A friend sent this article the other day: Provocative new study finds bullies have highest self-esteem, social status lowest rates of depression.
The researchers said that bullies in general tend to be more popular, get more sex, and have higher self-esteem.
I'm sure they have a point, and the "bullies get more sex" part of their conclusion is both tangible and quantifiable. But how do they measure popularity?
It's hard to put stock in any theory that doesn't define its terms better. "Bullying" encompasses a wide array of behaviors, and also two major categories: verbal and physical. You'd also have to categorize all the different types of verbal bullying. There's a lot of behavior -- like classic one-upsmanship -- which some might classify as bullying but others would not.
Virtually everyone would say that mocking someone for being in a wheelchair constitutes bullying. But is asking what someone got on his SAT's and then citing your own (higher) score bullying? Most would say not. But what about saying, nyah nyah, I had better SAT's than you? Or what about stating, I'm way smarter than you? Or how about calling someone a moron? Most would say that last constitutes bullying, but where do you draw the line?
Do practical jokes constitute bullying? Some can be mild, and some can be cruel. Your perception of which constitute bullying might depend on whether you're perpetrator or victim.
And what about all the moral preening we hear from liberals: they probably don't think of that as bullying, but it could be classified as such.
This blog could easily be accused of bullying. I make fun of all sorts of people, from FEMEN to fashion designers to Donald Trump. One man's truth-telling is another man's bullying. It all depends on which side of the fence you're sitting on.
Another vaguely defined term is "self esteem." Some people define "self esteem" at thinking your good at a lot of things. But others define "low self esteem" as thinking you're good at things when you're not. Which is it? It's all too vague to be particularly meaningful.
It's all a little reminiscent of those articles you sometimes see on the internet with titles like, "Which countries has the happiest people?" How exactly do they measure "happiness?" They ask people if they're happy.
Gee, that sounds pretty scientific.
If you were to be asked if you were happy, how would you respond? You'd probably think, hmm, have things been going well for me recently? Then you might take a step back and think, am I content with my lot in life? But since we've only experienced our own lives, none of us really knows how our emotional set points compare to other people's.
Our general frame of mind is probably determined by the level of serotonin in our brains, our hormones, our energy levels, and various other neurobiological factors.
But do the researchers consider any of that? No -- they simply ask, are you happy? Then, they take people at their word. (How many people are motivated to lie one way or the other?)
All that said, there's probably something to this study on bullying. After all, we all do it to some extent. And the extent to which we do probably depends largely on what we think we can get away with.
But, I suppose that depends on how you define "get away with."