Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chicken Soup reviews Izzy Kalman's book, "Bullies to Buddies."

I bought Izzy Kalman's book through Amazon and the sticker on the cover was a harbinger of things to come:


Let's begin...

Every book has a legal page where readers can find the copyright date, the ISBN number, the author's credentials (Izzy Kalman, MS, NCSP), etc. A couple inches from the bottom of "Bullies to Buddies" readers can find the following disclaimer:

"The advice in this book is based on the author's two decades of experience helping victims of teasing and bullying. It is not intended as a substitute for professional counseling and the publisher makes no claims for its effectiveness. If problems persist, the help of a competent professional should be sought."

I cannot attest to the legal effectiveness of disclaimers but I do know that many of them are inspired by insurance industry pressure. In the mid-1980's I was a skydiver living in California. A fellow skydiver had purchased a new canopy and was preparing to attach it to his rig. When he spread it out on the grass we all noticed the following warning label: "WARNING! IMPROPER PACKING PROCEDURES MAY RESULT IN INJURY OR DEATH TO THE USER!" No shit Sherlock. The label was made of the same material as the canopy, was about 18 inches on a side, and had been sewn in. It took the guy about two hours with a very small pair of scissors to remove it without damaging anything.

Back to Izzy.

Lot's of books include an acknowledgements section where the author thanks the patience of his long suffering family, the professionalism of his agent, editor, etc. and sometimes a particular teacher or other person from his past. Kalman does this as well but there was something different included. Izzy Kalman attributes his success in life to luck. His acknowledgements section begins with three sentences, "I am a very lucky person. I don't know how many can say they lead as satisfying a life as I do. It is all due to luck." Kalman attributes his high quality of life by using the words luck, lucky, and fortunate at least nine times in less than two pages. Most people who are remotely successful at anything make some attempt to claim some combination of hard work, self sacrifice, and personal wisdom to their station in life. Kalman, perhaps in an effort to appear humble goes overboard in his efforts to avoid doing this. In fact, he thanks his editor, Monica Rosenberg who "practically taught me how to write."

Izzy Kalman has a masters degree and twenty years of professional experience. I can't imagine how many reports he was required to produce in all that time. And he thanks his editor for teaching him how to write. This isn't a good start...

There is a two page section titled, "Introductory Notes for Parents and Teachers" that includes a startling admission. In the first paragraph Kalman mentions a "rash of tragic school shootings, epitomized by Columbine" and states, "It emerged that these horrific incidents were committed almost exclusively by victims of teasing and bullying." In contrast to the opinions of Trench Reynolds, Emily Bazelon, and no doubt many others, Izzy Kalman openly admits that Columbine was the result of bullying.

If there's one mistake Izzy Kalman makes that best sums up why this book should not be taken seriously it's his use of the terms, "bullying" and "teasing and bullying" as blanket descriptions for a wide range of behaviors as if they were all equivalent. I'll break that "wide range of behavior" down into five categories:

1) Playful teasing between two or more individuals who have a preexisting relationship. Individuals who belong to an established peer group often refer to each other in degrading terms. This is harmless but appropriate only within that established peer group. Many adults cite this behavior to claim that "all kids get bullied" in an effort to avoid any responsibility for addressing the problem.

2) Harmless Pests are individuals who have poor social skills, often the product of dysfunctional family environments. These characters will blurt out inappropriate comments in the middle of a lecture or crack a joke long after the correct moment for such a joke has past. They are not violent and will become embarrassed when challenged or criticized. These individuals are often targeted by bullies.

3) Potential friends will sometimes quietly tease another individual, often as a prelude to being invited into a peer group such as that described in Behavior Number 1. A lot can go wrong here. This can be misinterpreted by a previously abused individual as the prelude to more teasing leading to eventual physical abuse. If the individual being teased reacts badly, he can become something of a social pariah. This often attracts the attention of real bullies, most of whom are behaviorally indistinguishable from any other predator.

4) Verbal Bullying: A bully will often loudly insult a target individual in an effort to embarrass him, lower his social status, and make others afraid to befriend him. Unlike the behavior described in Example 3, the bully will be very loud and aggressive in the manner in which he insults the victim. The bully's behavior is often accompanied by what rape victims describe as "The Predator Stare". These individuals are dangerous sociopaths and should always be considered potentially violent.

