It is worrisome to continue to hear stories of bullying amongst children. What would it take to foster gentleness of spirit, so that harming another person would be inconceivable?
I remember once participating in a workshop in Hawaii. The participants were sitting in a large circle on the floor. Suddenly I noticed a huge insect crawling around in the middle of the circle. I had never seen a cockroach before but had certainly heard nasty things about them. Never having seen one, I nonetheless had formed a biased view: I did not like them. For some reason, I was also afraid of them. Since they were ‘bad,’ I naturally assumed it would be okay to kill them. (Butterflies and ladybugs were an entirely different matter)
I expected that someone would jump up and stomp on the ugly thing, and relieve the horror of those of us who lived sheltered lives far from the tropics. Instead, a young man slowly got up, walked over to the beastly thing, cupped his hands and gently carried the creature outside, releasing it to resume its journey. That gesture alone was worth the price of the workshop. In fact, I scarcely remember the rest of the weekend. I was so astounded by what I considered an extreme act of kindness.
In that instant, I was shamefully aware of an aspect of my being that was judgmental and violent! In my world at that time, my initial response would have been considered ‘normal’ and ‘natural.’ No one would have given a second thought to my callous and demeaning attitude towards cockroaches in general, and that one in particular. That fact that it was not bothering me, was in no way a threat to me, and was not even in my personal space, but rather in a public setting made no difference. It was offensive to me by its very existence, and any hostile action, therefore, seemed justified.
Nothing could have affected me more strongly than observing a fellow human modeling an entirely different perspective. Bullying amongst children occurs in much the same way. Another child is deemed ‘less than,’ and so it is ‘okay’ to treat him or her rudely, disrespectfully, even violently. Children do this for only one reason. It is what they have learned from adults. Sadly, sometimes it is the way they are treated by their parents daily.
A lot of emotional bullying goes on in the name of discipline. Even if they are not handled in this way, they hear parents putting down other people: relatives, neighbors, co-workers. They learn to be judgmental at home. They take that habit to school, where other children have learned the same, and they begin to judge one another. They hear the teacher berating their classmates, so it is not surprising they do not think what they are doing is wrong. They perceive their judgments to be facts just as I did with the cockroach.
It is not difficult to look at our world today and see the results of groups of people making enemies of other groups. This is pervasive: on the playground, on the streets, and even in the office. Preaching and reciting affirmations will not change this. It is first necessary for adults to model tolerance, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Next, both parents and teachers must establish zero tolerance policies for verbal abuse in the home and the school. No, it is not even okay for siblings to verbally abuse one another. If it is allowed in the home, it will be carried to the playground and the classroom. Perhaps this is the level at which any genuine anti-war movement needs to begin. Where gentleness of spirit is fostered, with the sense that to harm another is inconceivable, there could only be peace.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning Psychotherapist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books or cds, visit www.gwen.ca and ‘Like’ Gwen on FaceBook for daily inspiration