World Leaders Need to be Good Role Models

A commentary on the world’s leadership

I came upon a news article in the Singapore Strait Times called, Bullying wrong, cannot be tolerated: Ong Ye Kung, which reports that Ong Ye Kung,  a Singaporean politician and the Education Minister, who saw a case of bullying on social media at Mee Toh School in Singapore. The case involved Primary 5 pupils who wrote insulting notes, such as “you are Dumbo the elephant” and “you look so ugly and you really turn me down, you make puke.” The Education Minister, Mr. Ong, posted on Facebook that he was “dismayed and troubled” after finding out that a group of pupils at the school had picked on a Malay classmate.  Malays are an Austronesian ethnic group native to an area collectively known as the Malay world. “This is bullying, (it) is wrong and cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially in schools,” the Minister said.

He also said:

“The school will ensure that the students understand the seriousness of their actions, and will follow up with appropriate disciplinary actions. Our values of kindness, respect for others, cohesiveness as a multi-racial society must be inculcated from a young age, with the collective effort of families, schools and community. This should be a lesson for all students to learn from.”

Now that is leadership! This article gives me hope that there are world leaders on the planet who are working to create a better world. This is a true example of a Servant leader who leads with a people-first mindset and believes that when people feel personally fulfilled, they’re more effective and more likely to be good citizens. Thankfully, there are Servant leaders in some of the world’s governments who oppose bullying behaviour and try to change bullying behaviour.

I also read a Washington Post article, How the bully in chief is turning America nastier, which reports on a new report from The Post saying, across the United States schools are reporting increased incidents of bullying and harassment directed at minority children in the time since Trump began running for office. The report says:

Since Trump’s rise to the nation’s highest office, his inflammatory language — often condemned as racist and xenophobic — has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.

It’s not all kids are bullying kids — some of the cases involve teachers telling minority students that Trump will deport them or saying things such as “You’re getting kicked out of my country” (and there are also cases, though much smaller in number, of pro-Trump children being bullied).

This is no surprise to me, as I’ve written posts about this before. Trump’s style of leadership is Narcissistic leadership, a leadership style in which the leader is only interested in him/herself. Their priority is themselves at the expense of others. Such leaders exhibit the characteristics of a narcissist: arrogance, dominance and hostility.

What is disheartening for me being a Canadian, and  living in a country so close to the U.S, is that Trump’s rhetoric influences impressionable Canadians, especially the youth. I read more and more cases of bullying incidents happening in Canada. Being I have worked under numerous principals during my 35-year teaching career, and witnessing how much a principal influences a school, it is not a stretch to imagine how much a country’s leader impacts a countries psyche. A country’s leader can impact their country in a positive way, such as in Singapore, or in a negative way, as in the United States.

It is so important that we elect leaders who have integrity and are Servant leaders.  Ronald Reagan once said, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” That is what a Servant leader does. He or she inspires their people to do great things, such as deter bullying. Rosalynn Carter, wife of former president Jimmy Carter says, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”  She is so right! A great leader—a Servant leader—will lead their people to create a more loving and caring society; one where bullying does not exist. Harold Kushner, a prominent American rabbi, says, “Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.”  From what I observe, people are stressed, fearful, and unhappy. Is that because people are becoming more narcissistic influenced by Narcissistic leadership?

Jeb Bush, brother to former U.S. president George W Bush said, “But without a caring society, without each citizen voluntarily accepting the weight of responsibility, government is destined to grow even larger, taking more of your money, burrowing deeper into your lives.”  What I experience is government taking more of my money and removing more of my rights. Is that because people are becoming more narcissistic and less caring influenced by Narcissistic leadership? One has to wonder.

Really? Bullied for Loving Books

A commentary on the nature of bullies.

I’m back! I hurt my finger last weekend, so I was unable to type a post. Now that it is better, I can finally write another post.

From: growinghealthychurches.com/

I am beginning to think there are a lot of wounded and hurting people on our planet, and as I’ve said before in other posts, bullies are hurting people who hurt people.  As the adage says, “hurting people, hurt people.”

American author, Joel Osteen, in his book, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential 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. The last thing they need is for you to make matters worse by responding angrily.”

Joel is absolutely right.  It amazes me who hurting people will target as a result of their own pain. This week a saw a CTV news article titled, 13-year-old, bullied for his love of books. The story is about Callum Manning, a 13-year-old from South Shields, England who set up an Instagram page called Cal’s Book Account where he posts book recommendations. Callum loves reading, and as a teacher I spent a career trying to encourage reading. When his 13-year-old’s classmates from his new school found out about the Callum’s account, they created a WhatsApp group to bully the teenager, leaving him in tears.

