Are We Born to Bully?: Understanding Human Conflict

Understanding human conflict is conventionally addressed in a remedial, reactive way, at the secondary level of “resolution,” through therapeutic or moralistic means, as in the case of individual conflict, or through diplomatic or political intervention, as in the case of social conflict. Or, it is addressed at the tertiary level of managing conflict through judicial or military intervention.

These remedial, reactive approaches do not address conflict at the primary prevention level in understanding and avoiding the fundamental biological and hence psychological factors that create conflict in the conditioned way we think and act. They are therefore essentially ineffective because they do not prevent conflict from happening in the first place.

In order to understand what creates conflict and what prevents peace, we have to look at the origins of conflict at the primary prevention level in the way we have been conditioned to think and act and how this creates war — from the playground to the battlefield. That is what this exploration is going to reveal.

Are Babies Born Bullies? UBC study shows infants learn social stratification as early as nine months. – National Post

Babies today are all about blankies, bottles and … bullying?

A new University of British Columbia study done by the Centre for Infant Cognition suggests naptime may be the new frontier in the war on bullying.

Bullied children may bring exclusion on themselves with gene-linked behavior, study says. 

The episodes of bullying that mar early grade school years for hundreds of children may be a partial result of the victim’s DNA, a new study suggested Wednesday.

Is there science behind Maggie Simpson’s notoriously fierce mean streak when confronted by meddlesome monkeys or the evil baby? Possibly. But we still don’t think little Maggie’s a bully. (Photo: 20th Century Fox)

The behaviors that most often lead to exclusion and victimization in the classroom or schoolyard have their roots in a student’s genes, the study said, arguing that children’s genetic makeup has a direct impact on the quality of the interactions they enjoy with their peers.

The findings were published on the website of the journal Child Development.

Michel Boivin, lead researcher and psychology professor at Laval University, said a child’s genes will often dictate the way they act, which will in turn shape their experiences both in and out of the classroom.

In experiments conducted by UBC psychology professor Kiley Hamlin, babies aged nine to 14 months were found to take pleasure in the bullying of individuals they saw as different from themselves.

The study, in a terrifying preview of the social minefield that is the high school cafeteria, offered the infants a choice between a snack of graham crackers or green beans. The children were then shown a video of two puppets. In the video, one puppet favored the same snack as the child while the other puppet made a food faux pas by choosing the snack the child had passed on.

The children, when asked which of the puppets was their favorite, selected the puppet with similar tastes.

The experiment takes a slightly sinister turn when the children are shown videos of the puppets bullying each other. Not only did the children not mind when their favorite puppet picked on the puppet who chose differently from them, they also showed favoritism to new puppets who bullied the puppet that liked different snacks from the infant.

While the study’s findings could inform future anti-bullying strategies, for now they are a mere chilling peek-a-boo into the world of baby bullies, and how infants learn to make their way in the world.

60 Minutes program on infants at Yale University Center for Infant Cognition (it is only 13 minutes long)

Questions to Ask

What are the first questions we need to ask to begin this exploration of the origins of human conflict?

Are we genetically born to bully? Are we biologically hardwired for war? Is war encoded in our DNA?

“Most honest combat vets will tell you, in their own way, the same thing – essentially that combat is in our human DNA and demands to be exercised. The question is, can we humans evolve peacefully, or will we succumb to instincts in our DNA that we can’t transcend?”
– Quote from a former Marine Corp helicopter pilot in Vietnam

Origins of Human Conflict

Look at this drawing of cave creatures depicting how they likely fought thousands of years ago. They believed they had to fight to maintain control over their access to food, and what they considered their own territory.

Is this biologically built in their genetic structure? Is it survival of the fittest? Are they and we programmed to defend against who and what we consider our enemies?

Look at this photo of soldiers fighting recently. They wear uniforms and use advanced weaponry, but otherwise they don’t look much different from the cave creatures.

We humans are still fighting over territory and beliefs, using weapons that kill. Our ancient ancestors left us a chain of war-like behavior that we have inherited. Is this still our biological bully brain being in control?

Today’s Weapons

Look at how our weapons have developed over centuries. They all are capable of killing and maiming, but today we can send a weapon through the air, to a location thousands of miles away – just by pushing a button.

Those who are required to push the buttons go home at night after work and never see the reality of the war ignited.

Do we want to continue passing our war-like footprints down in time to the people who follow us in the years to come? Or do we want to break the chains of the ancient warriors who preceded us?

We cannot separate ourselves from our footprints or shadows, and we cannot run away from violent feelings that are part of who we are. But we can learn how to understand conflict. Once we understand it, it changes – in ourselves.

The source of war is in ourselves, in each and every moment, in the way we have been conditioned to think and act.

It All Begins in Our Brains

War in My Brain

There are days when there’s a war in my brain.

Could that be the reason we have war on Planet Earth?

The war in my brain is like having an ancient cave creature or a real “live” bully in my brain. If I can stop the bully in my brain from starting a war inside me, will I no longer need to fight any war outside me – on the planet?

The human brain has evolved over time. Our brain today can do much more than it could in the heads of our ancient ancestors.

Three Parts of Our Brain with Dr. David Bohm

Dr. David Bohm was a Quantum Physicist and former colleague of Albert Einstein. Bohm is widely considered one of the best quantum physicists of all time and he was greatly interested in how conditioned thinking created and sustained conflict.

There has been the theory of the three brains: the reptilian, the mammalian and the new brain – the neocortex. The new brain can produce images, which are very convincing to the old brain. The old brain knows how to get correspondingly stirred up in response to a lion and it says, “run”. Or something nice appears and it says, “Go there”. The old brain doesn’t look out to see whether it’s there or not. It just gets stirred up. 

