Always fight back

Badger considers two means of addressing bullies:

I was in elementary school when the educational ministers began
preaching that fighting back against bullies was not to be tolerated. It
was insisted that responsive violence only begat more violence and that
the way to stop bullying was to “not respond” and to “demand the bully
respect you,” or some horseshit like this. This went along with a bunch
of programming about creating an “inclusive environment” and a bunch of
other malarkey that imagined if we could all listen to “Free To Be You And Me” together nobody would get picked on when we went out for recess.

To this day, I want to know what they were smoking. These folks spent
their entire adult careers allegedly studying the social behavior of
young children and yet never realized that “Lord of the Flies” was a lot
more than a fictional fantasy novella. They went about fighting
bullying in exactly the wrong way – by criminalizing the physical
aspects rather than disincentivizing the psychological aspects of
bullying, they ensured the “negotiating” between bully and victim took
place in the psychosocial realm where the bully had already secured an
advantage, and imposed a moral equivalence that shamed victim for daring
to fight back. The establishment seems to want to think of bullies as
the fat stupid kid who has no other way than his fists to express
himself (a la Moe from Calvin & Hobbes), however the bullies I dealt
with had great social savvy and were able to bamboozle the teachers
into believing they were the victim instead of me. Thus, any one-on-one
verbal discussions that were supposed to “resolve conflict” were simply
an extension of the bullying process – just as, for example, a
negotiation with a corrupt businessman is itself structurally corrupted….

The frame I’ve come to believe in with regard to bullying is that,
yes, a bully is trying to exploit a power differential, and that the
faster you demonstrate strength to close the differential, the more
quickly the bully will leave you alone and find someone else to
victimize (if the demonstration of strength wasn’t enough to humiliate
them entirely). Generally speaking, that means you’re going to have to
get physical at the middle or high school level. Once you’ve shown
you’re not going to be fucked with, the spell of dominance is broken and
the bully no longer sees you as someone to victimize.

As the smallest and smartest kid in my grade most years, I had to put up with a fair amount of bullying from first through eighth grade. My first pair of glasses were broken on the playground by getting punched off my face; I got in a shot or two but was whipped pretty conclusively by a kid nearly twice my size. I was a good athlete, so as I reached junior high age, I was protected to a certain extent by my teammates, but I still had to deal with the occasional hallway attack as well as the incessant shoving and verbal threats. The other thing that helped was my ready willingness to stand up for myself; in both seventh and eighth grade I accepted challenges from bigger guys more than capable of beating me up and “went outside”; on both occasions, the other boy decided it wasn’t worth the risk of losing once we were out there with the usual circle of boys and girls around us.

But the low-grade stuff didn’t stop until I broke one boy’s ribs after he shoved me into a locker, and smashed another boy’s face into the floor when he tried to tackle me.  After that, only one kid, a persistent troublemaker, was ever a problem, and he gave up after he saw me go through the open window of a moving bus to break the nose of a kid from another school who tried to spit at me. After that, he wouldn’t even try to pick on other kids in front of me since I made it clear that I was more than ready to pay him back for cracking one of my ribs after soccer practice one year.

Ender has had to deal with some attempted tormentors over the years, but no one even tries to mess with him anymore, not since he put down the star of the soccer club and the kid’s best friend at the same time when they tried to play dominance games with him. Of course, he’s been doing judo for years and he plays outside defender with a controlled fury that his coach and all the other dads appreciate, so even the biggest kids are openly respectful despite him being the weird smart kid.

Badger is right. Negotiation and seeking to understand bullies is irrelevant or even counterproductive. There is only one answer: hit back and hit back harder.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t turn the other cheek, I’m saying you can’t choose to turn the other cheek if violence is not even an option. I forgo retaliation on the soccer field on a regular basis. But it’s my choice to do so, it’s not a necessary consequence of either cowardice or an inability to respond.