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Bullies: How You Treat People = WHO YOU ARE

For your reading pleasure today, we have a rant for and about BULLIES. Specifically, adult bullies who need to know better.

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Image via thinkinclusive.us

I’m incensed after reading an article about disgusting trollery cropping up among Ontario doctors, targeting other doctors with whom they disagree on their internal politics. Click on over if you’d like to bear witness to some truly heinous behaviour, some even with screen-capture as proof.

Why should I care about infighting among doctors? Is it even my business?

Yes, it is, and I should. And so should you. Because: we are a better species than this.

Not too long ago, I wrote about How Not To Be A Douchebag, prompted by some similarly obnoxious incidents perpetrated by a different swath of people. I feel pretty certain that the post was read only by non-douchebags, since this blog’s readership is traditionally a small number of lovely, civilized people.

Now, here I am again. It seems I need to look at a greater problem: not just your run-of-the-mill jerks, but highly educated expert jerks on the public payroll.

I’m upset about the doctor thing for several reasons:

  1. Doctors go through many, many years of school, and work with (and for) a wide variety of humans, with the goal of doing no harm. In this province, they even do specific training for empathy. How can you go through all that and still feel entitled to stab your colleagues in the back?
  2. The nature of a doctor’s job is extremely intimate and sensitive. If online bullying is acceptable practice to you, what other shockingly inappropriate actions are you justifying to yourself?
  3. I’m a teacher, one of those professions people LOVE to bully. I’ve learned first-hand that no matter how divisive an issue is, it is possible to have a respectful conversation. (3.b And that no matter how crucial or legitimate an issue is, there will be people who feel qualified to forego critical thought and spew crap all over it.)
  4. As with any profession, most doctors are doing their best to do a good job and be good people. When something like this blows up, it dishonours all of them. A big shame-paintbrush like this gets an awful lot of people messy.
  5. Although this current news piece will no doubt shortly fade from the public consciousness, it is not an isolated problem. The article states that abuse and bullying have been going on in the medical community for decades.

I guess that should be no surprise. Every field has its assholes. It’s just that there’s this thing called “Professionalism.” Medicine is one of the most highly-regarded professional fields in the world. Therefore, to be part of it, you are expected to be professional. (That part ain’t brain surgery, people.)

The biggest reason I’m mad at the doctor-bullies today is that, despite the brains and hard work required for them to be where they are, they have somehow skipped the lesson you’re supposed to learn in kindergarten, or even younger: BE KIND. In translation, this also means DON’T BE A JERK.

As both a teacher and a parent, I spend a lot of my life trying to help people under the age of twelve understand what it is to be a good person. There are millions of other teachers and parents out there doing the same thing.

And it is constant work, an endless slog. Kids are often mean to each other, both by accident and on purpose. It’s normal, a developmental process – but that’s not to say it’s okay. We don’t just let it slide. When we teach kids about treating other people as they’d like to be treated, we are explicitly instructing them in skills like empathy, politeness, advocacy, and rational conversation.

We discuss manners, even down to tone of voice. We talk about mediation and listening. We make it clear that it’s not acceptable to deliberately hurt other people, whether in person or online. It’s okay to disagree, it’s okay to express anger, but it’s not okay to be mean about it.

I often ask kids who are being mean to someone, “Are you a mean person?” They almost never believe themselves to be mean people. They must be reminded that if you do mean things, that makes you a mean person. You are what you do.

These are young children. Of course we have to help them learn these things. Part of developing as a human is to learn how to be what we intend. We all need help and reminders.

But really, is there any excuse at all for being a medical doctor who still calls people awful names? When can we expect adults to grow up, if not by this point in life? When might we expect one to dislodge one’s cranium from one’s anus?

Once more, with feeling: if you act hateful to people, that’s you. Being a hateful person.

Is that the person you meant to be?

To be honest, I’m not just talking about the field of medicine. My ire is directed at all the bullies, trolls, harassers, and intimidators who fall into the category of “adults.” It is TIME TO SHAPE UP. Can’t you see that the rest of us are working here?? That we are toiling every single day to be and teach examples of treating others with compassion and respect, and that you are unraveling our carefully-crafted lessons? In other words, in case you need some more familiar terminology, you are f*cking it up.

If you think children don’t notice your bad behaviour, you couldn’t be more wrong. They are all over the internet, seeing all kinds of things you didn’t intend them to see. They hear the words you say aloud and they see the way you treat people. Unless you live by yourself in a remote cave (without internet access), you are setting examples every day.

