bullies.

    fairytale says:

    …and it is the target’s responsibility to prevent the bullying? If a terrorist kills children, should witnesses leave the victims to their own devices? It appears that the author of the article and several posters here enjoy blaming the victim.

patricia conway says:

Liel Leibovitz gives terrible advice. Children need to learn that disrespectful, hurtful behavior has consequences. A good school makes sure that bullies learn that. Inciting the victim to take up cudgels and join the ranks of the violent merely conveys the message that society (in this case the school) is ineffectual and cannot enforce its standards. Many schools are unable to enforce meaningful consequences. In those schools, perhaps telling a child to hit back, and hit harder, is the only advice a parent can give. Many schools are much better than that. Bullies get counselling and meaningful consequences to convince them that bullying is a losing proposition. A democratic society which espouses the model of the social contract must be built on this standard.

Doctor Bucephalus says:

Two thoughts as a kid who was bullied once. First, some of the non-violent sentiment here in the comments reads as beautiful and at the same time ridiculous. There’s a difference between playground teasing and the kind of bullying being discussed on the national level—the kind of harassment that sets kids to violence against others or even themselves. We’re so caught up in the moral stance of pacifism—which is great—that we lose perspective on what’s going on. Are we really going to call an article like this a form of bullying? Are we going to say someone is beyond redemption because he articulated an idea we dislike? This is your moral highground, people? A moral person has perspective. I might think Leibovitz’s story is grotesque and stupid, but is it really as offensive a suggestion as that? It’s right to tell our kids not to resort to violence, but a Star Wars figure is not the Middle East cycle of violence or Columbine, and we shouldn’t expect our kids to be Gandhi and Heschel! I’m sure there’s a true believer out there who thinks that’s exactly what we should do. I love you for it but, the world won’t fall apart if our kids aren’t sainted figures of the twentieth century.

Katherine says:

This is a disgusting article.

Karrie Formicola says:

Bullying is so different today than back when we were younger. My daughter was never attacked by just one it was always a group so how would you suggest she fight back? The schools did nothing but blame her and tell her to “handle it”. I had to remove her from her school to keep her safe from physical harm and block numbers from her phone, she’s not allowed on Facebook or any of those so how exactly would she fight back to end all this? These kids are still making up rumors and lies about her and she isn’t even there anymore. Hate shouldn’t be tolerated just because it is the easier path and blaming the victim is in itself a hateful act. I think you need to get a clue then re-write your blog because you truly just don’t get it.

Eric Duerksen says:

Now here is an enlightend opinion…NOT…It’s a sure way to escalate every conflict. It’s hard to believe anyone holds this opinion!

What about th bible verse that says turn the other cheek? We can’t only take the pieces of the bible that appeal to us and live by those, but take the whole thing. I understand teaching children to stand up for themselves, but to a certain extent.

yes, more violence is the answer..go you. Maybe then we can have another civil war on our hands

Bullying among kids won’t diminish unless we fight this scourge at home, in the workplace and everywhere.

Brandie says:

I agree 100%! if ur child is being bullied & beat up at school & having his things taken would you really want him to just curl up in a ball & get beat up? NO! You want your get to stand his/her ground & stand up for himself! All the people that think telling the school officials & telling the parents is gonna work….no its not gonna work! i can tell you from experience that the bully may get expelled/suspended but what about the next bully that comes along??? Children should all have the right to defend themselves from any1 that tries to harm them….for example: your gonna teach your kid to lay there & take it but what is he/she gonna do if they get abuducted by a grown adult?? yea they’ll lay there & take it cuz thats what mommy/daddy said is right..every1 has there opinions but im really sadden to see how many parents would rather see their child(ren)get hurt rather than defend themselves!

    fairytale says:

    Disagreeing with the article, in some way, does not equate to promoting victimhood but what most posters are arguing against is the reliability of the author’s simple answer to a complex problem.

Catherine says:

It’s always the same.
Blame the children, never the parents/guardians.
Parents need to stop putting all of the responsibility on the children to face matters that deal in violence, no matter the degree.

Parents blame video games, movies and music for most children’s behaviour and now we have an advocate for playground violence.
Are you serious?
I’m so glad your one bully was weak enough that one fight scared everyone away but not everyone has that experience.
I hit back and spent 4 years in daily torment from a large group.
So your logic is flawed on this issue.

