Why Do We Like Bullies?

bullyLast week Rutgers University fired their men’s basketball coach for his abusive behavior toward his players. His acts, caught on video, included a range of behavior typical of a schoolyard bully: name calling, pushing and kicking his players. The coach, who was supposed to be the leader his team, was allowed to inflict his abuse for too long. As a result, the Rutgers Athletic Director and another official were also fired.

Like sports, the media and technology industry also has its share of bullies. Donald Trump has made a career of picking on people. Michael Arrington, the volatile tech blogger, is now being accused of abuse by former business partners and friends. Tech executive Keith Rabois, who resigned from mobile payments company Square amid accusations of an improper relationship with a colleague, recently took to Twitter to criticize the founder of Foursquare.

While school administrators and educators work to root out bullying at the grade school level, for some reason our industry accepts it. Donald Trump gets paid by NBC and other companies to build his brand, which he uses to then bully more people. AOL paid Michael Arrington millions of dollars to buy his blog, TechCrunch, after which he heckled the company until he was fired. And then AOL invested in Arrington’s venture fund. After Rabois left Square he was rewarded with a position at a venture capital firm.

Nobody is perfect and everyone deserves a second chance. But the media and technology industry not only seems to tolerate mean spiritedness, it sometimes goes out of its way to reward it. Making fun of someone with a speech impediment, breaking a press embargo or lambasting a founder is acceptable behavior if the person is wealthy or powerful enough.

There are more good people than bad so it should be easy to spot the bullies and do something about it. But it can be difficult to act. Like Rutgers, we sometimes give the bad actors a slap on the wrist and let them carry on—if we do anything at all.

“For years I was partners with someone who I was told not to associate with by many people I respect. I ignored those warnings, defended the person and thought they were just ‘misunderstood’,” Jason Calcanis, a former business partner of Arrington said last week.

We should be able to create a culture where abusive behavior and personal attacks are called out. We should be able to have a healthy debate about ideas without getting personal and abusive. And when people cross that line we should do something about it.

“Life is short, don’t enable the bad actors,” Calcanis recommended.

That seems like good advice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gavindunaway Gavin Dunaway

    Across industries and cultures, we’ve long mistaken arrogance, egotism and brutishness for talent and fortitude.