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

A Great New Yorker Piece on Bullying & Teen Suicide

In the latest New Yorker there’s a great article about a very sad situation. It’s about a Rutgers freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge after being harassed by his roommate and another friend. It’s a tragic story, but I won’t sum it up here. I wanted to share a paragraph from this article that represents some of the best stuff I’ve read to come out of research around adolescent relationships and bullying. Again, the full article can be found here.

A recent paper by two scholars of new media—Alice Marwick, of Harvard, and Danah Boyd, of N.Y.U.—describes the tendency of teen-age girls to categorize even quite aggressive behavior as mere “drama,” in the same category as online gossip and jokes. Policy-makers and television anchors talk of “bullies” and the “bullied,” but teen-agers tend not to, in part because “teens gain little by identifying as either,” the scholars explain. “Social stigmas prevent teens from recognizing that they are weak, and few people are willing to admit that they purposefully hurt others. . . . ‘Drama’ also implies something not to be taken seriously, to be risen above, while the adult-defined ‘bullying’ connotes childishness or immaturity to teenagers.

How is “drama” defined for a new generation of young adults? It seems to me that young adults use the term “drama” almost as a way to rationalize some of the horrible things that are either said about them or done to them.

The key question I’d like to see from this study is… What can be done about this? How can we join adolescents in moving forward through the “drama” and into a meaningful life?

These are the million dollar questions of the people, like us, who work with youth. I wish I had those answers.

Cheers,
Eric

Distinguishing the Political from the Spiritual

Phyllis Tickle is absolutely wonderful. She has a wonderful little talk about how we live as spiritual beings in a political world. Her words are so poignant for leaders and believers of all walks. It’s also a good reminder for people like me who tend to be agitated by the spirituality of politics (or vice versa). It’s about 6 minutes long, but I would encourage you to watch all of it and listen to some of her stories. They’re very powerful.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/29372857]

 

Did anything she say stick out to you? What did you think of what she had to say?

If you’re interesting in checking out any of her books (which I would highly recommend)… I’ll post links to three of my favorites.

       

Cheers,
Eric

4 (of many) Things Wrong with Rick Perry’s Abysmal Ad

Within the last week, Rick Perry has managed to stir up a lot of controversy with a new ad he has released declaring war on Obama’s war on religion. There are a number of things wrong with Perry’s ad, and I am here to point out a few of them. Just so we’re on the same page Here’s a full text of the ad, just to catch people up. (I’m posting the text of the ad because I refuse to post a video link of that garbage on this site.)

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.

As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.

Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.

I’m Rick Perry and I approve this message.

Here we go.

1) We need to stop declaring wars on emotions and concepts. Obama doesn’t have a war on religion. He’s the Muslim with the controversial United Church of Christ pastor, remember? That’s like doubly religious. Wars have real enemies. The wars on religion, drugs, terror etc are insane because their target is amorphous. In my opinion, wars are the last thing Perry will ever look to end. Which brings us to…

2) There’s something wrong in this country when gays CAN’T serve openly in the military. The object of someone’s sexual desire does not hinder their ability to serve and protect this country. It’s like saying all left-handed can’t serve in the military (not a perfect metaphor, but close). In the end, when you’re in battle, it just does not matter who the other person goes home to at night.

3) Your kids can pray in schools all they want. This whole thing about how kids can’t pray in school is absurd. Of course they can. The law you are thinking of simply states that teachers are not allowed to lead the class in prayers. Which is fine, and do you know why? Because…

4) This whole thing is about respect. You know what doesn’t contribute to the overall respect for people? When a candidate who is supposed to be a leader, spouts a philosophy of “us vs. them” politics which fundamentally divides. As someone who is going to be a pastor, I whole-heartedly agree that faith can make us strong. But faith that is belligerent in the face of such blatant disrespect makes us all weaker.

So Mr. Perry, Governor Perry… do us all a favor and leave. Ride off into the night. Tuck your tail between your legs and get out of public discourse. Because what you’re saying is not good for anyone. Much less Christians.

Cheers,
Eric

Also… how funny is it that he’s wearing the same jacket as Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain”? You can’t make it up.

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