How to Beat a Bully: Lessons Learned from Chick-Fil-A

America recently experienced an odd skirmish in the culture war between the GLBT community and the traditional values crowd.  Chick-Fil-A was the focal point of the conflict. Those who paid attention witnessed a fascinating spectrum of bullying behaviors.

  • The LGBT community fabricated a crisis.
  • The Mayors of Chicago, Boston, and D.C. attacked Chick-Fil-A to score political points.
  • Roseanne Bar graciously tweeted “anyone who eats S— Fil-A deserves to get the cancer that is sure to come from eating antibiotic filled tortured chickens 4Christ.”
  • The “kiss-in” was a bullying event designed to inflict business losses on Chick-Fil-A.

Bullying

It really does not matter if we are talking about a playground, the workplace, or a social movement, bullies are easy to identify. They may be individual tormentors or a mob. Yet, the principles are the same (as you will see below). Stopbullying.gov defines bullying as follows:

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.

Eliminate the line: “among school aged children,” and I would bet that you have worked with a bully at one time or another. Let’s look at that list again:

  • Unwanted, aggressive behavior
  • Real or perceived power imbalance.
  • Repeated or potentially repeated attacks
  • Making threats
  • Spreading rumors
  • Attacking someone verbally
  • Intentionally excluding someone from a group

Now that we know what bullying is, how does one beat a bully? We have three options.

  1. Hit back
  2. Forgive them
  3. Let them beat themselves

Hit the Bully Back.


The first school of thought is championed by Donald Trump, who writes, “When you hit a bully back, they always fold. I learned it in high school, you’ve got to hit a bully really strongly, right between the eyes.” (Trump, 2007, p. 190)

Taking Trump’s advice, those who embrace traditional marriage might decide to march on Ben and Jerry’s locations. But like most people, when I don’t like a social cause, I simply choose not to patronize the businesses that support it. I may go as far as telling someone that Ben and Jerry’s is fattening, but I do not drive to Vermont with a Bible and a bullhorn. Besides, I have to be home for dinner. After all, I have kids to raise.

First Prize

There were many displays of bad behavior last week including cursing, obnoxious exhibitions, and vandalism. However, first prize for last week’s bullying behavior goes to Adam Smith [Not the cool Adam Smith who developed classical economics and moved us away from the idea that “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen” toward the idea that:

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them out of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chuses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens. Even a beggar does not depend upon it entirely.(Wealth of Nations Book I.2.2) But I digress.

Our hero, the other Adam Smith, decided that would take too much effort to drive to Chick-Fil-A corporate headquarters to confront his nemesis, Dan Cathy.

Instead, with righteous indignation, he drove to his local Chick-Fil-A, ordered a free water and berated the cashier (You simply have to see this video to believe it). The next day, the Blaze carried the headline: COLLEGE LECTURER BERATES LOCAL CHICK-FIL-A EMPLOYEE AT THE DRIVE-THRU: ‘HORRIBLE CORPORATION’ Writing: “We offer the re-posted video for your viewing pleasure.”

Maybe we should march on Ben and Jerry’s after all. And they’ll know we are Christians by our ….love? (John 13:35). Perhaps there is a better way.

Forgive.

During the verbal abuse that Smith inflicted, Rachel (the cashier) was unfailingly polite. Her demeanor  provided a sharp contrast to Mr. Smith’s bullying behavior. Why was she so polite? In her own words, she said “I’m Christian and God tells us to love thy neighbor.” In an August 7 interview on FoxNews, she publically forgave him. Editor’s Note: This is the proper place for the: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love” reference (John 13:35).

What happened during the “kiss-in” protest on Friday? Intimidating behavior was met by Chick-Fil-A staff who served water and mints in a number of locations. It is hard to be angry with someone who returns your anger with love. It is even harder to play the victim when the villains serve you water and mints.

Let them beat themselves.

When social bullies picked on Chick-Fil-A, the restaurant had its best single day ever as millions of average Americans went out of their way to defend cherished values.

What about Adam Smith?

We only know about this incident because Smith decided to tape his exploits. Apparently, he thought this was a good idea and that he would be some kind of champion for the movement—the king of the bullies. Proud of the tongue-lashing he gave to his unsuspecting victim, he promptly uploaded it to You-Tube. It was picked up by the news, and the next day he was fired from the Tucson-based medical manufacturing company where he was the Chief Financial Officer. He was also an occasional adjunct professor at Eller College (but his faculty page has been removed).

Why was he fired? I can only speculate, but my guess is that Rachel was not the first to feel Smith’s wrath.  People are consistent. The bully at work will be a bully at home or on the playground. If he was treating the cashier like this, just imagine what it would be like to work for him the quarter that you did not make your numbers. As I thought about this, I wondered whether this might have been just the opportunity the CEO needed to give his staff some peace. In the end, bullies don’t do well.

