Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Poem for a Bully
By Eileen Spinelli

Somewhere deep inside you
there’s a softer, kinder place.
I know this will surprise you –
but I’ve seen it in your face.
Your eyes are often sad, although
you wear a surly grin.
Sometimes when you stand all alone
your ‘mean’ seems worn and thin.
I wish that you would take a step –
a small, but brave one too –
and look inside yourself to find
the good I see in you.



In the above poem, Eileen Spinelli seems to be saying that she can understand the bully in a way that the bully cannot even understand him or herself. I wonder, though, can we truly understand other people on this level? Larry C. Rosen, a lawyer and mediator for couples going through divisive divorces, asks the same question, “Is it possible to understand everyone at a deep and meaningful level?”

How, he wonders, is it possible to understand both the eighteen-year-old girl who sleeps next to her cell phone and the eighty-year-old man who cannot remember his grandchildren’s names? A bully and his victim? What about two very different eighteen-year-olds? One for instance, an accomplished American teen who has been accepted to Harvard University and plans on studying medicine and another Afghani teen who has joined the Taliban. Human psychology seems extremely complex. Is it possible to understand both of those boys on a deep level?

Meeting with evolutionary biologists and neuroscientists (and many of his own clients), Rosen has come up with a theory based on founding psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers’ pyramid of needs. Masklow and Rogers argued that all people have similar needs in order to succeed (basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs). Rosen also builds on contemporary American psychologist Marshall Rosenberg’s needs inventory. But Rosen takes these theories several steps further.

He explains that there is a key to understanding everyone on a deep level. In fact, he argues that humans have “common needs” and that there are somewhere around thirty of them that we all have. That means that anytime we exhibit a behavior, it is because we are trying to fulfill a basic need.

So, how does this connect to those two eighteen-year-old boys – the one going to Harvard and the one joining the Taliban? In reality, those two boys are pursuing the same needs – both boys are looking for respect. One will get respect by attending Harvard University while the other will get it by joining the Taliban. They are both looking for community and belonging. One will get a community at Harvard and the other with the Taliban. They are both interested in making a difference. One will study medicine and heal people, the other will learn to kill and fight for a cause.

While incredibly disturbing, Rosen’s point is that our motivations are identical to others. We all have physical needs, we all have relational needs, and we all have aspirational or spiritual needs. When we understand that about each other, we can easily understand each other. What makes someone act in a certain way? That person is trying to fulfill a common need (one that you and I have too). Once we discover which common need they are fulfilling, we can easily work with them to ensure that we both benefit.

Let’s return to the bully and victim. Rosen argues that there are around thirty common needs, and that all we need to do in order to understand complex human psychology is recognize that other people’s actions are a result of them trying to fill a common need. In order to understand the motivation of the bully (and the victim), we need to look at what common needs the bully is fulfilling by picking on other people. Is he trying to get respect? Is he trying to create a sense of belonging?

Let’s be clear: understanding the motivations of the bully in no way excuses his behavior or changes the consequences. It does, however, help parents and educators teach the child other ways to cope and fulfill those needs. If we understand that a bully is acting aggressively because he wants respect and feels like no one treats him that way, we can change the dynamic and his behavior.

Will you always be able to understand which common need someone is fulfilling? Absolutely not. But, what you can do is step into their shoes. Ask yourself, why would I do something like that? What is it giving me? In the end, you just might have a window into other people’s motivations and minds.


Register now for a Mindsets and ADHD workshop by Dr. Robert Brooks on November 13, 2018. Please call Mrs. Schonfeld at 718-382-5437 for more information.


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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at