Bitterness, Greed, Guilt And Bullying

bigbullyThe word is out.  Bullying will not be tolerated.  Schools, communities, and society have now drawn the line.  Students will be disciplined in school for it, employees and employers will be held accountable for acts of harassment and intimidation, and everyone must be on guard in terms of what they say and how they act. The internet is filled with anti bullying programs, campaigns, lesson plans, strategies, and self help sites.  States across the country have now passed anti bullying legislation, and New Jersey is leading the way with its Anti Bullying Bill of Rights.  That’s it.   NO MORE BULLYING!   Well, I hate to disappoint everyone but bullying is not the problem; the root problem at least.  Bullying is the result of the problem.  It is the symptom of deep seeded anger (bitterness), the desire to do what we want and get what we want when we want it (greed) and the consequences of our past behaviors that were left uncorrected (guilt).

We are quite a society.  Better yet, quite a country.  Anytime we see a problem we create a law or we throw money at it with the hopes that it will go away.  That’s right.   A kid kills himself because of being bullied into emotional submission so let’s create a law that says, NO MORE BULLYING.  Makes sense, I guess.  But what about the kids or adults who bully?  What is their real problem?  What makes them want to act out the way they do?  Remember, bullying is the symptom.  Why treat the symptom?  It only provides temporary relief, not permanent help.  Did you ever have chest pains?  Take a Tylenol, the pain might go away but you are still going to have a heart attack.  Let’s take a look at the REAL problem.

Parents today don’t really take the time to get to know their own children.  Most times when they talk to their kid they are usually disciplining them and they really don’t know how to discipline. Parents are usually reactive.  Their kid does something wrong and they flip. No balance of rules and regulations with love and understanding.  You see kids are born with the innate ability to do the wrong thing.  If you think this is off base just remember the first words you wanted your two year old to understand.  NO, NO, NO.  The social and emotional window for the brain closes around the age of five years old.  In other words, a child’s perception of the world around him is formed by five. Their conclusions have been drawn, but they still have a fear of disagreeing with their parents for now.  They have a good memory and if their parents were unfair, reactive, lacked empathy, and disciplined out of sheer anger the kid will remember.  As a child’s bravado increases he begins to take risks and starts to disagree with mom and dad.   Around the age of ten the child goes through something called mental puberty.  That’s when about 3% of the kid’s brain starts to think like an adult.  Then the arguments start.  They don’t have to, but they do. Why, because of the parents inability to teach their child one very important skill that will in the final analysis produce life- long success.  The child needs to be taught how to disagree with the right attitude.  It sounds simple, right. Wrong, it’s hard.  Why, because the parent doesn’t know how to get out of their own way.  So, what do they do, they argue with their kid.  No discipline, no love, they just argue.  The parent themselves may have grown physically, but not emotionally. This arguing produces a sense of fear and intimidation in the home with the child’s perception being that’s how I get what I want.  Argue.  The child becomes more and more angry because guess what?  He is not going to win; at least not for now, probably never.  But, he will seek revenge for sure.  The child will begin to become disrespectful, uncooperative and irresponsible. By the way, the manifestation of disrespect in a child is laziness. It’s not that he doesn’t want to take out the garbage; he just doesn’t want to take it out for you.  A sense of despair begins to develop in the child as he/she moves into their teen years and another conclusion is drawn.  This is a tough one.  The now teen begins to believe; “I can’t please my parents anyway, no matter what I do, so what is the use in trying.” Ah, the bitterness is starting to creep in.  The difference between anger and bitterness is anger is episodic and usually goes away within a short period of time.  Bitterness is like a seed that grows in a child and becomes a tree by the time they become an adult.  They are never happy, judgmental, and uncooperative, love to spread gossip, can’t take orders, disrespectful, and irresponsible.  These qualities are pretty well disguised for a while.  But once the person enters into a relationship the qualities begin to drip out.  By the way, some of the people that a person meets may appear to have qualities that are just over the top in terms of how nice they are.  They are patient, kind, understanding, polite, etc., but give it time. Remember too good is no good.

Now, how does all of this relate to bullying? These now bitter young adults get married, with no knowledge of how to raise or discipline children.  They may have been victimized in their own home, by parents or even their siblings. They may have left home in rebellion because of the desire to get away from their parents. They may not even speak to their parents. They feel victimized by life and are self centered with no knowledge of how to be a good spouse or a parent. They are bitter victims. That bitterness is now taken out on their spouse and children. The message that their children learn is, I get what I want through fear and intimidation and that becomes their standard of comparison. They enter school with that attitude and ultimately become the next generation of bullies.  No one wants to admit that bullying is an intergenerational problem but if we are going to begin to put an end to this epidemic it may require the healing of two or maybe three generations.

When I worked as a high school administrator, I spoke with hundreds of parents, and was stunned to find out that these parents did not speak at all to their own parents because of a riff that they had when they were teenagers.  I realize that some parents have done things that are absolutely unforgiveable which requires therapy, and if therapy is needed, get it for the sake of you marriage and your children.  But, if your relationship with your parents is affecting your life right now, and it requires a conversation that could result in forgiveness, do it.  Bitterness is the root problem for many behaviors that people exhibit right now.  Parents who have difficulty disciplining their own children need to take a look at themselves and what their relationship is or was like with their own parents. It is a known fact that people who have problems in this area lose their perception in life and can’t even recognize right and wrong behavior.  Remember when someone loses control the end result is a negative reaction. Understanding bitterness, the first root problem, is the first step a person must take to help begin to solve the problems that bullying is causing in our schools and in our society.


