Pamela Chan, Editorial/BCFamily.ca

Stand Up 2 Bullying

Love is Louder Than Bullying

On Pink Shirt Day, what comes to mind when you think about bullying? It’s a busy day in schools as the topic is addressed and unpacked but we know that bullying takes place in the workplace and other environments.  When we look at the tight definition of bullying, we can see that on a broader level we also need to talk about the importance of kindness in our society and the impact of unkindness.  How do we create and support a kind – indeed a kinder – world?

Have you ever had a conversation with a parent that runs something like this?

It’s terrible what happened to Person X (mentioned in the news).  But think about it.  That person’s situation was unique because… XYZ.  That could never happen to my child.

There are those who consider bullying to be a topic that affects other people.

Maybe that’s true.  Maybe it’s not.  Even if that parent’s child hasn’t been affected by bullying, undoubtedly there is at least one person in that child’s midst who does know what bullying feels like.  Maybe that parent’s child is a bystander as other people experience bullying or other acts unkindness.

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Bullying is defined as being intentional, repetitive, hurtful and operating within a relationship where this is an imbalance of power. Some people do not feel that bullying needs to be a repetitive act.  In one poll finding, 1 in 12 children are reported to have experienced cyber bullying online. Another finding shows that 59% of adults stated that they had been bullied during their childhood and teenage years. 45% reported that there was a lasting effect from this bullying that continued in their adult years.

Outside of circumstances involving bullying, how many more experienced unkind circumstances that fall outside the definition of bullying?

Could we argue that unkindness towards others is the undiscussed elephant in the room?

There are non-repetitive acts of unkindness, meanness and other unpleasant, uncomfortable, upsetting and/or intimidating types of interactions that affect all people – including our own children.

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Kindness.

Kindness matters and we don’t talk about it enough.

We often think about whether or not people are kind to us.  We notice the unkindness of friends and strangers as soon as it happens. Hopefully we also monitor our level of kindness towards others in terms of our words and actions.

We all fail at some time or another but we can only strive to function the best that we can as we interact with others.

Whether it’s a situation that involves bullying or a circumstance when someone has experienced unkindness, what support can a bystander (a friend, family member of colleague) provide to alleviate the situation? Do we notice how other people encounter and experience unkindness?

Have you ever felt wronged by someone else yet bolstered by the supportive words of a friend?  Your friend listened as you spoke about your experience and offered supportive feedback.  Perhaps you even received some thoughtful advice.

Offering support to others who have been on the sharp, receiving end of an act of unkindness can make a world of difference.

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Some time ago I was discussing a topic that is related to my professional activities.  Unexpectedly I found myself at the receiving end of a random act of unkindness. I was grilled by someone we’ll call Sam about my feelings on a personal topic completely unrelated to the discussion at hand.  I explained my personal – and in my opinion – reasonable perspective.  On what basis can I make this claim?  My outlook and approach related to this topic was mentioned in a wedding speech about me.  A room full of intelligent, thoughtful people responded enthusiastically.   To Sam – who holds a unique and, I would argue, conflicted perspective about the topic – my explanation came across as elitist.  This was the message that I received before Sam proceeded to immediately cut off ties with me on social media and block my account. I don’t have an up-to-date E-mail or mailing address for this person.  After decades of communication, I had effectively been cut off from any further communication with Sam. What shocked me was that over the years I had gone out of my way to show Sam kindness in my actions/efforts and words. There are many people who can speak to this fact. Both in words and action, I felt that Sam had been unkind. Period.

What weighed on my mind even more was the noticeable silence from our mutual friends.

Not one person came forward to say “I’m sorry to see how you were treated”.

When I did bring the topic up with a few select friends there was empathy, which I appreciated, but nobody reached out to me.

The loud silence.

Not speaking up isn’t an act of unkindness; however, if we want to promote kindness in the world we need to, at a minimum, support others when things get ugly.

This silence weighs heavily on a person  and undoubtedly even more so on youth trying to navigate the complex social pathways that are complicated by new ways of communicating via two dimensional technology.

When we talk about bullying it’s easy to dismiss this topic as an extreme circumstance that affects other people – other people’s children.  Bullying can be experienced in many different ways for multiple reasons.  Surrounding that environment – in a broader sense – there are many other instances of acts of unkindness and lack of consideration that can make children feel side lined and deeply unhappy.

A group of grade 8 students at H.D. Stafford Middle School Grade 8 in Langley, BC have created a video that looks at the effects of bullying in a school environment.  How do the words, actions, feelings of exclusion and silence children experience make them feel trapped?  What can others do to change that student’s experience?  Mentally add in all the other times that any student might experience unkindness and you can see the cumulative effects of living in a society where kindness and empathy isn’t championed. Instead we buy into and believe the carefully crafted and curated images that each of us project to the world via our online digital trail.  These personas can hide the unkindness that some people show towards others.  This helps them to avoid being held accountable for their words and deeds.

Here in British Columbia we support Pink Shirt Day, other anti-bullying initiatives and programmes such as Roots of Empathy.  We are shoring up our foundations – each and every one of us.  We’re against bullying and we’re rooting for kindness and empathy – not just on Pink Shirt Day but on every day of the year.

Related

Grade 8 Langley students produce powerful bullying video

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