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Dealing with Bullies and THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY by Amor Towles

Emmett is an eighteen-year-old orphan charged with caring for his little brother, who he parents with love, sensitivity, and patience. This would be hard for any teenager but is particularly challenging for Emmett, who has recently been released from a juvenile work farm where he was incarcerated for fifteen months for involuntary manslaughter. Here's what happened: a bully picked on Emmett, and Emmett responded by punching the bully, who fell hard, hit his head, and died.

Cover of the Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

Today, we will discuss a highly relevant skill for Emmett and many others: dealing with bullies.


Bullying is physically or verbally aggressive behavior intended to cause harm to another person. It can be repeated at varying frequency levels and is done in private and public. Bullying can be overt and obvious or more pointed and subtle. Bully’s motivation can be increasing their social status, defending against the notion that others will bully them, peer pressure, or general insecurity.


Bullies are not invincible. Here are ways to deal with them that will help the bully’s victim in the short term and lessen or stop the bullying long-term:

  • Respond With Courteous Confidence: Confidence neutralizes bullies. If a bully provokes an outpouring of negative emotions, they will feel gratified and continue.

  • Create an Exit Strategy: Once the victim has neutralized the bully’s behaviors, they should remove themselves from the situation. Friends can be instrumental in helping a victim leave while feeling supported.

  • Use Your Support Team: Remain connected with friends and family and tell them about the bullying. Bullies gain a significant upper hand when their victim feels isolated.

  • Build Your Self-Esteem: Nurture self-confidence in other areas so the victim doesn’t generalize and internalize the bully’s negative messages.

If Emmett had used positive coping skills when faced with the bully’s taunting behavior, he would not have physically engaged. Did he start the altercation? No. Was it ok for the bully to victimize him? No. But are there ways that he could have handled the situation that would have vastly altered the course of his life? Yes.


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