Why Talking About Bullying Doesn’t Work

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that
we belong to each other.” – Mother Theresa

When I was younger, I used to get bullied quite a bit. In elementary school I was taller than most, bigger than many. I stuck out. And when you stick out, you become a target. And it sucked. But there wasn’t much I could do to stop it. I told one of the moms on the playground that these kids were making fun of me and I wish they’d stop and she said I should “grow a thicker skin.”

I was 8 years old.

Flash forward a few years and here we are. We see anti-bullying campaigns left and right. Too many teenagers have decided they couldn’t stand being bullied and so they decided it would be better to be dead than alive, and they killed themselves. It’s tragic. So we keep talking about bullying. We tell teenagers they shouldn’t be bullies. We also tell them that if they’re being bullied, the solution to that problem is to tell an adult. But here’s the problem…

Nobody uses the term “bully” inside a high school.

In the high school social setting, nobody uses the term bully and bullied. Once someone is tagged with that label, they stick out. And when you stick out, you become a target. No matter what people do, one thing they will refuse to accept is the title of bully. Listen to a high schooler talk about all the “drama” going on in their school day. Often times it’ll be trivialized. As in, “Oh don’t worry about that. It’s just some drama.”

By using the term “drama” the people involved are exempt from moving up or down the social ladder as would surely happen if they were stuck with the label “bully” or “bullied”.

This is why all kinds of anti-bullying efforts don’t work. Nobody is willing to stop being something that nobody will own up to being in the first place. You can tell me to stop being a bully all you want, but if I don’t see myself as a bully, your pleas will fall on deaf ears. This is why anti-bullying doesn’t work.

Instead…

Don’t focus on what people shouldn’t be. Focus on what they should be.

Instead of telling people to not be a bully, it would be much more effective to teach respect. Mother Theresa was once asked why she never participates in anti-war rallies. Her response was telling. She said she would keep her promise to never participate in an anti-war rally, but as soon as someone hosted a pro-peace rally, she’d be the first to sign up. It’s an interesting way to tilt the conversation.

Another contributor to this conversation was the “It Gets Better” campaign. Check this link out for more info about that campaign. It is specifically geared toward GLBTQ youth who have been/are being bullied. The more I thought about “It Gets Better”, I liked the initiative, but something was lacking. It essentially tells people who are being bullied to weather the storm and trust that it gets better. That doesn’t sit well with me.

Enter the Make It Better project. This is the “pro-peace” alternative to It Gets Better’s “anti-war” stance. Don’t get me wrong, both campaigns have great goals and strategies to work toward. But there’s a disconnect.

Instead of going back and forth on the topic of bullying, why don’t we tackle these “dramatic” situations, name what is actually happening, and then promote a move toward empathy and compassion? Is this overly-simplistic? Perhaps. But when we are so dead set against bullying, we miss out on all the things we can be encouraging and promoting in our schools, churches, and neighborhoods.

Talking about bullying doesn’t work because nobody recognizes their behavior [or identity for that matter] as falling in line with the “bully” or “bullied”. We need to empower people to speak out and name what is happening in their own experience before it’s too late.

It might also be helpful for adults to abolish the suggestion to “grow a thicker skin”. But that might just be a personal preference.

Cheers,
Eric

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Music to Get Through a Bad Week

It’s been a long week. I haven’t slept much. My mind has been racing on a lot of different tracks. I’ve felt discouraged, beat down, unworthy, unable, and in most ways just pretty crappy. Some things I had hoped would turn out one way didn’t. Some things I hoped would go well went pretty terribly.

Anybody else with me? Do you ever have weeks like this?

Whenever I have weeks like this, I often turn to music. It’s fairly effective in two things. Music either 1) shifts my perspective to focus on more positive things or 2) gives me a 35,000 foot view of my life to realize this isn’t the end of the world.

This song has really helped me out a lot this week. It’s a fairly old song (old like 2005 or so). But I’ll post the song and then the lyrics underneath. I hope if you’ve had a week like me, this song helps.

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Pull the hair back from your eyes 
Let the people see your pretty face
Try not to say anything weird

Save your questions without answers
‘Til your old enough to know that things ain’t as they appear

Before you go out in the sun
Cover your skin and don’t get burned
Beware the cancer, it might kill you when you’re old

Be first in line, raise your hand
Remember everything you hear
And playing in the rain is worth catching cold

Sooner or later
We’ll be lookin’ back on everything
And we’ll laugh about it like we knew what all was happening
And someday you might listen to what people have to say
Now you learn the hard way

We only want what’s best for you
That’s why we tell you what to do
And nevermind if nothing makes sense

‘Cause it all works out in the end
You’re just like us without a friend
But you can build a privacy fence

Sooner or later
We’ll be lookin’ back on everything
And we’ll laugh about it like we knew what all was happening
And someday you might listen to what people have to say
Now you learn the hard way

Some things you have to learn them all on your own
You can’t rely on anybody else
Or the point of view of a source unknown
If it feels good and sounds nice
Then it’s your choice, don’t doubt yourself
Don’t even think twice

Pull the hair back from your eyes
Let the people see your pretty face
You know they like it when you smile
Find a reason to smile

Try not to focus on yourself
Share that love with someone else
Don’t let the bitters bring you down
Don’t let anything bring you down

Sooner or later
We’ll be lookin’ back on everything
And we’ll laugh about it like we knew what all was happening
And someday you might listen to what people have to say
Now you learn the hard way

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I hope you enjoyed that song as much as I do. And I hope it helps shift your perspective a little. I know it does that for me.

What songs help you get through bad weeks or give you encouragement? Leave them in the comments if you have any.

Cheers,
Eric

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