I want what I want when I want it; a two year old mentality. The problem is sociality today we have adults with this same mentality. Have you taken a close look at our economy? How do you think we have gotten into this financial fix? People wanting what they want when they want it, like a house, they can’t afford. How about the epidemic of obesity, or drug and alcohol addiction? It gets to a point that it is all about want and has nothing to do with need. How about power? We all want it right? Do we need it? How about control, same thing. A two year old child learns the ropes quickly when it comes down to getting his parents to do what he/she wants when they want it. Throw a tantrum and young parents find themselves at a loss when it comes down to how to stop it. They don’t know how to discipline we’ve already said that. So, give him/her what they want and the tantrum subsides, until the next time. What parents don’t know is the next time will be in a grocery store or some other public place. The greed for power and control is a direct result of a lack of self control.

Bullies love power and controbullyholdl. They crave it. They love holding someone as an emotional hostage. A child who is given power and control in a home will crave it as he/she grows older and begin to see this type of behavior as “normal.” They will begin to develop an entitlement mentality; a mentality that no parent wants to admit to. I really don’t have a problem with people who crave money, houses, and other expensive items, as long as they can afford it and don’t believe that they deserve it and are entitled to it. A good work ethic always assures someone of getting these desired material things. When one uses power and control to get what they want that’s where the line has to be drawn.

Bullies use their greed for power and control to manipulate others, intimidate, and to instill fear into the heart and mind of their victims. This greed coupled with a lack of empathy produces a self centered and self absorbed person who will do anything to get what they want. Working on the conscience of a bully by speaking with him about his behavior may help. But, as we all know you can’t grow a conscience. Character education is the answer to this problem, but as teachers we get kids when it may be too late, and the greed for power and control has already become part of their way of life. The quality that needs to be taught is gratefulness.  Gratefulness vs. Unthankfulness – Letting others know by my words and actions how they have benefited my life. Tough to teach, kids need a model. I guess we all have to wok on this if the next generation of kids is going to have a shot.


Guilt is a necessary emotion that keeps us from doing things that we know is wrong and that could hurt others. Too often though, the guilt engulfs us after we have done something that unwittingly hurt others or had an effect on out family or life in general. Parents are usually plagued by this emotion while watching their children grow into adult hood. They are overwhelmed watching their son/daughter make poor decisions that have a negative impact on their life. This guilt sits in the heart of a parent because for some reason they wish that they just had done some things differently that would have helped their son or daughter avoid the pitfalls that are having unending consequences in their life. What could they have done differently? The answer might surprise you.

Girl-bully-300x267At a very young age children don’t know right from wrong. They have to be taught and they have to be corrected. They also have learned how to get away with things like lying, sneaking, and at times even stealing. Children who are left uncorrected begin to believe that their parents by default agree with their behavior. This is not always intentional. For example kids sneak all the time. I might not see my daughter coloring behind the clothes in the closet on the wall with crayons, but she knows she did it and she knows that it is wrong; just the fact that she knows that it’s wrong produces guilt. That guilt produces in a child and I can’t put it any other way a rotten attitude. Children are waiting to be corrected. They want to be corrected; the reason, because it clears their conscience for every other past offense. Attitude is rarely corrected, behavior is, and correcting the behavior improves a child’s attitude. It helps improve an adult’s attitude as well. Just listen to some criminals who are locked up in prison for their crimes when they are interviewed. They are contrite and apologetic for what they did. Unfortunately it took a prison sentence to do it.

What does all of this have to do with bullying? I think that it is obvious. The lack of correction leading to the guilt and the rotten attitude produces behaviors that violate the rights and privileges of other people. It produces disrespect, a lack of empathy, an entitlement mentality. These three behaviors give you the definition of a bully.

Correction is the key if we are going to begin to take a bite out of this bullying epidemic. Without it guilt will permeate the hearts and minds of our young people. Correction takes on many forms from a good talking to a prison sentence, but it is something that must be done. It should be balanced, by enforcing rules and regulations with compassion and understanding. Discipline comes from the root word disciple which means to teach. It is not enough to just discipline for behaviors that are inappropriate. Parents and teachers must continually proact and teach behaviors like respect, responsibility, compliance, and empathy each and every day providing them with the tools that are necessary for life long success.

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About James Burns

Jim Burns is a retired New Jersey School Administrator with almost forty years of experience in the area of anti-bullying. He is the writer and designer of The Bully Proof Classroom, a graduate course that is offered at The College of New Jersey and La Salle University in Pennsylvania in partnership with The Regional Training Center of Randolph NJ. He has been awarded the degree of Dr. of Humane Letters from Gratz College in Pennsylvania. He is an author, speaker, and anti bullying consultant. He can be reached at He is available to schools and organizations as a speaker and consultant. his website is
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