The Problem with the Anti-bullying Bandwagon

Miss Blackflag via Flickr CC

“If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!” –Brene Brown

The anti-bullying movement is certainly well intentioned.  There is no denying that.  My problem with the anti-bullying parade of legislation, media stories and programming is that there is a self-satisfied bragging about it without any self-reflection.  Look at all the things we are doing to stop bullying!

This post was motivated by a Facebook post from one of my dear friends, who teaches in the NYC Schools.  She told a story about talking with kids in her class.  She created a space where she could safely challenge the kids and they could respond honestly and share stories not only of being bullied; but, occasions when they have actually done the bullying.  Her post responded in a litany of folks congratulating her which is well deserved; but, when I tried to steer the discussion towards how we could model the behavior we expect to see, nobody took the bait and it got me thinking.  My friend mentioned how some of the students who were the biggest anti-bullying advocates were actually bullies.

New Jersey now has the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country and Governor Christie has been quick to congratulate himself for its passage.  But, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that New Jersey is also a state which has a bully for a governor.  Do you think that the children of New Jersey would be better served by the anti-bullying legislation or by adults in their lives who do not bully, judge, gossip and instead choose to cultivate an atmosphere of kindness and compassion?

I think it is safe to say, without referencing scholarly articles, that bullying is a learned behavior.  I’ve seen gossip and bullying in every workplace I’ve worked in.  My school teacher partner comes home and tells me some disturbing stories about teacher and administrator behavior.  In Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: popularity, quirk theory, and why outsiders thrive after high school, author Alexandra Robbins follows several students around at schools in different parts of the country.  In one instance, the reader is a few chapters into the book before you realize that the bullied, weird girl who suffers at the hands of a mean girl and her clique is actually a teacher and is being bullied by other teachers.  Where do you think kids are learning bullying behavior?  From us.    We have created and sustain a bully culture.

It’s all well and good to discourage bullying in children; but, what are we doing about the bully inside of us?  Oh, sure, I’ve seen articles and books about bully coworkers and bosses; but, they are almost exclusively about extreme bullies and fail to capture the subtle, everyday bully.  Ask yourself the following:

  1. Do you gossip?  Do you listen to or spread stories about coworkers, neighbors, or other people in your life?
  2. Do you exclude a person from group activities?  Do you participate in group activities after work when one or more coworkers have purposefully been excluded from invitation?
  3. Do you go home and tell stories about your coworkers that include judging or name calling?
  4. Do you make fun of people in front of your children?
  5. Do you tell mean jokes?  Do you crack jokes about coworkers?
  6. Do you tease any of your coworkers?  Your friends?  Your family?  Any other people in your life?

Are you now thinking, this doesn’t pertain to me, I’m nice, I’m kind.  What are you doing right now to cultivate compassion and empathy in yourself?  Oh, I agree that we need Anti-bullying campaigns and programming; but, it starts from within.  It’s not easy.  People piss us off and do stupid things and sometimes people make themselves irresistible targets.  The library field is saturated with odd folks and sometimes it is difficult to refrain from making an easy joke about a person’s style, personality quirks, weird hobbies or social awkwardness.  I know this because there have been too many times when I have not refrained and contributed to a culture that ultimately I wanted to see disappear.  Can you go one day without talking about one coworker in front of other coworkers?

“What we know matters but who we are matters more.” ― Brené Brown,

My friend, the teacher in the story at the top of this post, is one of those rare folks who is kind and thoughtful and nurturing.  She is not perfect.  None of us are perfect.  But, she gently taught those kids something that day.  She taught them something about assessing their own behavior and how it affects others.  And she gave them a safe place to talk about it.

Do that for yourself.  Is there something in your own behavior that needs to be changed.  Do you act towards others as you wish to be acted upon?  Do you have someone in your life that can be your sounding board?  I have a few people in my life that I trust and feel safe telling things that make me deeply vulnerable.  These are people who are also on a similar path; so, I know that they understand that I don’t want some behavior I’m describing to be easily condoned with a “that’s okay” response.  They also don’t judge or use the opportunity to feel superior.  They are my partners in this quest.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”  –Brene Brown

What kind of person do you want to be?  Do you want to be the person people feel comfortable gossiping with or the person people trust NOT to gossip?  Do you want to be the person that makes harsh judgments about people because of appearance or some other detail about their lives? Do you want to be the person who is kind to a person even when they annoy you because you are capable of EMPATHY?  Who erases the annoyance with a gentle attitude?

  • Little by little remove the bully from your heart and mind.
  • Surround yourself with people who want to be better.
  • The Golden Rule is made of awesome.  If it is the only rule you follow, you will lead a good life.
  • Commit.  (I’m yelling, arms raised to the sky)  Commit!!  Commit to the person you wish to be in the world.

Commit to kindness.  Commit to opening your heart.  As you move through this world, leave love in your wake.

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