Bullying, suicide and animalism: A matter of control

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We aren’t just animals anymore. We can reason and understand. And, usually, we are no longer a slave to our urges.

Yet, when it comes to bullying our animal roots gets used as an excuse. “Bullying happens, people need to stand up for themselves. They need to speak up and put their foot down. It’s how, we as animals, are.”

Animals and us

Except it’s not. Animals flee. Animals can be submissive and meek. Not all animals are fighters. And when an animal that isn’t fit to fight goes up against an animal that is, the result is usually getting maimed or killed. And no matter how much physical training someone partakes in, there will always be those at a disadvantage. And that’s not including those with emotional or mental “shortcomings.” And no matter how much therapy, or how many drugs, some people will never be the outgoing, aggressive, confident type.

And even if that weren’t the case, even if people could train to their peak performance, do away with all physical limitations and psyche themselves into being aggressive, animalistic human beings, why would we want that?

Thanks to technology and science, we no longer conform to a “survival of the fittest” mold. We are beyond it. So why would we confine ourselves to such a basic, outdated way of living?

Suicide machine

What’s truly heartbreaking, and what truly shows some people have no idea of the breadth of human makeup and complexity of the human brain, is when people blame a bullying victim for their own suicide, writing it off as a simple choice the victim had to make and one they made poorly. This is justified by admitting that they, too, have thought about killing themselves before.

Indeed, who hasn’t? But there is a gigantic leap from thinking to doing. Someone who actually tries to go through with the act is wired fundamentally different than those who merely think about it:

The … person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

 Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be or you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains constant. the variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

 It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

— David Foster Wallace

Suicide is the ultimate engagement of the flight response. Someone who attempts suicide often isn’t thinking in any sort of rational context, they are running on instinct — the same instinct that makes you remove your hand from a hot stove without even thinking about it.

Levels of instinct

“Flight or fight” is one of the absolute basic instincts we as human beings have — and one of the hardest to overcome. At one extreme we have suicidal people and at the other extreme we have people who kill their tormentors. Neither of these are acceptable outcomes.

I’ve been on both sides of the bully equation. I’ve been a bully and I’ve been the bullied, desperate for escape. I know it’s possible to overcome bullying tendencies. I also know that it’s possible to overcome suicidal tendencies and that things get better. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a lot easier to control bullying tendencies than it is to control the basic flight or fight response.

We’re not animals anymore, but there are still some things our brains have convinced us we need to run from or fight. I hope that eventually one of those things will not be our fellow man.

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2 Comments

  1. “The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.”

    In a situation where one is a victim of bullying, depression, etc. I really thought that this analogy is great for helping others to understand the idea of feeling trapped by negative feelings and ideas, so much so that it could lead them to have suicidal tendencies.

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