The solution may have worked for you but don’t preach it as something that must be done, you will just create more violence in a world that has enough as it is.

John says:

I completely disagree on several points. First, you fought back, so you weren’t the victim of bullying. Trying to teach a child that is being bullied to handle it you’re way is just as alien to them as being compasionate is to the bully!

Second, if you can “teach” a child not to be a victim, why can’t you “teach” a child to not be a bully? Why should a child have to DEAL with another childs behavior? Shouldn’t the bully be taught to be accountable for their own behavior?

Third, if I remember my school years correctly, one bully could torment several children. Some how the resourses to correct the bully’s behaviour would be difficult, but the greater number of children being bullied, well that’s easy? That makes no sense either.

You stood up for yourself and that’s great. The children that are suffering due to this issue are not the kids like you were. Yes, working with them to build their self-esteem so they could have the confidence to overcome the issue will always help, but they aren’t the issue. Bullying is the issue and it needs to be identified and addressed so every child can feel safe in an environment like their school.

Michael Eckstorm says:

Kids aren’t born bullies. They are being made bullies. Your father was a bully, and he taught you to be a bully. What exactly does that help the issue at hand, except knowing that there are two more around who don’t help to bring a change?

Mr. Leibovitz, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Older Now says:

I’m out of school now and have been learning about bullying for a few years now. In retrospect, it is amazing that I was never bullied. I had everything that was needed: extremely small frame, quiet demeanor, awkward, clearly smart, obsessed over something nerdy, one of few racial minorities in school, very few friends, etc. Then, I started thinking about my school as a whole. I could not recall a single physical fight or incident of bullying besides some teasing. And, really, my was ripe for bullying since the “cool” population well outnumbered us awkward kids (and we had many students who started gaining muscle at a very young age). What was different? Our school somehow fostered this environment where bullying just plain didn’t happen. I don’t claim to know how but I know it somehow worked without me having to attempt to use what little force I had in my body.

Fighting back can work for those who have the strength to do so. If I physically fought back, I would have been the one with the bloody nose and broken bones. Heck, if all of us awkward kids fought against 5 of the really cool kids, we would have all left with broken bones.

philip says:

Mr. Liebovitz, why not change the world now when it’s needed most? Why belittle ourselves with the same old Neanderthal approach of yester-year? What’s wrong with everyone being treated as equals…it is in our constitution. Not to mention other holy scriptures around the world. I think teaching our children understanding and compassion would be a great thing. Mr. King’s dream would finally come to light. Kids learn from teachings of their instructors, why shouldn’t they learn of the teachings of Jesus? Or Buddha? We are all one people, regardless of any outward appearance or internal belief. My heart beats just as yours does. We should teach compassion, not every child can retaliate as you did. There are many handicapped children in our world who physically can’t ‘fight back’. What’s your answer to them? Corral them all and forget about them? I sure hope not. Teaching children to be good people may lead to a better world for them. The old way didn’t work…so let’s try something different. I applaud everyone that is standing up against bullying…but let’s leave the violence behind and make a better world with more understanding and care for our children’s future.

Whoever noted that these comments move back and forth between personal and universal was sharp. The plural of anecdote is NOT data. For every kid that was beat up in school and fought back, there will be someone else who wasn’t tormented and doesn’t understand how this advice is useful. I’m firmly in the camp of “teach your kid to handle their business because mommy/teacher/cop might not be there to help them.” Sometimes, no one is coming to help. Hit hard, intend to hurt, and then run. To all you softies: I’m glad you are there to give hugs out after. But where were you when I was about to get beat in the school yard for being different? One good punch back saves you from being frightened the rest of the school year.

    fairytale says:

    What happens when the bully is stronger than you (unless coincidentally you are the strongest person in the world) and retributes your punch-back with his own and you are inevitably rendered helpless? I suppose for every bullying victim of someone much bigger or of a mob of bullies there will be someone else who could depend on his all-powerful punch-back…must be nice to not be afraid for a whole year with such omnipotent solutions handy.