I’m not saying you have to be perfect. We all lose our temper sometimes. Most of us occasionally say things we regret, in the heat of the moment. But when it comes to online harassment, you have no “heat of the moment” defense. You deliberately typed every ugly word you used.

I don’t care how upset you are: as an ostensible grown-up, you need to express your anger in a mature and productive way.

I also don’t care how excellent you are at your job, or how prestigious your career is; it does not make you a superior human.

I have always been mystified by those who think it’s okay to treat others cruelly. And I don’t know why, but many people seem to think the internet is the place to give voice to their most repulsive selves. I have heard of and witnessed far too many examples of this recently. Full-grown people behaving more obnoxiously – and immaturely – than the worst schoolyard bullies. Feeling no need for reflection or self-examination, and no need to consider their actual audience.

That’s the thing even the most educated trolls seem – conveniently, and incredibly – to forget: the audience is real. Would you really call your co-worker a c*nt – to her face, in a roomful of your colleagues? Would you stand up in the staff lounge and announce that so-and-so should eat sh*t? Because that’s what a closed forum is.

And if you’re on a public comment forum, you’re essentially onstage. Picture yourself and your target sharing the spotlight in a grand auditorium filled with unseen crowds – they’re there, they’re listening, and you’ve taken the mike. What would you really say?

It worries me that so many bullies have been validated by the recently-elected American Prince of the Douche-Trolls. If you look at him and think admiringly, He has no filter and he’s proud of it! He stands for free tweets speech! That’s what the new era looks like!, please know that this is bullshit. He is not “telling it like it is.” He proudly embodies a lack of self-regulation, combined with a pitiable need for attention and the cowardice to choose the internet as his preferred medium.

You know the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will leave emotional scars that will affect my relationships and mental health for the rest of my life.”

Words are profoundly important. Especially online, we have the time and experience to make something of our words, to use their power to move our society forward. We have a responsibility to consider the words we use, and to make them reflect who we are.

You’re really going to pick those shabby, disgraceful words to express disagreement? You think they will make your point?

Actually, the most salient point you make, with words like those, is about you.

If you call yourself an adult and have not yet figured out how to disagree without being abusive, then you are an embarrassment to your peers. You should be ashamed of yourself. It’s time to join the civilized world and fix this.

Please and thank you.

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Calling for Love in the Age of Global Bullying

The dust is settling. We know it’s not just a bad dream. The unthinkable has come to pass. That Trump dude is now the US President-Elect… and I think I’ve figured out why.

I don’t mean why in terms of the Electoral College (which I make no claim to understand), or in terms of voter turnout (though there’s never been more strident proof that votes do count), or even in terms of the popularity of the two candidates.

Nope, I’m talking about the overarching, cosmic reason why Trump had to win. It’s because he and his supporters could not have reasonably handled a loss. Winning is their only chance to learn something.

My Hubbibi, in the golden days of Before the Election, used to say, “What’s he gonna do when he loses? He bases his whole life on being a winner! His head will implode,” and things to that effect. We know that the whole Trump side was completely prepared to learn nothing from losing, because they would bask in the vitriolic certainty that the system was rigged.

I don’t want to talk about Trump himself, or his supporters. We have all borne witness, for seemingly ever, to the kinds of ugliness they were zealously proud to broadcast and to validate in each other. But we can all envision the shape that ugliness would have taken, given “LOSING A RIGGED ELECTION” as a reason to explode. I’m confident that it would have been awful. That people would have reacted in deeply regrettable ways. And ol’ Donald would have kept on being himself.

Right now, great swathes of people around the globe are grieving about this. Little kids, even. Here in my town, lots of my students are talking about it, expressing desolation and worry. (One greeted me first thing in the morning with an only-slightly-joking “Mme Stephens! We’re all gonna die!!”) None of us, anywhere, is unaffected by this.

It’s painful mourning. I have been grieving especially for the compassionate, intelligent, critically-thinking, inclusive, rational Americans who are now to be represented by a man who purposefully epitomizes the very worst of American stereotypes. To you, I offer deepest condolences that you have to say goodbye to a president you can be proud of, and exchange him for the winningest loser of all. I’m sorry you’re obliged to be in the petri dish of his attempts at leadership – because, for good reason, we are picturing a grotesque macrocosm of his f*cked-up Twitter feed.