5) Physical bullying was described in some detail here.

Throughout the book Kalman overtly places the responsibility for bullying on the victim. Here are a few examples:

Page 4: "Someone does have the power to make everyone stop tormenting you. That person is you."

Page 7: "Without realizing it, you are actually making them bully you."

Page 10: "I understand how I've been causing my suffering."

Page 42: "Everyone thinks that in a fight, the first person to hit is the one who started the fight. The truth is that the second person to hit really started the fight."

In the past a common defense for rapists was that the victim was "dressed provocatively" or that her station in life (wife, prostitute, promiscuous woman) meant that it was impossible to rape her. Kalman does this repeatedly with victims of bullying. He does cover his ass a bit on page 39 with the following warning:

"People who go around injuring others and aren't afraid of getting in trouble are dangerous. They are more than bullies. They are criminals. With such people, your natural fear is healthy. Be afraid of them, and stay far away from them. If you must be near them, make sure you have people around who can protect you."

Is he kidding?!! How does an unpopular teenager make sure he has people around who can protect him? What a moron!

On Page 2, Kalman describes people as what they are, "animals" and admits on Page 16 that "we are not biologically designed for the environment in which we now live (civilization)." This is a description I wholeheartedly support and describe in my Bully Enablers Post linked above in Behavior Number 5. Gavin de Becker in his best selling book, "The Gift of Fear" also emphasizes this fact with the statement, "We may live in the space age but we have stone age brains." Unfortunately, after admitting that it is the environment, not the population that is civilized, Kalman claims that people are civilized:

Page 18: "We are no longer cavemen. We are civilized people." Yeah, right.

He also repeatedly claims that because we live in a civilization, the law protects us from violent people:

Page 19: "They know we can call the police on them, and then they lose."

Page 39: "There is an invisible shield protecting me, and if they go through this shield, the law is going to punish them and I am going to win."

Page 42: "But we now live in a civilization. It is against the law to hurt others. The bullies know this, and they are not trying to send us to the hospital."

Page 47: "But we now live in a civilization. You are not an enemy looking to eat me. The law forbids you from injuring me; and if you do injure me, it is probably an accident."

From beginning to end, Kalman appears to treat all incidents of "teasing and bullying" as if they were examples of Behavior Number 3. In my opinion, Izzy Kalman is at best naïve and at worst criminally negligent. He leads his readers to believe that bullies intend no harm and that because we now live in a civilization that bullies who "accidentally" injure their victims will somehow be punished. This is utterly false and an hour or so of perusing this weblog will prove it. Bullies are given free rides and endless second chances while it is the victims who end up dead or in prison after being driven insane by their tormentors.

Anyone considering the use of his techniques or attending his seminars should strongly consider otherwise and remember the true meaning of the label on this book: "CLEARANCE $1.00"


  1. YES! Excellent review, Monsieur Fowl Soup! I cordially invite you to post your review upon's reviews section.

    You do an excellent job of slicing through a lot of Kalman's BS. This calls for an epic-sounding song.

    Nevertheless, I still think there is -some- merit to what he says. Many of his techniques are excellent for getting bullies to leave you alone. I mean, they certainly aren't fool-proof (and definitely not fowl-proof!), but I could see them working to some extent.

    I don't hate Kalman like you do, I see him as rather naive and misguided, but some of his tactics (basically tricking enemies into liking you) I'd have appreciated as a kid.

    Wanting to be friends with the psychopath who bullies others throwing them around and calling "faggot" and "retard" seems odd, and his insistence on trying to befriend all bullies seems rather inane. At best he views bullies as poor victims whose only crime was not being born in the stone age when they could channel their aggression into killing animals and killing rivals tribesmen fighting for land and resources who are simply misunderstood and deserve love and compassion.

    Times change- people have to learn to change as well.

  2. Seeing as you’re the bully... why doesn’t Kalman turn you into a buddy?

    Me, I tried on his website but got my ass banned.

    1. He tried to make me his buddy, then gave up when I demonstrated that it doesn't work.