Really, being bullied because you love books, and because you want to share your love of books with others is shameful.  Teachers, and parents as well, should be doing everything they can to encourage young people to read.  The article The Benefits of Reading, lists several reasons why reading is such an important leisure activity. Students who are avid readers are dream students to us teachers.

I’ve tried to imagine why someone would bully a kid who is a passionate reader. The only reason I can come up with is jealousy. Cambridge Dictionary defines jealously as, “a feeling of unhappiness and anger because someone has something or someone that you want.” The bullies who bully Callum must be jealous because he loves books and maybe there is a part of them that wants to as well. That is what makes sense to me. If you think there is another reason, please tell me in the comment section below.

Callum’s sister posted a picture of Callum’s Instagram account on Twitter and wrote: “Can’t believe how awful kids are. My little brother [has] made an Instagram reviewing and talking about books and kids in his new school have seen it and have created a group chat calling him a creep, slagging him off about it and added him to it so he could see.” Her tweet has gained more than 180,000 likes and Callum’s Instagram account now has more than 225,000 followers – plus support from high profile authors. That is amazing! As is often said, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” or as Nelson M. Lubao would say it, “Every negative…Has a positive side…”  That tells me there are way more compassionate people in this world then bullies. We tend to only hear about the bullies, because that is what captivates the attention in the media.

I’ve said many times now in 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,” and it’s true.  Having said that, telling hurting people to follow the golden rule will not change their behaviour. Hurting people feel better when they take their pain out on others, so you have to remove the pain first.

I came across another adage, “Healed People Heal People.” We have to accept people where they are. That is not easy. A bully is a hurt person, so the first step is to accept that. The second step, in my view, is to help them heal. That might be as simple as listening to their story of pain. Maybe the bully feels unheard. Some will require professional help, so directing a hurt person to a healer might be a way to help.  The bottom line is, I believe kindness, compassion and love can heal. The Dalai Lama says, “We can live without religion. We cannot live without human compassion”.

The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine has an article entitled, How Effective are Compassion-Oriented Interventions in Clinical Settings? The article states:

research is beginning to provide evidence of just how critical compassion is to healing – even some of the most challenging disorders.

So, instead of condemning those who bully—even though that is our first instinct—try having compassion for them. After all, they are hurting and require healing.

As Aesop says, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” and as Augie says at the end of the movie Wonder—a movie about bullying—says, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

The Ugly Reality of Bullying

A commentary on the damage bullying causes.

As I become known as an anti-bullying advocate, people send me articles and videos that they think may interest me. This week a friend sent me this video clip posted by a mother.  The video is of her son crying after he was targeted at school because he has Achondroplasia, a genetic disorder. Be warned, the mother uses course language and the video is upsetting to watch; at least for me it was. Here is the video.

For those unfamiliar with Achondroplasia, it is a genetic disorder that results in dwarfism. In those with the condition, the arms and legs are short, while the torso, or trunk, is typically of normal length. Those affected have an average adult height of around 4 ft (131 cm). Other features include an enlarged head and prominent forehead. The disorder typically does not affect intelligence.

In a Huffpost article about the video called, Mum Shares Heartbreaking Video Of 9-Year-Old Son Traumatized By Bullying, Quaden’s mother describes the relentless bullying experienced by her son every day. The family, who are Aboriginal Australian, live in Queensland, Australia. The mother says in the video :

“I’ve just picked my son up from school, witnessed a bullying episode, rang the principal, and I want people to know – parents, educators, teachers – this is the effect that bullying has…Every single… day, something happens. Another episode, another bullying, another taunt, another name-calling…Can you please educate your children, your families, your friends?  This is what bullying does.”

Her son repeatedly cries out that he wants to end his life in the video. 

Here is a NBC news clip about the video.

The good news is Quaden and his mother have been flooded with support after live-streaming the heartbreaking video of her nine-year-old son’s misery because of bullying. In fact, one celebrity with dwarfism started a Go Fund Me page to send Quaden to Disneyland, and the page has raised over $300 000. That goes to show the number of wonderful people on our planet (see Australian boy in bullying video receives global support).

What shocks me is this a story that needs to be heard,  yet people question and even attempt to discredit the story. Some on the Internet questioned Quaden’s age. Why,  I don’t know. Some claimed the mother of Quaden was financially benefiting from the video. The most noteworthy was the story was twisted into a conspiracy theory that Quaden was an 18-year-old scammer (see Conspiracy Theory). Why the negativity?

In my author talks, I define bullying as “when you keep picking on someone because you think you’re cooler, smarter, stronger or better than them.” These bullies—hurting people who are taking their pain out on Quaden—see him as physically different from them, so I can only speculate that they feel entitled to harass him. They are obviously insensitive, uncaring individuals  who fail to understand how hurtful their bullying is. When bullying causes someone to contemplate suicide, it is heartbreaking.