Michael R. Stratton says:

Uh…are you mental? Responding to violence with more violence is the beginning of the end of civilization. I’m happy for you that it worked for you, but for most kids, especially those who are smaller than their bullies, fighting back is not an option. Violence is not the answer. Yes, victims should fight back, but not with fists. With words, with actions, and with integrity. And how can you say we shouldn’t focus on the bully and WHY he bullies? How is that even a logical argument? Getting to the root of the problem is ALWAYS the smartest solution. Hitting back is the coward’s solution. Hitting someone with your fist doesn’t really take much, generally speaking. Standing up for yourself, and defending your friends, takes more courage and honor and integrity than a bloody nose could EVER accomplish.

    MaPol says:

    Sometimes, fighting back in a physical confrontation can be the only option, and it’s not a coward’s option to defend oneself.

Sam C says:

I cannot fully agree with this line of thinking. I was bullied myself, and I did, finally, strike back. It was one blow and it served to let my antagonist know I wasn’t going to take it any longer.

I did not “unleash upon him every bit of terrible violence and holy rage I could muster.” I did not leave him laying on the ground, bleeding.

In fact, we became friends after that.

There’s nothing wrong with using force against a bully, but only enough force to end the situation; the goal is not to wreak vengeance upon the aggressor, nor to seek retribution for every instance of bullying experienced prior to that moment.

Steve says:

I think you all have lost the meaning of the biblical reference. The biblical reference is in regard to the fact that mankind’s inner make up is evil. The gushy liberal progressive thinks that “the goodness of man will always shine!”
In reality there is no goodness of man that lies dormant in the human. The inner soul of humans is evil and corrupt and bound for damnation. The glory of man can only shine, once a human recognizes that and learns to quell that inner instinct. Whether its through religion or enlitenment the goal is still the same; the need to “kill” the inner beast. And you do that through education and reality. In the case of school yard bullies osmetimes the reality is to be forceful with them.
Those of you that are aghast at the force that is needed to squash that inner instinct just don’t understand basic human traits.
And as an aside: why do you think that our pandering stratagy in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan is going nowhere? It’s due to this very basic reason, the basic human condition is evil. The human situation will only change once you confront that and triumph (possibly in a violent way) over it.


Dylan McArthur says:

Thank you for this article. Nonviolent resistance is only occasionally the answer. Our culture of nice obscures certain truths that need louder proclaiming.

My dad taught me how to fight back. He didn’t want me to fight, but he knew that sometimes, it was necessary. I have punched two people in the nose in my life and both times, it stopped the bullying:

jdgalt says:

Good advice if it works, but that bit from Proverbs is as misguided as Lady Gaga: right does not make might. This is why kids need access to police intervention when attacked successfully, just as an adult would get. (Indeed this is more urgent for kids, since they aren’t allowed to solve the problem by not going there anymore, as you or I might.)

Robyn Delfin says:

Quite simplistic. In most bullying situations weak ones identify with the aggressor in perpetuating the bullying rendering the solitary person impotent.So you advocate David taking on Goliath regardless of the minions who will attack. True sometimes a show of force may work, but a philosophy of not taking advantage of others, especially from adults inculcating it at all levels might help all of us deal with aggression

Nature evolved bullies for a purpose.
Those who oppose bullying, oppose Darwin, which was maladaptive last time I checked.
How antediluvian of them.

maurice medoff says:

It is pretty clear that you enjoy the aggression of bullying either as a doer or a viewer or both.

I can remember my schoolyard and and picking up a bully with my two hands straight up lift face to face because of indignation inspired by righteousness.. I suggest you pull yourself up too and possibly achieve this balance.

Kerry Swartz says:

Great article. Great advice. Someone screws with my kids, they can take care of themselves. None of this sensitivity training for bullies.

It seems to me the arguments here are, “Defend yourself”, or “No, don’t/you may not defend yourself”. (Hitting is wrong, violence breeds violence, etc. etc.) Why is it wrong to defend oneself against violence initiated upon one’s person by another person? If one’s response is “Pacifism”, by what right does a pacifist insist that others also cling to pacifism? Isn’t that up to me? (I know reason has been broadly abandoned in favor of the’my truth-your truth’ assertions of relativism, but work with me here. Can this assertion actually be valid, “We can stop bullies by calling them names”…?

     If one kid hits first, the other has a right to defend themselves – but a verbal defense is not “calling bullies names” – it’s about learning what to say to throw the bully off balance and make them think about what they’ve said, something along the lines of what Jesus said when the pharisees were going to stone a woman caught in adultery – “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” – they all walked away convicted.

