Leadership and Influence

A commentary on how much leaders empower their followers

A February 12, 2020 Washington Post article titled, Trump’s rhetoric has changed the way hundreds of kids are bullied in classrooms, caught my attention. It reported:

2016 online survey of over 10,000 kindergarten through 12th-grade educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that more than 2,500 “described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric,” although the overwhelming majority never made the news. In 476 cases, offenders used the phrase “build the wall.” In 672, they mentioned deportation.

The news article sites examples such as:

Two kindergartners in Utah told a Latino boy that President Trump would send him back to Mexico, and teenagers in Maine sneered “Ban Muslims” at a classmate wearing a hijab. In Tennessee, a group of middle-schoolers linked arms, imitating the president’s proposed border wall as they refused to let nonwhite students pass. In Ohio, another group of middle-schoolers surrounded a mixed-race sixth-grader and, as she confided to her mother, told the girl: “This is Trump country.”

In 2017, the LGBTQ-rights organization Human Rights Campaign reported on a new survey of more than 50,000 young people ages 13-18 “revealing the deeply damaging fallout the November [2016] election had on youth across the United States.” The survey included respondents representing a diversity in gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and religious background. Seventy percent of those surveyed reported witnessing bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the November election. Of those who witnessed such behaviour, 79% said it occurred more frequently following the start of the campaign.

I wondered how much my country is affected by this constant rhetoric we hear from our news media. The late and former Canadian Prime Minster, Pierre Trudeau, once said about the United States, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” Canada is very much influenced by the United States, and not always in a good way.

CBC News did a series examining the impact of peer-on-peer violence on students and parents. Its October 29, 2019 article,  ‘I get nightmares’: How racial violence in high schools is taking a mental toll on students,  says:

In a first-of-its-kind survey commissioned by the CBC with 4,000 youths aged 14 to 21, more than half of young people that identified as visible minorities say they’ve been subjected to racist names or comments. One in eight said it happened more than five times. The survey also revealed that 41 per cent of boys reported being physically assaulted in high school, and 21 per cent have been threatened with a weapon — a significantly higher percentage than girls.

Although it was not stated, or even implied, I can only speculate that many of the racist bullies where inspired by rhetoric heard by political leaders in Canada, and especially the U.S. How can young impressionable minds not be influenced by the constant racist and xenophobic rhetoric coming from a person touted as the most powerful leader of the free world? Leaders empower and inspire people and the current resident of the White House is empowering children to bully. I am keenly aware after teaching for 35 years how much power my words had and how those words influenced my students. Teachers are leaders, and any leader empowers their followers.

Leaderonomics is a leadership development organization based in Malaysia that began with the purpose of transforming nations through leadership. Its article, Leadership Is Influence, defines influence “as the ability to move others into action.” It goes on to say, “Whenever we can change someone’s thought process and convince them to pursue a course of action, we have exercised influence, hence demonstrated leadership. The heart of strategic influencing is to gain willing cooperation instead of mere compliance.”

When I observe our world leaders, many of them use influence to gain compliance as opposed to cooperation. The recent Senate Impeachment hearings were more about complying with their political party as opposed to cooperating to determine if the U.S. president did indeed commit a crime.

An article titled, Influence and Leadership, says:

Leaders lead by mobilizing people around a compelling vision of the future, by inspiring them to follow in the leader’s footsteps…Leaders lead by modeling ways of thinking or acting…The best leaders are teachers, mentors, and role models–and they accomplish the vast majority of their work through influence, not authority.

Leaders should inspire us to be the best we can, yet I see many world leaders modelling selfish and bullying behaviours. What our world is sadly lacking is leaders who inspire people to create a better world. The Born This Way Foundation was created to build a future that supports the wellness of young people through an evidence-based approach that is fiercely kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive. I share their vision. I wish to do my part in creating a world that is kind, compassionate, accepting, and inclusive for everyone regardless of age.

Mohandas Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Leaders can inspire us to do that. The Dalai Lama said, “I believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to each of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world” John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.” We can all do our part in creating a better world, and as I’ve said in some of my previous posts, there is a very simple solution to bullying, and that is following the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It’s a rule that is recorded in many world religions and philosophies (see Wikipedia).

These Statistics are Shocking!

A commentary on bullying statistics

EducationCorner.com has some disturbing statistics on what students today have to deal with. It reports:

90% of students in grades 4-8 report have been harassed or bullied.

28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying.

20% of students in grades 9-12 experience bullying. (stopbullying.gov)

Over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied. (Nation Education Association)

6% of students report having witnessed bullying in their school, and over 71% say bullying is a problem.

Over 10% of students who drop out of school do so due to being bullied repeatedly.

Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying.

The Daily Mail article, Secret Service study… reports that

“most [75% according to statistics above] students who committed deadly school attacks over the past decade were badly bullied, had a history of disciplinary trouble and their behaviour concerned others but was never reported, according to a U.S. Secret Service study.”

Canadian Red Cross says

Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher

71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.

Over 71% of  young people say bullying is a problem, and they are right. These statistics prove it. I find these statistics alarming, especially as a retired educator. I spent my entire career dealing with school bullies. I’ve always tried to address bullying problems when they arose—which was often. When I read that 71 % of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems, but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene, I am astounded. Is this a perception problem, or are many teachers all talk? Just because some teachers say they intervene, doesn’t mean they do, and what is that intervention? Is it a “tongue lashing,” some form of punitive action, or forcing the bully to apologize? I’ve tried all these methods and none of them curb bullying.