The fact is, we are all members of the human race and therefore deserve to be treated accordingly. It reminds me of Act 3, scene 1 of the Shakespearean play, Merchant of Venice, where Shylock, a Jew, confronts two Christians. Shylock says:

“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, actions, passions…warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die…”

Every human being has feelings, needs, and desires. We all want to be happy, feel loved and respected. We are the same physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Size, shape, and colour does not matter.  Why are people so intolerant of differences? I don’t get it. Talk show host, Ellen DeGeneres says:

“We focus so much on our differences, and that is creating, I think, a lot of chaos and negativity and bullying in the world. And I think if everybody focused on what we all have in common – which is – we all want to be happy.”

She is right! As she says, “…if everybody focused on what we all have in common – which is – we all want to be happy” then bullying would decline; maybe even stop. I’ve said in  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.”  Every major World Religion and philosophy promotes this rule. If only people would start following it.

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 that sells fireworks. The teen being rescued is so frightened by the fireworks explosions, he is unable to move, believing they are gun shots. 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.”

A Senseless Tragedy Because of Bullying

A commentary on the absurdity of bullying

From: timeout.com

Most people that I know go into the new year with optimism, hoping that the commencement of a new year will bring a better year then the previous one. Perhaps they hope that there will be more cooperation between peoples and nations, that people are more tolerant and inclusive, and love for fellow human brothers and sisters becomes more prevalent. Or, as one New Year greeting says, “The approaching New Year brings hope to everyone for calmness, kindness and fulfillment of dreams.” I started 2020 with this hope and then I came across the Telegraph’s headline, PhD student took her own life after classmates mocked her for not being ‘posh enough’, and my hopes for 2020 were shattered.

The article reports that a 26-year-old attending the University of Kent’s School of Anthropology and Conservation in the city of Kent, England, was found deceased due to suicide. It seems this young student was vulnerable, as the third-year doctoral candidate struggled with anxiety, depression, and a low-self-esteem after allegedly being bullied because she was state-educated instead of privately schooled as her peers were. The post-graduate student also struggled with the “toxic” environment in the university laboratory, and according to her mother, was also struggling with her thesis.

What caused such a tragedy? The sad truth is the issue was the deceased anthropology student received a state education and the others received a private education. She ‘wasn’t posh enough’ her mother says. In other words, she wasn’t high-class or was considered inferior to her peers. Her mother reports that her daughter told her “about being mocked for her accent and because she’d never been sailing.”

My blood boils when I read a story like this. It brings me back to when I was in Grade 5 in the village I grew up in. In Grade Five, the farm boys bullied me because I lived in town where my dad ran a service station. The “farm boys” accused the town boys of being lazy, having no chores, and being weaklings.

The bottom line is a tragedy occurred for a ridiculous reason. This 26-year-old with the potential of changing the world for the better took her own life because her peers, who came from privilege, harassed her and saw her as inferior. I was bullied because my classmates  from a farming background saw themselves as superior because they did farm chores. The bullying that happened to me and to the anthropology student is absurd.

The rock band, Simple Plan, has a song titled, “Welcome to My Life,” that I believe relays what the 26-year-old in this story was likely feeling. If you haven’t heard the song, here it is.

Here are some of the song’s lyrics:

Do you want to be somebody else?
Are you sick of feeling so left out?
Are you desperate to find something more
Before your life is over

Are you stuck inside a world you hate?
Are you sick of everyone around?
With the big fake smiles and stupid lies
But deep inside you’re bleeding

No you don’t know what its like
When nothing feels alright
You don’t know what its like to be like me
To be hurt
To feel lost
To be left out in the dark
To be kicked when you’re down
To feel like you’ve been pushed around
To be on the edge of breaking down
And no one there to save you
No you don’t know what its like
Welcome to my life

This song, in my view, captures what a victim of a bully feels. Do you want to be somebody else? Yes. Are you sick of everyone around? Clearly, as that is why victims attempt suicide. No you don’t know what its like when nothing feels alright. You don’t know what its like to be like me. No one knows what it feels like to be a bully’s victim, unless they’ve been one. Only victims relate to these lyrics. To be hurt. To feel lost… I felt like this in Grade 5. I felt hurt. I felt lost. I felt left out. I felt rejected and unaccepted. Why? Because I lived in town and not a farm. The post-graduate student from Kent, England felt this way too—I would bet on it—because she was state-educated and not privately schooled; because she did not come from privilege, and now she is dead because of it. Shameful!

There is a very simple solution to bullying. It is called the Golden Rule, which says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or as the Author of “If Heaven had a Mailbox”, Jill Telford says, “Start each day asking, “How do I want others to feel?” Then act accordingly.” If every single person lived their life following this very simple rule, bullying would stop. Try it!

