I recently read an article about a study that found that aggressive, bullying managers are more likely to rise to the top than their more diplomatic peers. This is reportedly because people are impressed by their dominance. I disagree. There is nothing inherently impressive about aggressive behaviour and I think that most ordinary, decent folks will agree with me here. People’s response to aggressive behaviour is not a result of admiration, but a product of fear. And like a great many specimens that are not at the very top of the food chain, most people defer to the greatest predators that stalk the savannah of life. Why? Because they’re afraid of the predators’ teeth. Admiration has little or nothing to do with it.
Contrary to popular belief, we have not evolved beyond our evolutionary animal past as much as we’d like to think. We are still a society very much run by fear. In fact, I tend to say that the chief fault of the average man is not that he is evil but the fact that he is weak. And it is this weakness that allows bullies to get away with as much as they do. Weak people are vastly more numerous, but unaware of the strength of their numbers. It is this systemic flaw that allows the structure of fear-based rule to function unchecked time and again with a staggering consistency. But make no mistake – this is primitive evolutionary baggage on our part!
What continues to amaze and sadden me is the fact that we have not collectively – that is, as a society – managed to transcend the behavioural structures that are clearly the vestiges of an animal past. I am prepared to concede that in an animal setting, these dynamics may have served the species adequately, but have we really not come further than this? Shouldn’t we be able to logically arrive at a more benign mode of coexistence? I can only presume that animal groups have neither the reasoning skills nor the linguistic skills to collectively envision, communicate and enforce a gentler collective dynamism by way of numbers, but we do! We can actually move past unthinking group dynamics. Not only can we analyse bullying behaviour; we can actually decide we don’t want it and fight back collectively so that other characteristics and values prevail. So why is effective pushback to bullies still so rare? Why is acquiescence and appeasement the norm? I have come to realise a stark truth: bullies do what they can for one very simple reason – because they can! In other words, due to the absence of an effective counter-power. And for as long as decent people do not harness the power of their numbers and demand otherwise, that is how it will stay. Bullies will never cede an iota of power voluntarily. The only thing power understands is effective counter-power. And the sooner this truth becomes accepted, the better. Because the only effective counter-power is one that occurs in critical mass, i.e. in big enough numbers. That means that resistance must be coordinated. Predators only know fight or flight, but a pack of smaller animals can chase away a lion. Predators know this perfectly well. Their best bet is that you don’t.