A story in yesterday’s newspaper and a conversation with a doctoral student today has led me to this conclusion: Well-meaning people are making progress in confronting the student-bullying problem across the world…..and yet most of these professionals are not looking closely enough at the real problem to find the best solution.
The newspaper article, “Bullish on anti-bully business,” appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
One main point of the article is that some professionals are offering solutions in schools to those students who have been victimized. As one example, encouraging the bullied students to find ways to calmly stand their ground when being bullied can be a way of diffusing the bullying behavior. It seems to work.
When I talked with the graduate student today, she had just finished a masterful review of the bullying literature in the psychological sciences. She reported that a key research topic presently is to examine the coping strategies of those being bullied. Those who seek social support from friends and teachers, for example, cope better with the effects of bullying than do those victims who cry.
The newspaper article and the research documented by the graduate student converge on the same theme: Help the victim.
We continue to suggest the untried theme that may seem counter-intuitive today, but will appear obvious to many in the future: Yes, help the victim, but also help the one who is bullying to get rid of his or her anger, which is fueling the bullying.
Those who bully have been victimized by others. Help them to reduce their resentment toward those who were the victimizers and the bullying behavior will melt away. Why? Because wanting to harm others comes out of a position of profound woundedness within. Angry people are wounded people and angry, wounded people are the ones who lash out at others, even when these “others” did nothing whatsoever to provoke the verbal or physical attack.
We point principals, teachers, and parents to our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program, intended to melt that anger in the one who bullies…..so that victims are no longer victims…..because the one bullying has no need any more to throw his wounds onto others. Forgiveness heals those wounds.
It is time.
A 14-year-old Georgia girl contemplated suicide because of the intensive and persistent bullying she received at school. Her ears were different. It was enough to lead to bullying and to profound abuse of this innocent victim. ABC News reported on this bullied teen story.
The girl qualified for plastic surgery from a foundation that helps children with birth defects. The cost? About $40,000, and it did give her a new image. It did give her more confidence. The bullying is likely to stop. She has forgiven….it seems with some residual anger, but that is understandable because forgiveness takes time.
We at the International Forgiveness Institute surely do not oppose the plastic surgery as one solution to a horrendous bullying problem, but we would like to take this time to proclaim—as loudly and as persistently across the globe as we can—this message: “The primary solution to the bullying is to get to the heart of the anger inside those who bully.” Most of those who bully have been bullied, and not necessarily in school as the first experience.
Consider an analogy. Suppose we are in the film, The Time Machine, in which the Morlocks are continually bullying the more gentle Eloi. The Morlocks kidnap some of the Eloi at random and cannibalize them. What if our first line of defense was to go into the cave, find the captured Eloi, and release them? While this is well and good, it misses this critical point: We have not gotten to the heart of this problem, which is the hearts of the Morlocks who see the Eloi as fresh meat. We have to change the hearts of the Morlocks so that they see the Eloi, not as fresh meat, but as precious persons, special, unique, and irreplaceable. And this takes time….lots of time…. to change hearts in this way. It takes practice in forgiving those who have abused them so that they begin to “see with new eyes” the true humanity in others, all others, even those who are now seen as fresh meat.
We at the International Forgiveness Institute have a curriculum to help those who are angry, who are abusive, who see others as fresh meat. It is a new Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Curriculum available in our store. This 8-lesson program is intended to focus on the anger inside of the one who bullies, to understand that anger, fix it through forgiveness, and then use these insights to encourage those who bully to now use this surgery-of-their-angry-hearts for good in the world, specifically toward those on whom they have been displacing their toxic anger.
Plastic surgery? OK. Surgery of the angry heart? Yes, without question…and the sooner the better in every school in the world.
Bullying has become a national epidemic in the United States. One website claims that 50% of students will be bullied at one time or another in school.
UNICEF has included bullying as a worldwide problem which needs protective solutions for children (see page 17 in particular).
We surely must take precautions such as: letting students know that they must not tolerate bullying, report such incidences, and take necessary precautions to stay safe.
There are many websites dealing with this growing problem. For example, “Kidscape” encourages parents to confront their own child’s behavior if he or she is showing a pattern of bullying. The parent is to acknowledge the actions as inappropriate and then to reward instances of positive behavior.
Bullying UK also offers advice to parents and schools such as: set clear discipline standards, be sure that all students and staff know that bullying is unacceptable, and punish appropriately when necessary. All of the advice is sound and worthy of attention.
We would like to suggest that a key element not being addressed is this: How can we eliminate the fury within those who show bullying behavior? The answers are rare on-line. We strongly suggest that programs which center on bullying behavior take one step away from the actual behavior and treat the rage.
How might this happen? First, a trained professional should sit down with the student showing the bullying behavior and ask: What in your life has made you angry, very angry?
Listen carefully to the story for it might surprise you. In all likelihood, this student has been bullied by others at some time in his or her life. He or she is now displacing that pent-up rage onto unsuspecting victims.
Acknowledge that he or she has been treated unfairly. This might seem ironic because it is this student who treats others unfairly. Yet, in all likelihood this is stemming from being treated unfairly in the past.
Be slow, deliberate, and repetitive in the following exercises: Help the student to see that others and the self have inherent worth. This is likely to take time because the student who bullies does not see such worth in others whom he or she abuses. The student in all likelihood has low self-esteem, from past unfair treatment, and so may not see the self as worthy of much at all. The forgiveness curriculum guides offer many opportunities to examine this important feature of inherent worth.
Regarding this theme of teaching inherent worth, start with story characters. Show the student how some story characters are treated unfairly and then begin to see the inherent worth in those who have been unjust to that story character. Then turn to the student’s own experiences of some less-serious offenses against him or her. Again, acknowledge the unfair treatment and ask: Does the person who hurt you have inherent worth? Work up to the bigger issues of injustice in the student’s life, after he or she gets used to thinking in this way: All people have inherent worth.
Finally, try some legal pardon or mercy in school with one who bullies. In other words, if there is a deserved punishment awaiting the student for inappropriate behavior, reduce the punishment or eliminate it altogether. Make sure the student understands that you and the school just had mercy on him/her. The student’s task is now to go and do likewise: to have mercy on those whom he/she has abused in the past.
It is time to place forgiveness at the heart of the school’s bullying problems.
It was reported in the Huffington Post that a student who shot five other students at Chardon High School in Ohio yesterday had been bullied in the past by others. Full story here.
Being bullied, of course, in no way condones murder. At the same time, we need to be more aware of this silent torture that students undergo in being bullied. It is possible that if he could have begun forgiving those who had hurt him, he would not have turned that rage onto others.
The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. recommends two kinds of forgiveness interventions in schools:
1) For those who have been bullied in schools so that their anger will not turn to rage, depression, or even self-hatred. We were talking with a student from Korea recently and she related to us that there are many suicides in Korea by those who have been bullied in school.
2) For those who bully in school. These students usually have been treated cruelly by others (outside of school or in school) and this is one reason why they bully. If they can forgive those who have been deeply unjust to them, their motivation to bully will reduce or be eliminated.