 

Bullying is Epidemic!

From CBC News

Earlier this month, I read a news article which I found quite disturbing, although this story not entirely surprising considering the current climate we live in. On October 7, a 14-year-old student, while his mother was with him, was fatally stabbed outside a Hamilton, Ontario, Canada High School. According to CBC News, four  teens were arrested; a 16-year-old male and a female, an 18-year-old male and a 14-year-old male, all charged with first-degree murder. Sadly, this is not the first teen killed by bullies, and then there is the problem of bullied teens committing suicide.

Global News says the family of the teen victim alleges that bullying was a persistent problem in the boy’s life and that the school never addressed the concerns. Canada News says, all five of those investigated are current or former students of the Hamilton high school. The victim’s mother claims the school and board knew about her son’s bullying, but little was done to stop it. “For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” she said in tears. Both the school board and Hamilton police have confirmed they were notified of bullying incidents. Investigators were initially hesitant to comment on whether or not bullying and the attack were directly connected.

The Global News article, Experts say zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying aren’t working, quotes Carol Todd, an educator with a Vancouver-area school board, and whose 15-year-old daughter took her own life in response to violent bullying, said:

“We talk about bullying and we talk about how we can combat it, how can we end it. Are we doing enough to talk about the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect? Are we teaching our young people how to be respectful to other people and what to do?”

Ms. Todd is right. I’ve worked in the school system for 35 years, and I have never seen a curriculum that focuses on the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect. I taught Religious Studies in the Catholic School system, but even in the Religious Studies curriculum there was very little focus on those aspects, at least at the high school level. As Todd says,  curriculum focuses on preparing students for university and not on teaching young people about healthy human interaction.

Todd went on to say a common approach involves anti-bullying advocates making a one-time appearance in schools and delivering a lecture to students. She says, “In the school system, when you bring in an anti-bullying advocate now, kids are turning off their ears,” she said. “They’re tired of the conversation. We have to figure out different ways.” That has been my experience. Students listen to a speaker, then forget about it. I have observed little change in their attitudes or behaviour after a talk.

Debra Pepler, a psychology professor who’s done extensive research on aggression in children says,

“Schools are measured on how well they teach literacy and numeracy and science but … social emotional development should be included and it should start in…kindergarten.”

from http://www.dailymail.co.uk

She said the “zero tolerance” approach popular among many school boards involving punitive strategies do nothing to address the root causes of bullying and wind up reinforcing the kinds of behaviour they’re meant to eliminate.

I have to agree with Ms. Pepler. Every school I have taught in has had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bullying, yet bullying was a big problem in every school I worked in. These policies are great, but virtually impossible to enforce. In my experience, bullying occurs subtly, occurring in locations teachers are rarely in—such as washrooms—or carried out discretely as to not be noticed by teachers. “Zero tolerance” policy is great, but it doesn’t work!

What is the answer then? In my opinion, there needs to be more focus on teaching students about healthy human interactions. Psych Central’s article, Bullying: A Problem That Starts and Ends at Home, says

Research shows that a harsh or negative parenting style is more likely to produce children who are bullies and victims of bullying than an emotionally warm environment with clear rules and supervision. Negative parenting includes obvious offenses like abuse and neglect, but also subtler forms of negative role modeling such as name-calling, threatening, manipulating and persistent teasing. Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and the way their parents talk about other people.

Home is where empathy is learned or not learned, and school is where the lessons learned at home get played out. If relationships at home are based on fear and intimidation, children are more likely to use the same tactics with their peers. School bullies and victims are significantly more likely to report being physically hurt by a family member or witnessing violence at home than children who had not been bullied. Kids who are involved in bullying are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are at higher risk for depression and suicide.

Bullying is a learned behaviour, mostly learned at home, and therefore bullying can be unlearned. The ideal solution is to educate parents on bullying, but that is easier said than done. If empathy is not learned at home, then we as educators have a duty to teach it. The reality is, bullies are hurting people who need to be taught that taking their hurt out on other people is unacceptable.

STOP A BULLY  is a registered national charity in Canada, and has an anti-bullying program. Their website shows a study done by the University of British Columbia, based on 490 students (half female, half male) in Grades 8-10 in a British Columbia city in 1999, that reveals
64% of kids had been bullied at school, and that 64% of students considered bullying a normal part of school life. What I found particularly disturbing is that 61-80% said bullies are often popular and enjoy high status among their peers. I have personally seen this to be true. Regarding the ‘on-line’ world, 1 in 5 Canadian Teens have witnessed online Bullying, so it is clearly a huge problem in our world, and teen bullies typically become adult bullies. There is no shortage of bullies in governments and in our work environments. It is time to do something to address the bullying problem our world has.

Dan Pearce,  American author and blogger, says “People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” How true that is!