During much of my teaching years, I considered bullies to be “bad” kids who needed a good dose of discipline, which  meant punishing them punitively with detentions, expulsions, and even corporal punishment. Yes, corporal punishment was used when I first began teaching. Typically, the aim of punitive approaches is either to punish the offender or satisfy feelings of revenge. Now I look at the problem of bullying differently.

American author, Joel Osteen says,

“Keep in mind, hurting people often hurt other people as a result of their own pain. If somebody is rude and inconsiderate, you can almost be certain that they have some unresolved issues inside. They have some major problems, anger, resentment, or some heartache they are trying to cope with or overcome.”

 Joel Osteen is right! Bullies are really hurting people who take their pain out on others. As the adage says, “hurting people hurt people.” I am convinced that when we start addressing the hurts of people who bully, we will begin to heal the hearts of these bullies. One less hurting person is one less bully!

My book, “A Shattered New Start,” is written with this mindset and shows the human side of bullies. It is a story about a bully, Ryan, and his victim, Jonathan. Here is a teaser.

It’s all About the Perception of Reality

A commentary on fear-mongering

My wife was out in the community recently and ran into a community member who had the view the “sky was falling.” What I mean is that this person thinks the world is all bad, and that there are more “bad” people in it as opposed to “good” people. I personally have talked to people with this perception as well.

I understand where this is coming from. If you watch the news regularly—which I have made the conscious choice not to—you get the impression that the world is a bad place. The news media tends to sensationalize news stories, whether it be a mass shooting, a terrorist attack, or a disease pandemic. In fact, CNN ran a story of a meteorologist who worked in a news station in Indiana who was fired after calling out his station for over-the-top weather warnings (see CNN Business). One might ask the question; Why does the media tend to sensationalize the stories they are reporting?

The ThoughtCo has an article, Is Sensationalism in the News Bad? which says:

There’s another point to be made about sensational news stories: We love them. Sensational stories are the junk food of our news diet, the ice cream sundae that you eagerly gobble up. You know it’s bad for you but it’s delicious, and you can always have a salad tomorrow.

This is one answer. The media tends to sensationalize stories because we the consumers; those who watch the news are addicted to it, so we demand the negative stories. We want to see all the “blood and gore” and see how horrible humans treat one another. Psychology Today’s article, If It Bleeds, It Leads: Understanding Fear-Based Media suggests sensationalization increases profits. It would if people are addicted to it.

There is a scene in the TV series, Station 19, where a first responder is rescuing a young person from a burning building. The person being rescued is so frightened he is unable to move. As the fire fighter is dragging the overwhelmed person out, he says,

“If it terrifies you, you drink more, you smoke more, you take more prescription drugs, and that financially benefits the same people who program the news. Yes, there are bad people out there, with a crazy number of guns, but there are good people too, kind people who fight for justice, who build houses, and plant trees. Ignore the fear-mongering, or rise above it. So, don’t waste your energy worrying that you’re going to get shot. Use it to fight for the world you want to be a part of. Use that energy to use your fully functioning legs…and march you toward the world you want to live in.”

Now that is thought provoking! Could it be that the pharmaceutical companies, the tobacco companies, the companies promoting alcohol, and God knows who else are the ones dictating how the news is reported. Could it be that they want to instil a culture of fear so the fearful consume more antidepressants, smoke more, and drink more? The article, 25 People and Industries That Profit From Fear, by Business Pundit seems to support this.

The truth is, the world is full of good people. As the fire fighter’s rant in the TV show, Station 19, said, “there are good people too, kind people who fight for justice, who build houses, and plant trees.” My daughter traveled for three months in southeast Asia and she told us numerous stories of the kind people she and her friend encountered. My wife and I have travelled extensively, and we have always encountered kind and helpful people. We even had someone invite us to their home to stay while we were in Switzerland. There are plenty of news stories about acts of kindness. ABC News has a story, High school students gift new clothes to bullied classmate, that tells of a Memphis, Tennessee high school student receiving a new set of clothes and sneakers from two of his classmates because he was bullied for wearing the same clothes day after day. Here is the story.

Ellen DeGeneres, along with actor Will Smith, heard this story and were so touched by this story that Ellen DeGeneres invited the boys on her show (see Facebook video). My daughter living in Europe sent me a similar video from Sport Nation; a video where a bullied kid receives clothes from classmates (see Facebook video).  MSM News devotes an entire section to good news stories (see Good News).

It is true! The world is full of kind people. If you look to the news media, you’re likely not going to hear about them. There are many celebrity philanthropists—celebrities who makes charitable donations intended to increase human well-being. Pop star, Taylor Swift, was voted the most charitable celebrity in 2014. Oprah Winfrey, has been widely considered the ‘greatest African American philanthropist in American history.’  Bono, lead singer for U2, has been named “the face of fusion philanthropy” for collaborating with politicians, religious leaders, media organizations, and other power players throughout the world. Singer Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, started the Born This Way Foundation, which is committed to supporting the wellness of young people and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world. I could go one and on. The world is full of “good people and kind people who fight for justice,” as the first responders says in Station 19.  There are numerous organizations and foundations doing the same, and many of them are addressing the issue of bullying.

The only reason people believe that the world is filled with more “bad” people then “good” people is because of media sensationalism. Fred Rogers, better known as Mister Rogers, once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” I believe that to be the truth. So, as the Dalai Lama says, “Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”