A Bigger, Better Bully

How do you stop a bully? There are only two ways to do it:

  1. Convince the bully of the error of his ways
  2. Find a Bigger, Better Bully

Most non-bullies prefer the first way, at least to start. They hope that kindness will win the bully over to their side. It’s a big win for everyone when this tactic works. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “If I make my enemy my friend, have I not destroyed my enemy?” This method worked very well for him.

But the method depends on the bully having some ability to reason and empathize. Unfortunately, true bullies tend to be intransigent and obtuse. They don’t respond well to kindness, since they think of it as a sign of weakness. So a modification of the first method is sometimes necessary. This modification has three phases:

  1. Be kind to everyone
  2. If someone responds to your kindness with bad behavior, take him into a quiet room and reach an understanding, i.e., beat the crap out of him
  3. Try kindness once again, i.e. be magnanimous in victory

This works pretty well. We have all encountered thorns in our side who have responded to transient attack when strict kindness failed. There are some people who won’t pay attention unless you jump up and down on their desks. Several of my own antagonists have become best friends after a heated private argument.

But again, this isn’t going to work for true bullies, the Hitlers, Stalins, and Putins of the world. These bullies will require Option 2, a Bigger, Better Bully.

Where do you find a Bigger, Better Bully? You have two choices:

  1. You can become one yourself
  2. You can find a surrogate

Let’s consider Option 1. If you try to become one yourself, you’re trying to become something you aren’t.  You may not be good at it. You’ll be too nice. You’ll tend to be less brutal than you have to be to win. As a result, you may lose or at least get beaten up yourself. On the other hand, if you push yourself to be nasty enough to win, your actions will surely affect you, diminish. You might even become a worse bully instead of a better one, your own worst enemy.

Option 2 is even more dangerous. If you use a surrogate, you unleash a dog of war that may turn on you after getting rid of the first bully. He might even join up with the first bully, so that you have two bullies to deal with instead of one. So you have to be very careful when you choose your Bigger, Better Bully, and you have to monitor your choice forever after and be ready to step in if your choice begins to change into a Frankenstein’s monster.

I think these remarks apply very well to personal politics in the office or university but apply equally well to international politics. You start with diplomacy. If there is no response, you try the “Godfather method,” i.e., sanctions. Now, with ISIL and Russia in the Ukraine, we’re starting to recognize that we have to have a Bigger, Better Bully, and the question is whether the boots on the ground are our own or those of our Moslem or Ukranian allies. As we found when we armed the Taliban to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, these fickle allies may well become the dogs of war that become our next generation of bullies.

But if you let bullies succeed, they just get worse. Indecision is the worst decision. I think all the options are bad, but the worst choice is an ineffective one. No matter what you do, the outcome has to be getting rid of the bully, or at least rendering him harmless. I hope our national leaders choose an effective strategy and then have the guts to carry it to a successful conclusion. And I may be biased, but Americans don’t like bullies, so the only Bigger, Betty Bully I would trust would be an American one.

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