• The Making of a Young Bully (A Complicated Mixture of Ingredients)

    Proverbs 22:6
    Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

    This bible verse applies not only to teaching our children biblical principals, but also in teaching them bad behavior, as you will see in the following story.



    As I was walking the campus of my high school before class, the other students left me alone, and I did the same to them. I entered the math building to go to my first class and a flood of people, meandering about, blocked my path. As I attempted to make my way through the crowd, they parted before me, providing unobstructed room to pass. I looked at the faces of dozens of students, as each of them avoided making eye contact; they did not want to draw attention to themselves. The one person who looked me in the eye, quickly looked away, but it was too late; I had found my next victim. He was a half-back on the football team, weighing about 180 pounds and was over 6’ tall, but none of this mattered; nobody could beat me in a fight. Brent Staples talks about intimidation and fear in his essay “Just Walk on By”, where he states that “Many things go into the making of a young thug.” My childhood is a testament to this statement. My father deliberately trained us in self-preservation, both physically and mentally so that we would be ready for the harshness of life; my brothers taught me the necessity of fighting, as well as intimidation tactics.


    Bullies are not spontaneously created out of thin air; they are the result of many years, sometimes generations, of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. Often, you can blame their upbringing, but ultimately, the final decision is theirs.

    One of these things is the consummation of the male romance with the power to intimidate,” (Staples). The word “romance” Staples is using here tells us that until the intimidation is firmly fixed (consummated) with actual results (positive reinforcement), it is still in the fantasy (romance) stage of development, unsubstantiated by any form of personal experience. I remember the first “real” fight I had with one of my brothers; I was about 11 years old. Before this, I had literally been in hundreds of fist-fights with one or more of my brothers, but until now, I had not won many; this was where it all changed. I was sitting on the couch, watching TV when I was suddenly hit in the chest with a large bowl of spaghetti. Ignoring the mess, I was off the couch in a heartbeat. I did not think of consequences as I fully committed myself to revenge. Looking back, I think my brother regretted starting that particular fight, and I still have no idea why he made that choice; I outweighed him by 30 pounds, was 3 inches taller, and had a far longer reach than him. Before he could react, I had picked him up and thrown him against the wall. When he hit the ground, I brought the fight to him again, pounding him in an uncontrollable fit of rage. If my other four brothers had not interfered by physically lifting me from him and dragging me away, he might have gone to the hospital that day. That was the first time I had ever beaten him in a fight this severely, and I have not lost a fight with him since. By winning this fight, my power, speed, strength, and fighting skills were consummated, providing the positive reinforcement that I so desperately needed. My stature in the household increased, as did my power to intimidate all of my brothers. I took that new confidence everywhere I went, not as a tool for survival, but as a weapon to conquer others with, and I used that weapon at every available opportunity.

    It is manly to embrace the power to frighten and intimidate" (Staples). Being raised in a household of six boys, acting “manly” was the primary goal, and my father shunned any sign of weakness; he continually taught us his definition of “manly”. I once heard him say “if you have power, use it. If you find a weakness, exploit it. After all, we are better than everybody else.” With this belief firmly planted in us, we were quickly indoctrinated (brainwashed) into adulthood with false beliefs and sketchy values. Some of my father’s examples of “manly” interests were: Working and playing outdoors, repairing and driving cars, personal honor (a failed concept if you have flawed values), honesty & loyalty (but only to him), and most importantly, physical strength and a quick wit. I remember several times I would work hard in order to beat my father at arm wrestling, so that I could finally be considered a “man”. I was the only one of the six boys to ever succeed at this, yet when I did, I failed; he attributed it to an arthritic elbow; he was incapable of giving the credit that I desired.

    There was a lesson to learn here; you cannot trust anybody’s word; even when you win, you lose. Once I realized that intimidation and fear were skills I was good at, I put them to use constantly. Not having any power in my family life, I embraced this newfound confidence and used it to inflict fear everywhere I went. One time, I was harassing this boy in my class and he got away from me. I felt like it was a personal failing, so I stalked him all day. It must have seemed that every time he looked over his shoulder between classes, I was there. When the 3 o’clock bell finally rang, he hurried outside to go home, but I was waiting for him there too. I had no intention of actually touching him, I had learned to intimidate from a distance and was experimenting with this new skill. I had finally become just like my father. I guess if I could not get his approval, I could be just like him instead.

    And finally, “we are to seize the fighter’s edge in work and in play and even in love; we are to be valiant in the face of hostile forces" (Staples). As I mentioned earlier, weakness was unacceptable, and fear is weakness. At least, that was what he taught us to believe. Telling my father that I was afraid was never an excuse for failing. He would say “if it is yours, let nobody take it from you. If you want it, go get it.” When I was 15 years old, I received a buck knife for my birthday from my father. He intended me to use it during family camping trips; in hindsight, this was probably not a proper gift to give a teenager who was prone to anger and violence. Later, he discovered that a boy had taken it from me; he was not angry about the theft, only that I had let it happen. Discounting any fear I was feeling, he forced me to go to that boy’s house and take it back, not ask for it or demand it, but TAKE it. When the boy answered the door, I immediately hit him in the jaw, walked into his bedroom, took my knife, and walked out. I had learned the lesson that my father set out to teach, and I have never been stolen from again.

    Summarizing my survival skills thus far: intimidation (physical and psychological), “manly” behavior, personal honor, and values firmly in place (misguided as they were), suppressed fear, distrusting of people, protecting my possessions, a sharp mind, and strong body. Having excelled at my survival lessons, my training was complete; I was finally ready for release into the world, but I was sorely unprepared for what I found. Over the next 30 years, I needed to unlearn a large amount of my childhood education or I would find myself constantly in trouble with everybody I came across.

    Many things go into the making of a young thug" (Staples). The consummation of the power to intimidate, embracing the power of intimidation and fear, and suppressing all fear so that we can take the fighter’s edge; these are just a few of the primary ingredients. As I said earlier,
    bullies are not spontaneously created out of thin air; they are the result of years of abuse. Although I agree with Staples on what goes into the making of a young thug, I do not agree that the “romance” he speaks of is an element in the upbringing of our children. In my opinion, today’s society has no idea what “manly” actually means. These days, “survival” is teaching young boys that being “manly” is all about physical strength, protecting yourself from the world around you, being cruel to others, and having no respect for anybody (especially, those in positions of authority); that is not the correct definition, it is just surviving.

    Acting like a “man” in this world is choosing to not to use your power and skills against others; knowing when to use gentleness and mercy, and even that is not enough. Being manly means: becoming a positive role model for our children, and for those around you, helping people in need, protecting the helpless, applying your strength and intelligence to build a strong, educated, and moral community; it is sad that the world does not realize this.

    I am not proud of what I used considered my “personal honor and values”, and the people I have hurt along the way. Frankly, I am ashamed by my adolescent behavior. I do not blame my father for attempting to prepare me for life’s difficulties, I blame myself for what I did with that knowledge. However, because of the myriad of lessons I have learned in the last few decades, I am no longer the boy of my childhood. Since my past cannot be undone, the best that I can hope for is that I can pass my knowledge to others so they do not repeat my horrible mistakes.



    Works Cited
    Staples, Brent. “Just Walk On By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space.”

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. larryh's Avatar
      larryh -
      I Enjoyed your article, it is a useful insight. What you learned when you were younger is some good stuff. Those things never leave you but, if we keep searching as you have we will find new and better applications for that knowledge. We can still use the older knowledge but find that it has limited applications. Some people never reach this level, and just accept what they've learned. Learning both sides positive & negative helps us avoid the pitfalls on bothe sides.. Well Said My Friend
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