Acts of Kindness: Countering Bullying in our Schoolyards

This is a  look at bullying from a mental health perspective that I originally wrote for bringchange2mind.wordpress.com. We will also look at bullying from a masculinity perspective in a couple of weeks. However, since the two aren’t mutually exclusive and since this topic needs all the attention it can get, here goes:

My heart may have been irrecoverably broken this week. Each and every day this week there seemed to be a new story about a student lost to suicide. People are waking up to the fact that there is an epidemic of bullying in our country and all too often it is ending in tragedy.

I’ve been suicidal before. I get brought up to the edge by a chemical imbalance, but what keeps me there thinking about taking my own life is self-loathing. A self-loathing that was fostered by making the wrong friends in grade school and sticking by them after being constantly demeaned. A self-loathing that was fostered after being called out for being overweight. A self-loathing that was fostered by being made to feel too smart by my classmates and not good enough by my father. It took me a long time, a great therapist and good friends to get over all that. But too many young people aren’t giving themselves that chance.

Bullying is a fact of life. From the time we start kindergarten until we graduate from college, we are faced with “school-yard bullies” Some kids are just mean and haven’t been taught a sense of right and wrong. Others have an abusive home life that fosters the belief that doing wrong is right. Now, we can love these bullies and hope that they grow and change and mature, but the reality is that eradicating bullying from our society is unlikely.

Let’s work under the premise that bullying will always exist and the bullied will always be suffering as a result. We can try and be punitive. We can confront bullies with fists or we can sentence them to detention and never change the behavior of others. It’s futile. We aren’t going to win playing this game. We need to change the rules of the game. We need to change the game itself.

To be honest, the bullies aren’t where we need to be spending the majority of our energy. It’s the bystanders at whom we need to take a hard look. So many of us watch people getting harassed and never respond. If we do respond, it is to challenge or report the bully. All too often, we forget to support the bullied student. We need to counteract anger with love. If there will always be premeditated acts of hatred, we need premeditated acts of kindness. Random acts of kindness are all well and good, but that’s not what this situation requires. We will never get anywhere in fits and starts. We need to take every opportunity to affirm the people in our lives. We need to build their defenses up before these incidents take place.

We all must realize that our words and action carry serious repercussions. Words carry weight. They can affirm someone or they can break them down. We need to build people up. We are losing far too many people to keep doing the same old thing. I doubt that we will ever “cure” depression, but we can bring an end to this senseless loss of life taking place in our communities and across our country.

I’ve seen people argue that suicide is without exception, a byproduct of mental illness. Speaking from someone who has gone through severe depressive episodes, it is important to know that the behavior is triggered by something. You may have a warped sense of reality, but it is in fact still reality that you are looking at. A rational person might look at being publicly humiliated and bullied and be able to cope with the ramifications. A depressed person might look at the same situation and thing that their world is over and they have no choice but to end it. That is what we are fighting. That is what we need to prevent. Tell your friends and family what they mean to you. Tell your classmates that you care. Tell your neighbor that they are important to you. Together, we can make this a better world to live in and one that our friends stick around to see.

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One thought on “Acts of Kindness: Countering Bullying in our Schoolyards

  1. What gets lost in a lot of the bullying discussion is that not all bullying is the same.

    To a degree, bullying is a normal, health social dynamic. It allows children to test their boundaries, deal with hostility, learn about the fierce competition that awaits them in the real world, and practice conflict resolution. This type of bullying will exist no matter what sort of punishments are enacted and how much you ask bystanders to intervene. And, it probably should.

    But, when you move beyond pantsing another kid, taking his lunch money, and calling him names and get into the realm of gang assault, then you really do need parents, teachers, or possibly even the police to step in.

    When someone commits suicide after being the victim of garden variety bullying, the issue wasn’t the bullying, it was a lack of resources in the child’s home life to help him deal with the bullying. The problem is the parents, who now very often take the approach of either trying to protect their children from all of life’s messiness, which means they never learn to deal with adversity; or else simply not engage their child in a meaningful way, which also means the child is on his own to learn.

    But, you’re never going to see TV news anchors and pundits discussing why the parents of a kid who committed suicide were the real problem. Political correctness and sensitivity will bury the issue.

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