love thursday: on bullying, modeling behaviour and making it stop

A serious subject today, folks. 

Here in the United States, there's recently been a spate of news items about kids -- kids! -- who have committed suicide because they were victims of bullying

Needless to say, like so many others, I'm horrified.  

I'm horrified that kids would do this to other kids.  I'm horrified that adults seemed to either ignore all the signs or helplessly looked on, not knowing what to do.  I try to comfort myself with the thought that "my kid would never do this," but I suspect that the parents of these bullies might have believed the same of their children.  And so, I've been sitting here stewing, struggling with what to do.

What do we do?

Then yesterday, I was pointed to a post by Dan Pearce of Single Dad Laughing, called "Memoirs of a Bullied Kid." In addition to his heartbreakingly honest description of his childhood, at the end of it, he lists all the things that we can do to help change the nasty spiral of bullying.  It's beautifully written, and far better than I could have said it myself.  Please, I strongly suggest you go check it out.

But there's more.

First of all, I definitely believe that Dan is right -- love is absolutely the answer -- for both the bullied and the bullies.  I totally get that, and I give him tons of credit for writing and sharing his thoughts freely about this.  But I also and further think that all the talking with and checking in and paying attention to and loving our kids that we can do isn't enough if we don't also model the behaviour that we expect from them

Obviously, I'm not talking about just avoiding picking on someone weaker than we are -- I hope to God that I don't need to tell anyone that.  But I'm talking about things that we can do that actually model the type of people we want our children to be.  There are, of course, tons of ways to do this, but three immediately come to mind:

1.  We can consider what we might be doing ourselves that could be perceived as bullying behaviour.  I think it's interesting that we talk about bullying as a behaviour that needs to be dealt with in children, but I think that we adults can be guilty of bullying behaviour as well.  It happens all the time on the web, of course, when someone belittles a person under the guise of "freedom of speech," or "they're famous/popular/have a blog/have a Facebook page, so they're sort of asking for it."  But it happens in day-to-day life, too:  for example, I can think of several occasions in adulthood where I've felt excluded or judged by a single person or a group of people, even in public -- and I suspect those people would've never thought of themselves as bullies (even though it obviously stung enough that I am able to recall the episodes now, as I type).

Now, I am not so naive to believe that I haven't ever been guilty of making someone else feel the same way.  But this is sort of my point:  since we're all capable of doing things which might hurt other people, even publicly, I think when it comes to modeling behaviour, it makes sense for us to do a bit of introspection, and be mindful of how we treat our friends and acquaintances, especially in public.

And while we're on that subject...

2.  We can try to be kinder to everyone we meet.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but I'm not talking about just refraining from being rude, or making sure to toss a thank-you over our shoulders as we grab our lattes from the coffee barista while we rush out the door.  I'm not even talking about making sure we do some elaborate random act of kindess for everyone we encounter.  But I am talking about being actually and intentionally kind to people.  Saying please and thank you, sure, but with a smile, every time.  Actually looking into the eyes of the people we meet, even at the check-out counter as the person behind it hands us our change.  Looking up and smiling our thanks to the waiter (again, intentionally looking him in the eyes), as he refills our water glasses.

I've come to believe that simply looking at people in the eyes with a smile conveys a message of respect that is brief, unspoken, but meaningful.  And I think kids -- everyone, really -- pick up on it when we do it.  It is one very simple, very brief way to teach our kids, and all those around us, that everyone is worthy of respect -- regardless of how they look, what race their are, what gender they are, how old or young they are, or how they're dressed.

(It's the looking-in-the-eyes that's key.)

3.  Maybe it's time to consider a media diet.  It occurs to me that we can talk to the kids we love all day long about why bullying is bad, but as long as we're inundated with reality shows and hidden-camera television shows and "funniest home videos" and TV contests where shaming the contestants is all part of the "fun," it becomes a much harder conversation to explain the difference between "bullying" and "entertainment."   But frankly, I think it's a conversation worth having -- both with our kids and with ourselves.

And finally, through all of this, I can't help but think of that awesome quote by Kurt Vonnegut, in his book, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, where the protagonist says this to newborn twins:

"Hello, babies.  Welcome to Earth.  It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  It's round and wet and crowded.  At the outside, babies, you've got about a hundred years here.  There's only one rule that I know of, babies -- God damn it, you've got to be kind."

And on that note, have a great Love Thursday, everyone. 

Go be kind.

Image:  Photographed with Nikon D300, 50mm lens.


Song: We're going to be friends by The White Stripes