Schools are becoming more and more aware of the problems and dangers of bullying. Either kids are going to more extremes in their responses, or the news/media outleets have figured out that this is a story that sells and so they pick it up more often. Either way, an evening doesn't pass without at least some mentioning of bullying.
And the story does sell, because everyone has experienced bullying in their life to some degree or another. We grown ups to whom the news story is marketed have some gutteral response to the bullying story. And so the news makes a bigger deal out of it in order to sell more commercial time and the kids see that we are making a bigger deal out of it, so they respond to it in bigger ways.
Now don't you dare think that I'm saying "we all went through it and everyone just needs to stop making a big deal out of it!". That's not my messsage at all. Bullying has been wrong for as long as it has existed, and the fact that the media is finally picking up on it is interesting and impacts the whole mess in a magnifying sort of way, on every level.
I believe quite firmly that the media and the most well-advertised programs out there are doing it wrong. All wrong.
Because if you think about what the world values and what the trendy words are for school character programs and business models and everything in between, you don't have to look as far as the Pride Parade to see the words "tolerance," "awareness," and "acceptance".
At my work we honor "diversity" and the diversity team leader's job is to promote tolerance, awareness, and acceptance.
But frankly, Yikes.
Think about what those terms really mean.
Think about how you would respond if your child's teacher told you they could "tolerate" your child, that they were "aware" of your child's difficulties, and that they "accepted" them.
I have neices and nephews and a myriad of other children that I adore and care for, and let me tell you, they aren't even my children, but if heard that they were being merely tolerated by a teacher who was basically aware and who simply accepted them, I would come unglued.
I tolerate lots of things. Spiders that eat mosquitos. Pepperoni on my pizza. Baby puke as part of my job. I am aware of massacres in Syria and human rights injustices in Myanmar. I accept paying bills, textbook prices, and having to do the dishes. But given a choice, I would have neither spiders nor mosquitoes, ham on my pizza, and babies would eat their dinner without regurgitating it, Syria and Myanmar would stop torturing people, and I would be financially secure and own a dishwasher.
Tolerance, awareness, and acceptance are for things that we resent but recognize as facts of life. They are not for the people around us, children of God, and immortals with eternal potential.
New programs may attempt to promote "awareness" because they are supposed to remain morally and politically neutral. What they really do is tell a story and label it as "bad" or "good". But here's the interesting thing about this kind of labeling and awareness: it doesn't magically make people choose the good. We live in a world where people choose the "bad" all the time, regardless of whether or not we know and understand it as bad. None of us is above this. Anyone who has seen Ocean's Eleven has cheered on the guys who were robbing a casino! Awareness may paste a label onto a behavior, but it does nothing to prevent or promote whatever brand of morality is on the table. In fact, it teaches us what our options are and assumes that we'll be nice, without acknowledging that there are those who will take the lesson and choose to be mean.
And now you are thinking that I am saying to stop the awareness campaigns because they are just teaching the bad guys how to be bad. I'm not saying that either. Awareness and education is always a better choice than nothing at all (and I could go into a tangent about sex education here too, but I won't). The problem is that awareness is the only the first step, and when you stop there, all you have done is shown people their options without teaching them how to really acheive anything.
My point is, awareness and tolerance and acceptance are the very least we can offer. They are the lowest fundamentals of human relationships and most people allow even their enemies that much.
So the school program that invites lectures and character education is not any different from the business that has a diversity training program in order to cover their butts for Equal Opportunity purposes. Its enough to cover legal issues. Its not enough to change the world or even one life. The bullies that hear such things will simply learn how to bully around the edges and win the game, and the kind people that hear such things already have behavior that puts them beyond the scope of such topics.
So if you want to cover your butt and live in a world where people tolerate you, then awareness lectures are just fine.
And to some point, that's all you can (and must) legally offer.
The problem I see is that we live in a world that is starving for more.
Now let's return to all those kids that I adore. What is the "more" that I want for them? What do I want out of their teachers that goes beyond acceptance and awareness and tolerance?
I want those teachers to love them. I want them to cheer them on, to offer support and kindness. I want the other kids in their classes to see how remarkable they are and to love them too.
And thus we return to what I have said and will continue saying every chance I get. Love is love. There is nothing better and anything less simply doesn't have the power to help, change lives, teach, encourage, or improve the world.
And frankly, bullying won't stop until we replace it with something better.
I guess that's really my point. Acceptance is the bare minimum, it covers legal ground, but it is simply not good enough for any child of God. Bullying is awful, but telling someone to eliminate a behavior with words like "stop" or "don't" doesn't teach them how to actually behave. It creates a void, and the void will be filled with what people know. And if all people know is bullying, then the void will simply be filled with, perhaps different, but more bullying.
Remember the video with the running kid and the gym teacher? You should watch it:
Now. Look at that remarkable gym teacher. He didn't "tolerate" a kid with cerebral palsy choosing to run 400 meters. And his actions set an example for the other children in the class.
If we really want to do something about bullying, then we have to stop basically covering our asses with the requisite legal training and awareness programs. Schools and media have been trying this approach for years, and they continue to be mystifies as to why their "awareness" doesn't put a halt to the behavior. To some extent, this brand of awareness honors bullying. It puts the attention on the individuals who are seeking attention, thus rewarding whatever their behavior was. If you really want to change the situation, you acknowledge the bad behavior then you teach the proper behavior. You honor those who act appropriately, and you set an example of "good". You fill the void with positive.
And frankly, it doesn't come through formal training programs, diversity meetings, and cheesy reward systems. That teacher may well receive an award, but those come after the behavior has been set out as a standard. He didn't do it for an award. He did it because he clearly loved that student.
If you want to change the world around you, be it a school program or a work setting or a social gathering, you are just going to have to start setting an example for love and encouraging others to do the same thing. And maybe there is a way to create a better program that actually teaches the positive behavior instead of simply condeming the negative. But even that program will not have as much power as the gym teacher who ran with the struggling kid.
Honestly, the only thing we can do is love those around us, and be an example of that love to the children we are trying to teach. We can invite other adults to do the same, and we can perhaps offer them some insights regarding specific situations. But the only variable that has a place in every setting is love. And love should not be a variable. It should be a constant. Other things come and go as appropriate and as needed. I'm certainly not saying that love is the only thing necessary. I'm saying its the first thing that should be put in place and the only thing that can really be relied on. As long as you won't get rid of bullying until you replace it with a constant, you may as well replace it with the only universal constant.