By Chuck Lauer

There has been a lot written lately about bullying. With many incidences of intimidation involving race or sexual orientation, bullying has taken on the aura of a hate crime. There have been reports, books and legislation on the topic, much of it coming just in the past few years.

The first National Bullying Prevention Month was in 2006. A recently released paper from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society notes that as of January of this year, 48 states had approved some form of anti-bullying law.

Some bullying goes well beyond schoolyard scrapes. For instance, about a year ago in Chicago a young high school student was walking home from school when he was set upon by a number of young men, who pummeled him to death. The media covered the story extensively, and a video of the incident filmed by a bystander was played over and over on TV. Everybody was incensed by the horror of the incident, and psychologists, physicians, politicians and police spoke out about it. Some of the culprits wound up in jail.

A lot of effort is being made to stop this age-old problem. Unfortunately, as much as I am in favor of many of the actions being taken, it won’t stop bullying. It’s one way that some boys (and not a few girls) behave, perhaps in response to having been bullied at home or out of fear. A lot of bullying is really an act of cowardice. It goes on in adult situations, too; there are managers who are workplace bullies. I bet everyone has been bullied at some time or another.

I suggest that one way to respond to this behavior -- at least the everyday sort of intimidation that goes on -- is for those on the receiving end to take some action.

Let me tell you a story. When I was a boy, I went to a very strict private school in Hamilton, Ontario, called the Hillfield School. It was all-male. Being the only American there, I was teased a lot about my country being afraid to come into World War II. I didn't like that, and wound up in some fights.

Later, I returned to my parents’ home in Buffalo, N.Y., where I was enrolled in a public high school with a diverse student body. For a young man who had been attending a very strict, all-male, private school, the transition to a public high school was somewhat startling. Again, I got kidded a lot, this time because I often wore short pants to school, which was not necessarily the accepted dress code for the young men of that time.

It took me a while to get oriented to the school, and I was almost immediately bullied by a classmate named Bill Kelly. He was a tough Irish kid, and in gym class he would give me an unnecessary whack when we were playing touch football or basketball. There was no question about it; the guy was intimidating.

What was I going to do? This was an entirely different era than today. In those days, you didn’t go home and cry to mama. I would have been too embarrassed to tell my parents that someone was bullying me. I had to figure out a way to handle Kelly and keep my pride.

What I did was to do more pushups and sit-ups than ever before. I also ran around the school track to increase my endurance. I was in pretty good shape both physically and psychologically. One day in gym class, Kelly began his usual tactics, shoving me when we played basketball. After he hit me a second time, I hauled off and punched him as hard as I could, right in the face. He looked at me in utter disbelief. The gym teacher smiled and the class just stared. You could hear a pin drop. I then told Kelly that if he tried to shove me again, I would hit him again. I was ready. But nothing happened. Everybody went back to what they were doing. My nemesis just slunk off to the locker room.

Next day as I was walking to school I heard someone call my name. It was Bill Kelly. He came up to me, smiled and shook my hand. We walked to school together that day and many times after that. I have seen this countless other times: two boys duking it out one day only to become the best of friends the next day. Bullying and defending oneself are part of growing up.

Psychologists and educators seem to think they can regulate all those youthful hormones. Good luck with that.

Understand me, I don’t condone bullying or intimidation of any kind –- in schools or anywhere else. I certainly abhor any kind of real violence. What I am saying is that trying to police every single instance of youthful misbehavior is not always the best plan, and can even leave the victim at a disadvantage later on. The world, unfortunately, is a tough place, and there are people out there who are bullies who will take advantage of others as often as they can. What is important, especially for young people, is to learn how to stand up for themselves in tough situations. Life is filled with challenges, and learning at a young age how to overcome them can be a valuable life lesson.