Conclusion

You can punch a bully harder, but that will only cause him to leave you alone. Or, you can forgive him and perhaps cause an existential crisis. If that does not work, just wait. Bullies tend to self-destruct.

-Darin Gerdes

August 8, 2012

_______________

Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University

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5 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Interdisciplinary, Leadership, Management, Poltics

5 responses to “How to Beat a Bully: Lessons Learned from Chick-Fil-A

  1. Thank you for sharing, and God bless you. I wrote a piece on this subject last week.

  2. daringerdes

    This was posted on Facebook by one of my bright former students. I have cut and pasted the whole of her comment with my reply since it merits a reply.
    —————-
    I don’t stand by anyone being childish or bullying. As I read your article, though, this stood out to me- the definition of bullying:

    Unwanted, aggressive behavior
    Real or perceived power imbalance.
    Repeated or potentially repeated attacks
    Making threats
    Spreading rumors
    Attacking someone verbally
    Intentionally excluding someone from a group

    For the record, the LGBT community experiences all of these things with a deplorable frequency in our society, and often from those who would call themselves Christians. Hate crimes still happen in the united states. Sometimes pastors have the gall to call them warranted. Don’t believe me? Check out Charles Worley, or the Pastor in the Laramie Project (documentary film, 2002). This week I heard my own grandmother call all homosexuals “fornicating bastards.” The entire gay marriage platform is founded upon the fact that our governments intentionally exclude homosexuals from the group of people allowed to form legal kinship bonds that come with the legal benefits of marriage. Religious leaders and parents spread all kinds of ideas (rumors) about homosexuality that countless empirical studies have proven false- such as the idea that children raised by them would somehow be deficient or harmed, or that they as a community are riddled with aids, or that all of them are egregiously promiscuous. In 29 states an individual can be fired, legally, for being gay. Intentionally or not, Christianity poisons the well of society against homosexuality frequently, and how can you help it when the biblical term is “abomination”? All too often this lends itself to a generation of people who literally want to eradicate this type of person from our society, and ensure their lifestyle is not accepted on a governmental level.

    If that’s not bullying, I don’t know what is.

    http://www.facebook.com/l/OAQHfg4X4AQEX4N9u55rTFjLftR0psSgGl9HDTDRkLlbNvg/matthewpaulturner.net/f1/5-reasons-why-the-church-failed-yesterday/

    but you’re right. An eye for an eye isn’t the way to gain social change. Unfortunately this is a cross-epistemological dialogue, and they tend to be sorely unsuccessful.

    I miss your enthusiasm as an educator. I hope you’re well.
    Second Post –
    Also- I don’t think anyone fabricated a crisis- people discovered that the Cathy’s money was spent on groups whose agendas include exporting homosexuals from the country and making all homosexual activity illegal. They reacted by spreading the information, and not wanting to eat there. Seems fair to me. Right up to the point where people start name calling and finger pointing :/

    Miss Webre–
    Let me address the major ideas. The article was written with perspective. It was not all-inclusive, but it dealt with this event in this place and at this time.
    You are right that some, perhaps most, “within the LGBT community experience all of these things with a deplorable frequency.” When they are bullied, all of the principles I discussed should apply. This would validate the point of the article, even if the application was different.
    Notice that I did not support Trump’s solution. The point was that forgiveness was the key (and short of that, bullies tend to do themselves harm by their own actions).
    The comments that precipitated the crisis were Dan Cathy’s remarks in the Baptist Press:
    “Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. ‘Well, guilty as charged,’ said Cathy when asked about the company’s position. We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that. We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that”
    Now, if these words are hate (or giving to causes such as Focus on the Family, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and WinShape are hateful actions) from the LGBT perspective, it would stand to reason that the opposite words (and giving to GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign, or the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute) would be equally hateful from the point of view of those who hold traditional values.
    All I am asking for is consistency.
    Either both sides are engaged in hate or neither side is. Now, an overt act of violence, vandalism, or a statement like “Kill the Fill in the blank with the people you don’t like here” is hateful and we can agree on that.
    Now, I am a little dissatisfied with myself because I had a great line in the article that I struck because it interrupted the flow of the article, but now I wish I had included it. It said:
    I am not saying that everyone that was protesting was rude. Certainly some protestors at the “Kiss-in” were polite. Nor am I saying that all of the patrons on Chick-Fil-A appreciation day were kind to the other side. Surely some were less than generous to the other side.
    This would have provided a bit more balance—it was just awkward as I rearranged the paragraph. I find it is never a good idea to set up a straw man or ignore facts. I am looking for interesting lessons from the issue. I have toyed with another article—looking at it from the LGBT community’s perspective. I am not sure if I see clearly enough to write that one, but I have an old friend who is now living a gay lifestyle who commented on Facebook that he agreed with most of what I wrote about how it was a faux issue. This was the article:
    https://professorthink.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/why-the-glbt-community-will-lose-their-battle-with-chick-fil-a/
    We were not accusing each other of hate. It was a rational discussion of facts—something that is terribly absent in this emotionally charged atmosphere.
    -Dr. Gerdes

