The Bigger Shark Theory
The Renegade's Guide - Blog #1
The Renegade's Guide - Blog #1
by: Mr. G
AKA James Gavsie
Here's the deal; I used to get bullied a lot. And I mean a lot. I was beat up, teased, made fun of, etc. I got very familiar with the different types of bullying and the detrimental effects, both long and short term, that came with them.
And with that bullying came lots of advice on how to deal with it. Lots of really bad, completely ineffective, "this made things even worse", kind of advice. I still hear parents, teachers, and so-called bullying experts give out these not-so-helpful tips that were outdated in the 1950s, never mind today.
Some of my favorite (favorite as in comedically horrible) advice was to ignore the bully. I remember fondly when I was in grade school, as one particular older and much Bigger bully was beating me up, how I was doing my best (both before and during the beating) to ignore him. Clearly that didn't work out too well and, you guessed it, ignorance sure wasn't bliss in this particular situation!
Another favorite anti-bullying tactic given to me was to use humor to mentally disarm the bully. Here's how that went:
Bully - "Nice shirt. Did your Grandma buy that for you?"
Young Mr. G - "Hey, I'm busy right now. Can I actively ignore you some other time?"
Bully - "You're dead!"
Young Mr. G, as he's enduring yet another beating - "I'm, ouch, ignoring you!"
And on and on it went, with lots of advice coming my way and absolutely none of it working!
Until that one, fateful day, where everything changed. I remember it like it was yesterday:
Bully - "Nice shirt. Did your Grandma buy that for you?
Young Mr. G - " Are you sad that you'll never be the man your mother is?"
Bully - "You're dead!"
Very Large Italian Fellow in his 20s but somehow still in High School who also knew my older brother and decided to look out for me - "What did you say?"
Bully, now not feeling so powerful - "uhhhhhh...... I didn't say anything."
Very Large Italian Fellow - "Leave this kid alone. I'm watching you."
Bully - "......"
As the Bully was running for his life I thanked the Very Large Italian Fellow (VLIF) and pondered what had just happened.
I realized that I had just witnessed the ultimate expression of bully defense in action. The term I created years later for this particular form of anti-bullying was... the "Bigger Shark".
Put simply, the "Bigger Shark" is someone of consequence to the bully that can make them immediately back off. And the "Bigger Shark" doesn't necessarily have to be of consequence physically to the Bully. Maybe it's someone who is very popular and has a lot of power in social structures. Maybe it's the Bully's older brother or sister who will consistently keep them in check. The key is for the "Bigger Shark" to be of such consequence to the bully that they are stopped in their tracks.
I've talked to a great deal of educators, counselors, school administrations, and parents about bullying over the years. After one particular anti-bullying group discussion I had with a school administration not too long ago, a teacher approached me to discuss his feelings concerning the "Bigger Shark" strategy.
His position was that kids of all ages should be able to deal with problems themselves so that they can learn from them and grow as a person. He told me that using a "Bigger Shark" to fight problems the kids face at school would only be detrimental in their developmental process and that I should stop preaching it as a useful tool in anti-bullying. He felt very strongly about his position and used some 'colorful' language to let me know how wrong he thought I was.
"Why do they need to bring someone else in for help? Kids should be able to handle this situation!", he said in a very stern manner.
His arms were crossed, he was clearly angry, and he got in my personal space as if to communicate that, between the two of us, he was the Alpha male.
I remember smiling and thinking "Time for a pattern interrupt." I'll explain what that is in a later blog. Just know that it's a simple, but very powerful, tool to interrupt someone's present pattern of thought or behavior.
I said, "You realize that if I wanted your wallet, keys to your car, or anything else you might have on you, that there would be nothing you could do to stop me, right?"
Confused, the teacher responded with, "What...?"
"You heard me. If I wanted to take anything you had on you right now there wouldn't be a thing you could do to stop me. I'm not saying I want any of your stuff or that I would ever mug you forcibly. I'm only saying that if I chose to do so, right now, there's absolutely nothing you could do to stop me."
Now feeling very confused, unsure of himself, and probably a little scared, he said "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."
"You don't need to apologize and I'm not upset. I'm just stating that if I wanted to take anything you had on you that you clearly don't have the ability to stop me. You know it and I know it. Really, what could you do?", I said.
The teacher stepped away from me, as if to make a safe distance between us, pulled out his phone and said, "I can call the police."
I smiled and said, "Why do you need to bring someone else in for help? Shouldn't you be able to handle this situation?"
He got my point, which was that even with our best efforts we'll need outside help from time to time. Everyone does. The "Bigger Shark" is the proactive help that our kids, including mine, need when they face something that they aren't necessarily equipped to deal with.
By the way, do you know who makes a great "Bigger Shark"? It's the former victims of bullying who were rescued by a "Bigger Shark" themselves. That's exactly what happened for me.
Thanks for reading the first blog of the Renegade's Guide. If you agree with what I have to say, or would like to make a comment about it, please feel free to do so by sending an email to: [email protected]
And if you disagree with what I have to say I especially want to hear from you! Who knows? You may be able to show me a different point of view. I'm definitely open to it.
A.K.A. James Gavsie
A.K.A. author of the soon to be released book "The Renegade's Guide to Anti-Bullying"