When we think of safety in schools, bullying often comes to mind.
Most (if not all) of us have been bullied and some of us have carried those wounds with us for many years. We’ve also all witnessed bullying in some context or another, which can trigger our own feelings of helplessness, aggression or other defense mechanisms. When we hear about suicide as a result of bullying, many efforts are made to raise awareness so it doesn’t happen again. Then it does.
We want to stand up for the victims. We want justice. We want to create change; we want to change others. We all want to feel safe.
Despite all efforts, why doesn’t raising awareness about bullying or creating anti-bullying programs seem to be making a difference?
When we hear of cases of bullying, we are quick to identify with or act on behalf of the bullied, the victim, the oppressed; the other child(ren) gets labeled as the bully, the victimizer, the oppressor.
But many of us have also bullied.
“When we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we have all bullied and been bullied in some way, at one point in time. Maybe you can remember a time when you bullied and a different time when you were bullied…” – “Why Anti-bullying Campaigns Don’t Work,” I am Intelligence
No one is born a bully; it is a behaviour that is learned from somewhere.
As adults we are quick to say, “Kids are cruel!” without taking a look at the power dynamics in our own relationships as expressed in our homes, classrooms, schools, offices and in the media.
“The bully” has been bullied; just as “the bullied” sometimes goes on to bully others. And just because someone has bullied, doesn’t make them “a bully.”
I remember getting teased, and I remember teasing others. I remember my first black eye and the guilt and shame that followed. I remember abusing my power in the classroom when I saw students asserting their power over “the other” – especially when it came to racism; I had no tolerance for the intolerant (double bind). And I remember feeling cornered by my principal who wanted me to change my grading scale because over half of my class was failing. (As a first year teacher, I wasn’t sure how to grade work that was never turned in…).
Neither “side” feels good, and I believe both stem from a feeling of helplessness. But we aren’t actually helpless, but we do need to rethink our approach if we want to stop the bullying (which actually starts with compassion).
“While anti-bullying assemblies and awareness campaigns intend to empower ‘the bullied’ to take a stand, they usually do not work, as you may already know. Worse, when we view people as this or that it isolates people further while reaffirming existing beliefs about the way the world works, and while society may think in black and white, the world exists in all spectrums of colour. In other words, there is more than one way and the way to it is not by fighting back or attempting to raise awareness through anti-anything. When we fight against, we actually perpetuate differences, create extremes, and get further from what all people on ‘both sides’ really want.” – “Why Anti-bullying Campaigns Don’t Work,” I am Intelligence
There is nothing anti- about awareness and true justice only comes through forgiveness. Maybe it is as simple as sharing that message with young learners, but just in case, here is an activity to try:
Our homework assignment is to feel compassion for the bully, the guilty, the victimizer, or the oppressor by seeing him or her for more than all those things they have done. If you are considered or consider yourself to be “a bully,” I challenge you to feel compassion for yourself and then ask yourself, what is it that you actually desire that you are being denied. Maybe try both exercises.
“We live in a very very brutal system – not only brutal toward those we can easily see as victims but equally brutal toward the perpetrators. Otherwise, how would they become perpetrators?What has to happen to a human being for them to do the things that people do to each other?” – Charles Eisenstein