I have another question. We have evidence that fist-to-nose seems to work quite well as bully prevention. If the other stuff worked, why are there any bullies at all?

centsablekind says:

Leibovitz’ acknowledgement of our dual nature is nothing new and no slim slice of investigative data upon which he points out our truth. Joseph was clever in his retribution; most of us not so much. Yet we are encouraged to refine our character, reminded in our mussar studies that a moment of anger may erase all the goodness we have demonstrated previous to that point. As a middle school teacher, nearly daily I see students react; their teenage brains incapable of Joseph’s careful thinking, much of the time, and how the author is absolutely correct in his appraisal that the one who stands up for himself speaks a little louder … and often gets caught. I see potential in approaching bullying from his perspective. I mean no disrespect to Lady Gaga, whose intentions are pure, I’m certain; perhaps we should teach our children in the ways of our ancestors and encourage them to come up with ways to address this problem through the same acknowledgement of Liebovitz, because what I see now is kids who are bullied turn into bullies and assume no responsibility for their own actions.

centsablekind says:

And they teach this to their kids.

David says:

This article is the difficult truth. While we should certainly first and foremost cultivate values such as respect and dialogue among our children, we should also remember that sometimes there are people in life who are not interested in dialogue, negotiation or understanding – this goes for the schoolyard bullies of our childhood, and the workplace bullies of our adulthood.

If you’ll forgive me for bringing politics into this, I would imagine one of Obama’s biggest problems is that he has internalized the notion that the bullies (the extreme right wing) can be negotiated and reasoned with. As they used to say in my old neighborhood – fughedaboutit.

    MaPol says:

    Obama’s full of crap, anyway. Even before he got elected to his first term, I thought there were going to be riots in Southie (South Boston, MA), Charlestown, MA (also a section of Boston), and other communities like them throughout the United States that would make Boston’s busing riots that erupted in the mid-1970’s pale by comparison. You know what else? Part of me hopes that does happen at some point, while Obama’s still in office.

I am not sure that bullying is part of our nature, but rather that pride and desire for power is our nature. As I get older I constantly see high school meanie situations repeat themselves in adult garb. “Bullying” is too generic a term, and women, men, children and adults will interpret it and respond to it differently. Confronting “bullying” requires a nuanced and case-by-case approach and a risky, unknown outcome – and that, it would seem, is the hardest thing for our human nature to handle.

Kids are not born bullies or victims. Little ones have no control over their environment and become a product of it.

Parents are a child’s first teacher and they copy or role-model the behavior they see.

Bullying is abuse and intentional and there’s often a tendency to dilute the word. It’s only “teasing,” if both sides are laughing.

Prevention is powerful. Stronger than applying bandages after the fact. They have little adhesion.

In the US, 1 out of 3 children are bullied daily. Too many children are in despair and take their lives as the only escape from the silent pain they’re in.

Kids need our help. They can’t fix it themselves. Let’s stop paying lip service.

John DeLancy says:

What children do to each other in what we euphemistically call “bullying” is more properly called a felony. Assault, battery, extortion, sexual abuse. Your solution implies to the potential FELON that these CRIMES are acceptable if he can get away with them. A bully is not going to stop unless he is stopped. A child who fights back heroically and loses will also be subjected to the FELONY the bully intended. A child who fights back and wins may well be subjected to reprisal attacks from associates of the bully. And the position of your article is that the authorities should take no action against this criminal activity.

If you really believe what you write, you must also agitate for your local police department to be disbanded, and that citizens instead take their chances against criminals. These are the same people who after beating you _will_ take your action figure, lunch money, wallet or daughter’s virginity.

The only difference between the two scenarios is that the child criminal has not yet learned that society itself (and society’s G-d, if one believes in Him) will not tolerate harming another, regardless of whether that other is an easy or difficult target to destroy.

Your article advocates putting a stumblingblock in the way of children who cannot yet see what adult members of society can.

In closing, your article has the disturbing implication that the world community should not dissuade terrorism against Jews, whether they are – like 70 years ago – an easy target or – today – a more difficult one to destroy.

John DeLancy says:

Cole Simmons: If someone says to you, “give me your money or I’ll hurt you,” it doesn’t matter if you’re leaving the schoolyard at 7 or leaving your office at 37; it’s still objectively wrong, both to society and to society’s G-d, and society needs to follow the leading of society’s G-d and make it stop.

