Let’s Talk About Bullying, Part One: Coffee and Conversation

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own. So come on in, grab a cuppa (we’ve got coffee, tea, fresh-pressed apple cider, milk, and water today), and a snack (the kids and I were fantasizing about maple-bacon cookies a while ago- let’s just pretend we have some, OK?).

All set? All righty then – let’s converse!

Have you noticed that there are all manner of anti-bullying messages in the world right now?

Each is purportedly designed to protect children from bullies, and to prevent their becoming bullies. Personally, I don’t think they’re especially effective, long-term, for many reasons.

Over the next weeks, I’ll be sharing these reasons, and inviting your responses. My goal here is to engage in a meaningful and respectful dialogue about bullying – what causes it, where it fits into our culture, and what we can do to eliminate it.

I invite you to join in, even (maybe especially) if you have diverse or dissenting opinions.

My one caveat?

We’ll be discussing bullying here, but not bullying one another. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Usually, these are based upon our life experiences, personality, priorities, and maybe our mood when reading and responding. I welcome that – we can’t learn from one another if we won’t consider one another’s perspectives.

Just please express your opinions with the same respect for those you don’t agree with as you wish from those who don’t agree with you. Comment moderation is turned on for new folks, and deleting of comments is a possibility even for frequent and valued visitor-friends (though I think my bloggy peeps are an awesome and considerate group who really won’t need any moderating).

OK, so, now that all that’s been said, shall we talk about bullying, and why I have reservations about the current batch of anti-bullying propaganda?

Anti-anything campaigns are, by definition, fighting against something. That’s not only a waste of energy that could be put into finding solutions, it’s also, in this case, feeding the hostile us vs. them dynamic that creates bullies in the first place.

Mother Theresa was quoted as saying: 

“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

She knew a few things about getting things done. She knew that being against something shifts the focus to a struggle to get rid of it. She knew there was a better way – looking past the thing she wanted to end – in this case, war – and seeing what could be created to address the problem at its roots, before it could spread.

Working toward a peaceful world will limit wars. Working toward creating more peace in our own lives, and encouraging others to do the same, will reduce bullying. Anti-bullying campaigns, on the other hand, are focused on the actions and attitudes that fall under the umbrella label ‘bullying’ – and, sadly, they often seem to miss the deep roots from which the problem grows.

This isn’t going to be an anti-bullying series.

I think we need to do a lot more than equipping kids with tools to defend themselves and others against bullies, or defining what types of behavior are bullying, and telling kids not to engage in them.

Because what we’re saying, when we tell kids how to deal with bullying behavior, or how to advocate for others about bullies, is that bullies are a fact of life, and must be dealt with, one way or another. We’re accepting bullies as part of our collective culture. At best, we’re giving kids a fire extinguisher and the knowledge to use it effectively.

What we aren’t doing is being sure they can use it, in that moment of panic that accompanies an attack on themselves or someone else. Like the person who freezes, holding the extinguisher and unable to trigger it and aim it at the base of the flames of an uncontrollable fire, we’ve given chldren tools that may not be at all useful in the moment they most need them.

We’re also giving the children who bully a few hours of ’empathy training’, in an effort to encourage them to see the other side of bullying, to understand how their actions are affecting those around them, and to then stop their bullying behaviors.

But, again, these campaigns act as though bullying is the root of the issue, and as though a day long assembly, complete with handouts, guest speakers, and role-playing, can eradicate the circumstances that have led to these behaviors. As I said, I think more – maybe much more – is needed.

What is that more?

Well, that’s what the rest of this series will be about. A hint: it goes far deeper than the moment where someone targets someone else for bullying…

What do you think about anti-bullying campaigns? Do you have children in school? Have they participated in an anti-bullying campaign? What was their opinion of it, if they did? Yours?

I’ll pour your refills, pass round those imaginary maple-bacon cookies, and listen.

Take a chance! Type something in this box, and see what happens! =D

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