The new brain has no reason to do anything by itself. Therefore, when it gets all stirred up, it’s confused and it doesn’t work right. Suppose a certain thing disturbs or frightens you. Your mother comes along and says don’t worry about it; she lulls you into a sense of security. Then when the situation suddenly changes or you think differently, the endorphins are removed. The old brain demands that you think again in such a way as to reproduce those endorphins; it demands false thoughts that will lull you into a nice sense of security.

Now who is providing you with the false thoughts? The new brain. It is simply a machine that provides whatever thoughts will satisfy what’s going on in the old brain. The new brain gets hooked; it gets habituated into providing the old brain with the thoughts that will lull it into a good feeling. The new brain has to do what the old brain wants.

The new brain cannot control the old brain. But society and culture said, “Let the new brain control the old brain. Being virtuous consists of doing that.” The old brain is dealing with survival and the new brain found out that it could help the old brain in the struggle for survival by all sorts of methods improving tools and whatnot.

The challenge to humanity is this: How is humanity going to get these two brains to work together? Some new movement is needed which cannot start in either brain. It must start in another way. More creatively.

What is Empirical Observation?

Being derived from or relating to direct first hand observation rather than theory, speculation, dogma or ideals i.e. looking at what is factual, actually without any interpretation or reference to any authority.

There are three parts to the human brain:

  1. Reptilian (old, habitual)
  2. Mammalian (emotional, middle)
  3. Neocortex (new, thinking)

Our Reptilian Brain 

Our Reptilian brain is the oldest. It controls our breathing, heart rate and instinct – also our primitive sense of territory. It helps explain why anger is difficult to control, because it’s often the result of feeling threatened, or of someone trying to take away something we think is ours.

Our Reptilian brain knows that we need to eat, drink and sleep – and when to practice helpful habits in order to survive. So, we need our Reptilian brain. We actually would not survive without it!

Our Mammalian Brain

Our Mammalian brain developed after the Reptilian brain. It regulates all of our bodily activities and transmits information to our muscles and organs. It’s the center of thought, memory and emotion, responsible for development of human language, abstract thought, imagination and consciousness. 

It makes value judgments: “That’s good!” “That’s not good!”

Our Mammalian brain strongly recognizes danger, based on past experience. It makes us consciously aware of our self in relation to everything around us.

Our Neocortex

Our Neocortex is the upper part of our brain that has grown a lot since we humans were cave creatures. It takes up two-thirds of our total brain mass! Our Neocortex allows us to invent and create! It has the capability to control Mammalian emotions and Reptilian desires. It is the rational part of our brain, and the one that distinguishes us from animals.

You would think that our Neocortex would overpower our Reptilian and Mammalian brains’ instinctual impulses, but it doesn’t always!

When the three parts of our brain work together perfectly, we have a sense of balance, and are at peace. Problems arise when our Reptilian biological brain takes over the others, which it sometimes does.

Our Three Brains operate like interconnected biological computers.

Evolution of the Human Bully

Bullying and War

Early mankind used sticks and clubs to hunt for food. Today we don’t have to do that. We head to a grocery store.

Today we still have bullying and war, but people fight about things other than having enough food to eat or a safe place to dwell.

Today people still fight when they get angry, feel disrespected or hurt or have an opinion that’s different from someone else’s. Bullies are people who became bullies because they themselves were bullied.

But what is now known is that we are all born bullies. Bullying is built into our brains and, when left untended, we can become adult bullies who fight in wars.

Why Do We Go To War?

Human beings go to war when they become fearful of others. Bullies are people who become warlike because they are afraid – of another group of bullies who might take over their territory or impose conflicting beliefs on them.

In today’s world, the fighters have gotten younger and younger. Children are fighting our wars. Physical skills are not enough to stop a bully or prevent a fight.

How do we NOT fight so everyone wins?

The Importance of Direct Observation

There are lots of opinions in the world today – on TV, in social media, in newspapers, magazines – everywhere you look. We especially are aware of them during political campaigns.

Our Reptilian Brain

Our Reptilian Brain focuses on our primary needs. “Food!” “Drink!” “Sleep!”

Our Mammalian Brain

Our Mammalian Brain provides conscious awareness and emotional response. “That food is good!” “I want it!”

Our Neocortex

Our Neocortex gives us the ability to think things through. This is the artist Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker,” which represents human beings as thinkers. “I think I can make a difference in the world.”

Direct Observation

Direct Observation allows us to see things – right here, right now – in the moment – without relying on any older information provided by our three-part brain. In other words, it allows us to think for ourselves!

Our brain is a machine with lots of conditioned cogs and wheels! Instead of operating from Direct Observation, most of the time we react with programmed conditioned ideas and emotions that are not always based on the truth.

We have all felt threatened by something or someone – and we often discover that the threat we’ve imagined turned out to be NOT REAL!

That’s because of the conditioned cogs and wheels in our mechanical brain!

Our Mechanical Brains

Are our brains just machines that are programmed for war? Is it possible to actually be aware of this? Can we see that conflict is not a problem to be solved – that conflict is a reality to observe? Once we observe it, conflict can stop in that very moment!

In that split second when you are in that “Oh!” observation mode, you are no longer in conflict!

The Power of a Pause

When we ride our bike, or travel in a car, we often need to stop at a stop sign or traffic light – to look and listen. This stop creates a pause. It’s a pause in which we become extra alert – our senses seem to heighten as we look for pedestrians or oncoming traffic.

In the same way, when a conflict arises inside us, this is a good time to take a pause – for Direct Observation!

  1. Think! How do I STOP this conflict inside me?
  2. Can I STOP this conflict from growing?
  3. Can I observe and understand what the conflict is about?
  4. If my conflict is with another person, do I understand that person’s perspective?
  5. Can I remember to STOP anytime I get upset or angry and remember to directly observe the situation?