And here’s where the learning opportunities happen for Trump’s supporters. This guy’s potential for screwing up is that much more epic when he’s President, as opposed to just a regular megalomaniac. And I have the openness of mind to imagine that it might even be possible for Trump himself to learn something of the world outside of his man-cave of a mind. At the very least, they’ve learned that the election wasn’t rigged after all.

One of the reasons kids are so destabilized by this mess is that they’ve been witnessing, as we all have, for months and months, a person who behaves like a bully. On every front. Now that person has been rewarded for his behaviour – in the most grandiose and public way. It goes against everything they know to be right.

But, at the risk of clichéing, I want to remind us all that this is an opportunity. We can follow Hillary’s lead. As a presidential candidate, and in her pivotal, closely-observed role as first woman in that position, she has been an admirable role model in every way Trump has not. She has comported herself with dignity, grace, reason, compassion, and insight, remaining unflappable and even keeping a sense of humour throughout the degrading and interminable campaign process. Her concession speech brought tears to my eyes when she addressed herself to the little girls watching, because there was so much love in her words.

We can do this too. We can stand up to bullies. We can be evolved role models. We can do love. We can remember that the citizens of America, and people in general, have very little to do with the Donald Trump. That he does not actually represent you or us. We represent ourselves, and we must do so with the most enlightenment possible.

Here are some things kids are learning, in spite of characters like Trump:

  • Use your words – the best ones you can.
  • Listen carefully to understand. Don’t interrupt.
  • Take three deep breaths when you’re upset.
  • Lashing out doesn’t solve things.
  • Being mean is not okay.
  • Reach out to someone who needs your support.
  • Include others.
  • Take turns.
  • Be generous when you can.
  • Say you’re sorry when you’ve done something wrong.
  • Good manners are important.
  • Try to understand how others are feeling, especially when you disagree.
  • Be kind.
  • All people deserve consideration and respect.

Most of us know about these simple things. They are things that lift us above our baser instincts and set us apart from other animals. They can be difficult concepts for people who live in filterless, unexamined immaturity, but the rest of us can help them get there.

In a way, maybe we should have seen this election result coming, what with ISIL and Brexit and rampant gun violence and viciously unbridled internet trolling. It’s as if our species is having a personality crisis, at a time when it really seems that we should be beyond this. We should be civilized by now. We have these big brains. We can transplant delicate organs. We build structures that reach the clouds. We take pictures of the surface of Mars. We have computers in our pockets that can access all the world’s information – but kindness still eludes us.

There are hard times ahead. It will take the most brilliant hearts in the world to get us through. Let’s be the example, and train up as many of those loving, shining souls as we can.

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Coaching Your Kid To Stand Up To Bullies

My son is in Grade 1, and he has this one particular classmate who worried me from the first day. I was told, by a friend of mine whose son was in his kindergarten class, that he was “the cool kid.” It was obviously true. Short but sporty, tough little chin, primary-school mohawk haircut. Clearly comfortable with his peers, even on that first stressful day.

For the purposes of this post, let’s call him “Ringleader.”

From what I can gather, he’s the middle son in his family, and his mom is heavily involved in the School Council. He knows how to be an upstanding citizen. He’s the kind of kid who knows how to cooperate and use good manners, and can deftly and justly organize a group of kids building a snow fort. IF there’s an adult standing there, observing.

If it’s the kids alone, though, apparently his rule becomes dictatorial. He forces other kids into set roles, and reserves the right to fire them capriciously. We have heard Ringleader’s name many times in relation to playground governance, but last week, E told us he hadn’t had fun at recess specifically because Ringleader had fired him from their clubhouse – apparently for “not doing his job” (even though E was sure he’d never been assigned a job).

It’s worth noting that E took the appropriate first step: reporting to adults he trusted.

We said things like, “He can’t just fire you. He doesn’t own that part of the playground. You don’t have to go away just because he says that.” (Sean encouraged E to tell Ringleader it was “wrongful dismissal.”)

We thought it might just blow over, but the next day it continued, even worsened. And I realized that, as much as we teachers discuss and implement anti-bullying strategies at school, I wasn’t at all confident about the best way to coach E on this. It’s easy to say, “Stand up for yourself!”, but unrealistic to expect a shy six-year-old to know how to do that.

When I was a kid, I was homeschooled for basically all of elementary school – and it was my choice. I had enjoyed kindergarten, but what I remember of my brief taste of Grade 1, other than stultifyingly boring Mr. Mugs readers, was being scared of the Grade 2 boys on the playground. One reason I didn’t return to public school until Grade 9 was that my older brother and sister both had troubles at school, especially during the intermediate years, with other students who were horribly, habitually mean to them.

