Do you believe we can eliminate bullying?

Want to stop bullyingI am often amazed when talking with people. Many don’t understand when they have experienced bullying behavior as a target or as a bystander.  They seem to think that unless someone touches them – with a punch, a hit, a trip, a poke – that there hasn’t been any bullying behavior.  They seem somewhat amazed that there are other kinds of bullying.

Perhaps some of the confusion is that harsh language, including name-calling and slamming, tongue in cheek humor, and offensive language have been normalized as part of our culture.  The fact that such behavior is verbal bullying seems new to many of them.  Although they may, or may not, agree that it is not nice, they accept it as part of what people “just do.”  I’m pretty sure that’s not what the Nike commercial was all about.

Then there’s the art, particularly of young women, of socially shunning and/or blackballing individuals.  It seems accepted as the “norm” in middle and high school.  Kids and adults seem to think it is just part of how the whole scene operates, that this relational bullying is okay.  After all, it’s how it was when I was in school, right?

It’s not something that seems isolated to youth, however. Watch social media and the reactions and comments that can rage when opinions aren’t shared or beliefs are challenged. It can get pretty ugly! The results include “unfriending” and door slamming.

Heck, I’ve been effectively “unfriended” when I’ve challenged and questioned legislators and authorities. The mere concept of not agreeing or asking questions seems to endanger relationships.

There are a thousand theories, and lots of research that supports each one of those theories (yes, I know I’m exaggerating), about how violence has permeated our culture; how video games, or violent movies have influenced young people to be more violent, calloused us to tolerate more violence, to expect more violence.  I gotta tell ya, I saw my fair share of it growing up too, it ain’t new.

Growing up, there were no car seats, seat belts, bicycle and motorcycle helmets, or special places designed for jumping bikes and skate boards.  And no rules or laws either.  In our evolution and wisdom, we have seen to it that such dangers are decreased for our children; that safety has been brought to the forefront of our minds; that “stupidity” has been minimized.  We have used technology and education to decrease the likelihood that people will be hurt.

So, what happened with bullying?  I don’t want to debate whether it is more frequent now than in the past.  Nor do I want to get caught in the controversy of “no tolerance” in schools.  I will save those things for later blogs.  What I want to point out is related to what is being done, and NOT done, to save people from the dire impacts of bullying, something I have no doubt can be eliminated.

If you have lost sight of the dire consequences of those who experience bullying, look at the statistics again.  Bullying increases the likelihood of absence from school and work, diagnosis of mental illness, abuse of drugs and alcohol, engagement in criminal activity and consequential arrests….   Beyond that a person is 9% more likely to die at their own hand as a result of bullying. I’m not sure what the stats are for those who die at the hand of another as a consequence of bullying.  Every 7 seconds another child is bullied. (I don’t have frequency stats on adults. If you know where they are let me know!)

I’m not making these up.  Look around at the statistics, the news stories, the Facebook stories…  The impacts are real, every day, and dire.  Chances are, bullying has touched your life through your own experience or that of your family or friends.

And what are we, the adults in charge and society at large, doing about it?  There are many calls within the anti-bullying community for education and awareness.   There are many “drive-by” experiences that are assemblies and trainings.  They are a single point experience that is designed as the pep-talk.  They are a GREAT starting point.

But let’s be real.  The actual mechanism to eliminate bullying involves WORK.  We have to shift paradigms, adopt new behaviors and expectations, and paint a new and better reality for the communities we live, go to school, and work in.

Right now it’s about strategies that read more like sage advice; “Listen to your children.”  “Provide good role models.”  “Monitor your child’s computer use.” “Tell your boss.” “Tell an adult.” “Tell.” “Tell.” “Tell.”

How’s that working for us?

Have you noticed the stories of those who kill themselves or others related to the impact of bullying? Virtually everyone knew they were being bullied; for years in most cases.

Telling isn’t the answer.

The bullying hasn’t stopped.  More is needed.  We need more tools in our toolboxes.  With new tools come new skills, habits, expectations, policies, and procedures (for reporting and rehabilitating).

We have to come together – to learn, to develop new tools, new paradigms, and new habits.  There has to be a commitment to the WORK it will take to begin to change a dysfunctional system; our dysfunctional system.  It requires we WORK together for a common vision.  A vision where bullying behavior – from childhood to adulthood – is the exception not the rule.

I don’t think it’s a pipe dream.  Difficult?  You bet.  But we’re up for the challenge – if WORK TOGETHER.

So what do you think, can we eliminate bullying?  Why or why not?  I look forward to your thoughts.