By Randy Pierce
Reflecting on the meaning of Valentine’s Day, I think of the power our hearts have to share kindness. Kindness is one of the qualities I most respect. I think it is an excellent means of addressing the harsh reality of one of the principle concerns I am often asked about during my presentations at schools: bullying.
My feelings on how to deal with bullying start with this quote from Mahatma Gandhi:
“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”
Many of us slip into a little cruelty now and then–whether intentional, or the result of a moment of weakness from inattentiveness, anger, frustration, exhaustion, or our own hurt feelings. Hopefully we try to be aware of our actions and their impact upon others in order to stop cruelty before it progresses too far.
This type of behavior does not necessarily make someone a bully. Labeling people can be dangerous and potentially inaccurate; it’s people’s actions that should always be viewed as inappropriate, more than the individual him/herself.
Bullying behavior is acting deliberately cruel to others on a regular basis. So our first challenge as a society is to prevent people from making the deliberate choice to be cruel or mean again and again. We all need to take every opportunity to encourage and support positive choices and demonstrate the value of kindness while not accepting, ignoring, or participating in the cruelty.
Despite our efforts to build more positive communities, we are likely to encounter people who frequently participate in bullying behavior. We need to understand that someone’s bad choice to be deliberately cruel reflects more on themselves than on us.
Sometimes we can be extra sensitive to cruel words because we perceive a grain of truth in them. The sad reality is that sometimes our hurt reactions can lead us to participate in a mob mentality where we join in the cruelty.
Some join in the cruelty to protect themselves from being attacked. Some have a shortage of self-confidence or a misguided sense of what makes a good role model. These feelings of self-doubt or self-protection can intensify the feeling of victimization and only makes their defensive reactions to the bullying worse. Victims of bullying should realize that when others react to their bullying by becoming bullies themselves, it doesn’t make the abuse more valid or “true”–it only means that more people are making the poor choice to be cruel.
The best way to fight bullying and reduce the cruelty is to prepare ourselves and those we love with defenses and appropriate responses. This helps encourage emotional health in ourselves and our community. The more we build self-confidence, the less impact bullying can have.
I believe kindness is the key to this resilience. When we’ve received enough kindness in our lives, it boosts our own defenses. When when we reach out to others in kindness, studies suggest that it helps both us and the recipients of our kindness to be more resistant to the impact of bullying.
An active participation in a diverse set of interests helps, too. The more activities we enjoy and the more points of our lives we can create from which we can define our world, the less a negative impact from a single source will have upon us.
To use a football metaphor, encouraging kindness and a diversity of interests build a healthy defense, and doing these things proactively builds a positive offense!
As a caring community, we can protect others from becoming victims by being attentive when we listen to and interact with those around us. Supportive kindness can help ensure the best preparedness. We should also encourage victims to talk about bullying–no one should ever think they have to bear the horror of bullying in silence. There are times when it can be addressed directly with bullies and times when that approach may only worsen the situation. Each unique assessment should consider a victim’s valid concerns, and hopefully offer multiple options (with an evaluation of the likely results of each option). This way, we can help victims of bullying to feel empowered and ultimately have the confidence that the best solution can be reached.
All of this begins with each one of us being mindful, aware, and kind in all of our interactions. We as a community need to lead by example and together we can help fight bullying from its roots and up.