Or do you think Ha’Shem would prefer the cop to tell 37-year-old you to just resolve it between yourself and the psychopath intent on killing you and raping your daughter?

H. (Bart) Vincelette says:

Your approach is seeped in testosterone, & promotes violence. I am not opposed to someone deserving it; getting a good shyt kicking, but with the availability of weapons of individual destruction; perhaps your is wishful thinking. The overwhelming grief of a mother, hit the proverbial nail on the head.Following the brutal torture & murder of her son, Matthew Shepard, in Laramie, Wyoming some years ago, she said she didn’t blame the young punks who killed her son so much as society for giving them permission to do so. And great segments of society continue to do so. I am grateful for the wonders of the computer & Internet within my lifetime. But, I am disappointed at the constant revelation of barbaric attitudes of so many in our western democracies/republics. And, I mean…so many!

Violence begets more violence begets more violence — and it escalates. Why not permit children to bring nuclear weapons to school? That would stop the bullies!

Violence begets more violence begets more violence — and it escalates. Why not permit children to bring nuclear weapons to school? That would stop the bullies!

Mike Miller says:

In short, I disagree with Mr. Leibovitz. Current research (Nixon and Davis 2010) shows that while standing up to a bully can bring a conclusive end to the situation, a child who fails to overcome the bully in this way is almost guaranteed to see the effort backfire, and usually with some pretty nasty consequences. Seeking support and advice from peers and adults is much more likely to help the target of the bullying without adding risk.

But I want to hearken back to the quintessential example of people taking justice into their own hands: the rape of Dinah and its aftermath. Simeon and Levi extract bloody justice from Hamor and Shechem, and we get quite the equivocal answer at the end of Genesis 34 (especially verses 30-31). The young men are proud that they’ve stuck up for their sister, but their father Jacob is beside himself because of the blood they have called down upon the family’s head.

Righteous indignation is a wonderful motivator, but it can also be a dangerously tempting one. Once you start to justify your own actions as deserved vengeance, it’s very easy to stop weighing them ethically, instead taking knee-jerk reaction to perceived wrongs. And while I’m not the most studies scholar, I don’t believe that’s what our tradition teaches us.

     I agree – and getting physical escalates the situation. When it comes to verbal abuse, kids should be taught the verbal skills they need to defuse/de-escalate the situation.

      MaPol says:

      You’ve got a point, but the martial arts can be useful for standing up for oneself, if necessary, if a confrontation does get physical and there’s no other way out, in a way that won’t escalate the situation, if one gets the drift.

April Peterson says:

After years of trying to help my son deal with bullying by a few kids in his class, I finally told him he was allowed to fight back physically. He said he couldn’t fight because he’d be suspended from school. I told him if he fought back because he was defending himself, then he wouldn’t be in trouble at home. In fact, I would allow him access to the Playstation all day and I’d buy him ice cream. He never did fight back. Thank goodness highschool came along and those kids are at a different school.

fairytale says:

I disagree with a lot of the points made in this article.

Firstly, I am an atheist and do not consider religious stories as rules to live by.

Now, this essay seems to argue that the desired and likely outcome of fighting back is a truce and mutual respect.

With all due respect to the author’s father, there is a reason laws exist against “bullying” (physically attacking someone, such as that choke in the picture).

Let me ask you, if you are for fighting back (retaliating) but at the same time against observing limits, how would you feel if the scenario did not involve harmless little children but teenagers and one took your advice and hit back and seriously injure or even kill the bully?

How about the bully who learns choke holds in his judo/BJJ class and snaps the victim’s neck? “Limits must be observed” but bullying is a “natural birthright”? murder is natural? right?

Also, if you are going to deny a bully the right to bully anyway by fighting back, why shouldn’t society prevent it through other means, especially if it offers help to more than just the bullies’ physical equals? …and wouldn’t it be less detrimental to the bully as well than unleashing upon him every bit of terrible violence and holy rage?

Peter McLaren says:

I just read your article about bullying.
Of course, not everyone has the courage to physically fight back so this might interest your readers

I’ve written a book that enables people to insult others without having to actually confront them – especially if the other party is prone to violence.

It contains a different, disgusting insult on each of its 99 pages & on page 1 there’s a table where they can tick the page numbers that apply. It’s good to use as a joke too!


Peter McLaren


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Born To Bully

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