“The only monsters I have ever known were men.” -Jodi Picoult

Bullying has always been a problem, but in an age where so many teens are constantly connected and blackmail is a tweet away, the effects are worse than ever. The Bystander Revolution aims to take the power out of bullying. Reaching out to both victims and bullies is something I have advocated for a long time. As I said in a post earlier this year:

Sympathy for wrongdoers is always scarce.
Relating to the malefactors among us is uncomfortable. To admit that liars, cheats, murderers, thieves, rapists, bullies, bigots, drunk drivers, and suicide bombers are human is to admit that it could have been us.
The most upstanding among us are but a few personal catastrophes away from villainy. Our monsters linger in their cages, waiting to be unleashed by primal instinct.
Every perpetrator is a victim. If they weren’t, there would be no victims.

The Bystander Revolution is revolutionary because it empathizes with the bully without dismissing their actions. Too often, our society either blames the victim or mislabels the perpetrator. One Billion Rising is a new campaign seeking to end violence against women. How they are approaching that goal is unique and I look forward to following their progress. Even so, they are perpetuating a dangerous idea as they gain publicity.

First of all, the masculine chest thumping exercise that is associated with ‘real men’ is dangerous to both men and women. It is born of sexist gender roles that encourage males to be violent, mask their emotions, and devalue females. Secondly, wording it in such a way implies that only men rape and only women get raped. One Billion Rising is focused on women so perhaps that can be excused. Lastly, real men do rape. Rapists are not a special subset of the species. Most women are raped by men that they know and trust. That’s the scary part. That’s the part we don’t want to admit or address. It is estimated that 20% of U.S. women experience rape. That’s 1 in 5. For every rape victim, there is a rapist. Odds are, you know a rapist.

We cannot ignore the fact that our friends and neighbors have probably hurt someone at some point – immorally, unethically, unspeakably. We cannot ignore that we are capable of such things. Denial only propagates animalistic behavior.

When we think of the most horrific, despicable, and unforgivable crimes against humanity, we usually think of one man. Only, we don’t think of him as a man. We think of him as an inhuman monster. Nothing will ever excuse or make up for the atrocities that he committed and set into motion. But I think it is a grave error to label him as anything other than human. He loved opera, dogs, art, and was said to believe in animal rights. We need to realize what fanatical righteousness can do to a person. We need to accept that while he is an example most extreme, he was still a part of the human race. If we deny that, we cannot prevent history from repeating itself. The man I am talking about is Adolf Hitler.

The above image makes me sick to my stomach. I’m hesitant to even post it, which I think proves my point. Dropping villains into a pit of wickedness and covering the hole does nothing. If we are to prevent atrocities, from bullying to genocide, we must remember that each transgressor is human. We cannot scrub away the filthy stains of humanity if we refuse to believe the blotches exist.


7 thoughts on ““The only monsters I have ever known were men.” -Jodi Picoult

      1. Thanks Madalyn. If you have time, I recommend his Stanford lecture.

        Zimbardo’s TED talk was rushed. He was even out of breath, having to cram 60 minutes worth of data into 20 minutes, but a lot was left out. So if you have the extra 40 minutes to spare, I highly recommend the lecture.

  1. Madalyn, this is an area I have studied — with many, many hours of reading and watching lectures. Isn’t it interesting that Germany has made corporal punishment illegal. It’s not by accident. So have many other Northern European countries, and it’s no accident that they tend to be the most peaceful. Alice Miller, as I’m sure you are aware, dedicated her life’s work to child development and the affects of a culture that allows corporal punishment. She writes:

    The Führer once told his secretary that during one of the regular beatings given him by his father he was able to stop crying, to feel nothing, and even to count the thirty-two blows he received.

    In this way, by totally denying his pain, his feelings of powerlessness, and his despair- in other words, by denying the truth – Hitler made himself into a master of violence and of contempt for human beings. The result was a very primitive person, incapable of any empathy for other people. He was mercilessly and constantly driven to new destructive acts by his latent feelings of hatred and revenge. After millions had been forced to die for this reason, those feelings still haunted him in his sleep.

    Hermann Rauschning reports nocturnal paroxysms of screaming on the Führer’s part, along with “inexplicable counting”, which I trace back to the counting he did during the beatings of his childhood. Hitler did not invent fascism; he found it, like so many of his contemporaries) prefigured in the totalitarian regime of his family. The National Socialist version of fascism, however, does bear unmistakable traces of Hitler’s childhood. But his early experience was by no means an exception. Thus, neither Gerhart Hauptmann nor Martin Heidegger nor many other celebrated intellects of the day were able to see through Hitler’s madness. To do so, they would have had to be able to see through the madness of their own upbringing.

    Hitler could make Europe and the world into the battlefield of his childhood because in the Germany of that time there were millions of people who had experienced the same kind of upbringing he had.”


    Stalin also experienced brutal beatings by his father, a culture that encourages corporal punishment. Now we have significant evidence that child abuse is the 3rd leading cause of damage to the prefrontal cortex. Neurological studies show that children who experience early damage in the prefrontal cortex never completely develop social or moral reasoning and have a propensity to become violent.

    1. Wow. Just…wow.
      Pain only ever magnifies.
      We convince children that it’s okay to hurt them, helpless and in our care. It’s a wonder we’re able to teach them that violence might ever be wrong.
      I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but it is all I can think of at the moment. Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking, describing physical punishment from the child’s perspective:

      “Above all, I believe that there should never be any violence. In 1978, I received a peace prize in West Germany for my books, and I gave an acceptance speech that I called just that: “Never Violence.” And in that speech I told a story from my own experience.
      When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day, when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking–the first in his life. She told him that he would have to go outside himself and find a switch for her to hit him with.
      The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.”
      All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy into her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because if violence begins in the nursery one can raise children into violence.”

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