A Reader Writes In

Reader Robin Hanson wrote this comment to my post Tired, the ninth post in my series about combatting bullying at my son’s school:

Have you considered, economically, that it’s not viable, likely, nor perhaps even ethical for the school system to devote such a significant amount of resources to one “problem child”? While you insist that other students besides your son “Sam” are having issues similar to the ones that he’s facing, it is clear that either those children are not having problems as severe, or that their parents are simply not as proactive as you are.

Assuming, though, that a significant number of children are in a similar position as “Sam”, it seems likely that at least one of them would be as outspoken as you. Considering that you’ve given us no indication that this is the case, we’re led to believe that you and Sam are likely the only parent-child combination to be having issues of this magnitude, and that your delusions of commiseration are simply that: delusions.

While, on the surface, you’ve seemingly received quite a bit of “support” from the parents you’ve spoken to, it seems likely that they are merely expressing their support out of social obligation rather than out of actual unwavering commitment. Further, even if they are vaguely supportive of your ideas, it seems improbable that they will be as devoted as you are to an initiative that primarily benefits your child only.

Essentially, I would ask you this question: why is it the duty of the school, and of the taxpayers at large that fund it, including the parents you’ve attempted to “rally”, to devote so much time, effort, energy, money, and resources to such a small proportion of the population served by it (your son is only one child, after all)? The world doesn’t revolve around anybody in particular.

While individuality is a right, it comes, like all rights, with corresponding responsibilities. One of those corresponding responsibilities is to accept the consequences of your individuality, that others have their own individual natures that may come into conflict with yours.

There won’t always be a “mommy” or an institution to come to your son’s rescue, and it’s about time he realized it. Instead of attempting to corral an undeserved army to defend your son, why don’t you cut the cord and realize he needs to defend himself? If he doesn’t learn to fend off “bullying” (although I’d more accurately term it “a series of interpersonal disputes” in this case) now, when will he? Will you accompany him to college, the office, and the retirement home, too?

Sometimes people conflict, and there are no institutional policies that can ever solve this. People who don’t like your son for whatever reason will never like him, regardless of whatever policies you draft or punishments you dish out. In light of this, your son has really two options:

1. He can grow a thicker skin, a quicker tongue, and faster fists, learning to advocate for himself instead of having mommy fight his battles.


2. He can stop acting so femininely, lose weight, be less conspicuous about his illnesses, and learn who is actually interested in hearing about his obscure hobbies.

This is a dog eat dog world, where you either learn to blend in or, if you must stand out, stand out on your own two feet, not being propped up by the rudimentary defenses of an overprotective mother. The method that you’re working at will only waste your time, and make you look asinine and obstructionist to society at large. The response you’re choosing to your son’s “bullying” is an instinctual one, understandable, but not logical. As much as we’d like to, we can’t bulldoze down everything about the world that we don’t like.

Now, I hope you don’t take this as a personal attack. As an unconventional man myself (a pariah in the violent world of economics, no less), this is advice that I deliver from experience, not condescension. Your son sounds like a perfectly lovely boy, who I’d have no qualm about associating with, but, even still, he is, like everyone, bound to have his detractors, detractors who you, try as you might, will never be able to shield him from.

Thus, it is better for you to instead endow him with the personal, unbreakable shield of a good self-esteem, which comes not from having the world molded to your preference by an external force, but rather by having the power to mold the world yourself. Consider it.

“Give a man a fish, and you will feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you will feed him for life.”

P.S.: I, myself, have used the “Atkins diet” to much success. I recommend it. While you have suggested variously throughout this blog that diets are mostly ineffective, and often damaging to one’s self-esteem, I found the situation to be the exact opposite. Overcoming one’s natural inclination to overeat is liberating and esteem boosting, and the physical effects were demonstrable.

Point is, you may wish to consider that “Sam”‘s weight issues are health issues, not just social ones. Being “the fat kid” is easily preventable with a little bit of self-control, diet, and exercise.

Have “Sam” put down the video games and go for a jog, perhaps? I know it doesn’t seem that easy, but as someone who has struggled with weight issues, it truly is usually just a lack of willpower that keeps the pounds from flying off. You have to take control at some point, so why not today?

Read tireless anti-bullying crusader Carrie Goldman’s response to Robin Hanson’s comment here.



  1. tedra says

    Barf. TIME TO CUT THE CORD. And what will happen to him when he’s an adult?!?

    I hate that kind of rhetoric. Elementary-aged school children are NOT adults. By the time they become adults, they will have matured and be able to handle MANY things that they can’t handle right now, or at least not on their own.

    And the brouhaha about the TAXPAYERS and what’s economically efficient, gimme a break. Not everything of value is measurable in dollars, and expecting public institutions to serve the public good–in this case, to instruct children that bullying is unacceptable–is one of the basic requirements of citizenship. Which used to be about more than just “taxpayers dollars”, once upon a time.

    Dear “Robin Hansen”–or whoever you are: no one actually asked for your patronizing “advice.”

    (Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.)

  2. Moriko Betz says

    Robin – Wow, thats a tough one. Because one one big hand I totally agree with you. As another parent of a bullied child, I sort of kind of get everything you are saying. I’m sure a lot of us that raise these boys and girls wish our kids weren’t so over the top attention seeking kids (not all are). I myself have tossed gender identity out the window, and traded it for a good old “knock it off”, or “that looks ridiculous”. Because if there were no gender issue, thats what I would say. And on many occasions I have told my kid to hit back even if only verbally bullied by some pesky kid. And guess what? Jared IS stronger for it. And he DOES handle his own shit.

    However, having said that, your wrong on two points. Now is not the time to stop getting involved actually. Actually this is the most pivotal time.

    Look, she’s not crashing down barriers to force same sex bathrooms in the school. Although if she did, it would be good for this anal retentive american society we live in. She is asking that the school address an issue that is not only important to her family, but to others as well.

    The hightest rate of bullying goes on between the 4th grade and 8th grade. 6th through 9th grade are the years to watch out for suicidal thoughts generated from years of bullying.

    My middleschool started a GSA this year. The subject was completely brought on by my son entering their school. However, the Principal made a point of saying they were not doing this for Jared, but instead going with the current accepted statistics. He felt that if 10% of the population was gay, then 80 students could benefit from this program.

    Now she is not asking for a GSA (yet), however, she is asking that students be taught that it is wrong to be a bully. Will that stop every bully…..NO, but it will change a community of children. And it will change the hearts and minds of many many students. NO matter what the reason for the bullying is! Fat kid, pink boy, four eyes, nerd, slut, etc….. Is good moral social behavoirs only to be taught in religious institutions and the home? Are you saying that school is only for acedemics and not for learning how to get along with one another? Shouldn’t a school be role modeling this anyway?
    Last, can you honestly tell me that if a program like this would prevent just one kid from killing himself, that it isn’t worth it?

  3. Danna says

    That is the most eloquent manifesto to the status quo I have read in a while. Good for you for standing up for the privileged on the backs of young children, much like the IMF does with macroeconomic policy. I especially enjoyed the way your use of vocabulary in no way hides the dysfunctional and depraved worldview you espouse. None of this is personal, of course. I have been there. I believe that with the correct diet of love, human connection, and cooperation, you too can lose the oblivious, paternalistic baggage you are carrying.
    Good luck and be sure to read Carrie Goldman’s response to your comment.

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