It was the right choice for me. We were – and are – a family of confirmed nerds, but fortunately my high school was a big place with lots of smart kids among whom my nerdiness was not a big deal. Although I’d always been aware, through my various extracurricular activities, that I was weird and shy and lacking in cool-cred, I did know I was lucky never to have been traumatized by hard-core bullying.

Last week, in trying to help my son, I deferred to Sean, who did attend public school, and who is a boy, and who also dealt on many occasions with kids who picked on him. He talked to E about pretending you’re confident, and, apparently even more important, pretending you don’t care what the bully says. When Ringleader says you’re fired, shrug your shoulders and walk off. Find your own fun. Be a free agent. Say to some other kid, “Hey, I’m going to go do such-and-such – you can play too if you want.” (Implied: but I’m fine if you don’t.) THIS is how you take away the power of the social bully. Sean assured our son that when he was a kid, it worked every time.

Good advice, I think, but of course, this is so hard. As E describes it, almost every boy in his class is… employed by Ringleader. It’s hard to walk away when nobody’s left to play with. Not only that, but the second day this happened, some of the kids who’d rallied behind Ringleader to exclude E were ones who have been his closest friends this year. Even though some of them were ones who’d previously been “fired.” (Fickle little jerks.) Such is the power of Ringleader.

And such is the potency of the Group. We talk a lot about uniting against bullying, about mustering the courage to call bullies out. In reality, it is painfully true that kids don’t often stand up to bullies in person – on behalf of themselves or others. It is much easier to fall into rank behind the current ringleader, given the chance, no matter how mean he is. The one time recently when I witnessed one of my Grade 4 students scolding two of his classmates (with great eloquence, I might add) for picking on someone, I was amazed, and literally almost cried.

Last week, I also advised E to ask this boy, “Hey Ringleader, did you know that you’re a bully?” Because there’s always the possibility that he’s in denial. I’m certain he knows that bullying is bad – schools drive home this message ad nauseam – but sometimes kids are weirdly oblivious to the sum of their actions.

When I’m talking to a student accused of picking on someone, I usually ask, “Are you a mean kid?” Almost without exception, they say no. “Then why are you doing mean things?” I say. “Because if you do lots of mean things, that makes you a mean kid.” Strangely, many of them have never bothered to do this math for themselves. Maybe Ringleader just needs to be shown the equation.

In the days following the “firings,” I kept asking E how his recess went. By day 3, he had been “rehired” and given a job with his friend J. He seemed happy enough (after all, his job was making mud balls), but I was seething a bit at the arrogance of this kid. This week, things seem to have simmered down. And one day, E said he’d “wandered around” at recess, rather than be “forced” to play goalie in soccer, which seems like a healthy stroke of independence. (Evidently he’d been forced to play goalie once before and felt he was terrible at it.)

I’m on the lookout for trouble now. I want to know if this crops up again – and frankly, I don’t see why it wouldn’t, unless Ringleader experiences some sort of comeuppance.

I’m well aware that my son, much as I love him, sometimes behaves in ways that could be annoying to other kids. I don’t witness his school interactions, but it could be a factor. I also know that he has developed a tendency to take things personally, and hard. For reasons we are still working to discern, his level of resiliency is not as high as it was when he was a toddler, or even an infant. He is also smallish and ghost-pale, has glasses and a lisp, and is probably smarter than either of his parents. Perfect bully-bait.

This has been a good lesson for me, as both a parent and a teacher. Just hoping my children will be happy and well-liked for their whole lives doesn’t make it so; similarly, talking theoretically about anti-bullying strategies to large groups of kids can only go so far. We’ve got to address it as it happens, and with dogged forthrightness.

This past Wednesday, many schools in our board celebrated Pink Shirt Day, an annual “Stand Together Against Bullying” event. And according to the Interwebs, Friday, February 26th is “International STAND UP to Bullying Day.”

We got the shirts. We’re ready to wear pink, and we’re ready to ask and discuss and research and help our kids – both biological and pedagogical – figure out how to manage bullying situations in their real lives.

I’ll keep you posted.

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If you’re interested in reading more, here’s what I’ve found helpful so far:

  • A short but useful article from Psychology Today here;
  • “Bully-Proof Your Child” from Parents Magazine here;
  • Resources for teaching children resiliency here.

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