  3. As soon as I saw the title of this post on Facebook, I clicked realizing that it would probably be about the actions of the LGBT community against Chick-Fil-A during about a two week span, but hoped that at least some mention would be made of the years and years of bullying that the LGBT population has endure. I understand that you’re trying to focus on a specific interaction, but we can hardly say “bullying” and “LGBT” in the same sentence without at least making some reference to the history of abuses that people have dealt to the LGBT population, or the fact that the church has been a driving force of these abuses.

    Personally, I think that the demonstrations against Chick-Fil-A have been unnecessary, and that the actions of many involved with these demonstrations have been inappropriate and have been misdirected towards the wrong people (protesting against employees of a company rather than those who make decisions on behalf of the company at an organizational level, for instance).

    The definition you gave of bullying (specifically, the list of points from the definition) seems to be a perfect outline of things that not only happened a couple of days last week against Chick-Fil-A and its representatives, but of things that happened long before, during, and even now, after the chain of events from last week. Just since the Chick-Fil-A story broke a couple of weeks ago, I have read about a half dozen incidents where a person was attacked because of the fact that they were gay. That’s more than I’ve heard in my lifetime about someone being attacked because they were straight.

    Unfortunately, some of the greatest concentration of bullying and abuses against the LGBT community have come from Christians, in the name of Christ himself. Once again, I realize that you’re talking about the specific actions of last week. But still, I was kind of surprised to see that the history of abuse that has led to people feeling the need to be so vocal in favor of equality (which manifest itself last week in the demonstrations against Chick-Fil-A) could be ignored. We must not look at these current events without doing so through the lens of the past. What does an effect tell us if we don’t also take notice of the cause?

    With that said though, I think that given what you did write, you covered those points pretty well!

    • daringerdes

      Hi Chris –
      I find it fascinating that the only negative reactions I have received here (or on Facebook) were not with my arguments but with those broadening it to talk about the other side. It is like saying that I ignored what Mondale was thinking in a piece about Reagan’s struggles in the 1984 campaign.
      I have seriously toyed with writing an article drawing lessons from the other side, but I am (at least at this point) ill-equipped to do this.
      The article I wrote here is set in a particular context. Within that context, I did not support the hit back strategy, and emphasized the forgive strategy (with a nod to the bullies eventually implode strategy).

      That being said, you are certainly right that Christians deal with the issue of this particular sin poorly. It is a different issue (there is no liar’s lobby or pro-clepto support group, but there are numerous pro-homosexual organizations, and for those who begin with the premise that this is sin, the social environment has magnified the issue). Moreover, Christians have had little impact dealing with those who argue from the premise of homosexuality as a state rather than an act. That it is what you are, rather than what you do. My guess is that this attacks their worldview, so they have tended to react poorly. It reminds me of how the church (in general) reacted to 60s and 70s social change with legalism rather than love. But again, I am off topic here. My purpose was simply to draw lessons out of these events.
      -Dr. Gerdes

    • daringerdes

      Hi Chris –
      I find it fascinating that the only negative reactions I have received
      here (or on Facebook) were not with my arguments but with those
      broadening it to talk about the other side. It is like saying that I
      ignored what Mondale was thinking in a piece about Reagan’s struggles
      in the 1984 campaign.
      I have seriously toyed with writing an article drawing lessons from
      the other side, but I am (at least at this point) ill-equipped to do
      this.
      The article I wrote here is set in a particular context. Within that
      context, I did not support the hit back strategy, and emphasized the
      forgive strategy (with a nod to the bullies eventually implode
      strategy).

      That being said, you are certainly right that Christians deal with the
      issue of this particular sin poorly. It is a different issue (there is
      no liar’s lobby or pro-clepto support group, but there are numerous
      pro-homosexual organizations, and for those who begin with the premise
      that this is sin, the social environment has magnified the issue).
      Moreover, Christians have had little impact dealing with those who
      argue from the premise of homosexuality as a state rather than an act.
      That it is what you are, rather than what you do. My guess is that
      this attacks their worldview, so they have tended to react poorly. It
      reminds me of how the church (in general) reacted to 60s and 70s
      social change with legalism rather than love. But again, I am off
      topic here. My purpose was simply to draw lessons out of these events.
      -Dr. Gerdes

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