In the past 12 months we have seen a dramatic increase in bullying in schools, both face to face and online. This is not an issue isolated to Australia, but we certainly have a significant issue to deal with as a society. While we do hear of these issues in the media, there are many more students who feel isolated and bullied not only in schools, but in community groups, sporting clubs etc. Further, this issue is not isolated to young people, and while not often spoken about, bullying does indeed exist in many workplaces.
The question of why some individuals feel the need to belittle, torment, harass or isolate others is absolutely beyond me. While we can all easily identify that it is the bully themselves who has the issue or is indeed the one who is insecure, the damage to the victim can be immeasurable and have fatal consequences.
There is no room for bullying in any part of society and yet it exists. Any reasonable person would agree with this, and yet it continues to exist. The question remains: do we simply have horrible people in society? Do we have people who only care for themselves? Do we have people who have not been held accountable for their behaviours? Sadly, I believe that the answer lies a little in each area, but it is clear that for people to behave in such a way, they have not been held accountable for their behaviours in the past.
If this is true, what are the answers? The Government recently established a cyberbullying task force and invited various people from different roles in society to participate, including staff from the Government Education sector and the Catholic Education sector. Despite having a significant number of students in Independent Schools, who have in my opinion a very good track record of dealing with these issues, no voice from the Independent Sector was invited to participate. This is most disappointing and a lost opportunity.
The change we need is for everyone to accept that this behaviour is wrong, and as said by the American activist, Randi Weingarten, “you can’t be against bullying without actually doing something about it”. The key is for every parent to sit down with their children and explain why such behaviours are wrong; to stand up and ensure such behaviours are identified; and to act to remove such behaviours in workplaces. Sadly, the excuse we hear in the media is “my child would never do this” or “my child was only joking… they weren’t serious”. In both responses, there is a clear lack of parental acceptance and indeed a lack of accountability for their child’s behaviour.
There would be very few communities that exist without experiencing such poor behaviours in some form from time to time. It is therefore important to educate young people, describe and discuss the standards and expectations you set in all other aspects of their life, and to provide positive role modelling. These approaches develop a protective and positive culture of care, which minimises the likelihood of such behaviours because genuine respect abounds. Should such behaviours occur however, it is important that the perpetrator be held accountable for their actions, that they are forced to face what they have done, and in some cases they need to be told “you are no longer welcome in this community”. This is certainly the expectation within our College.
The other issue we need to deal with in society is ‘rage’. It seems to be that when some people feel they have been wronged, their approach is to send the most horrific emails, accuse people of the most dreadful things, and/or engage in defamation and personal slurs, all because they are angry. This lack of self-regulation and poor behaviour also needs to be addressed in society. Just because we feel we have been wronged does not mean we actually have been; and just because we feel we have been wronged does not give us an excuse to say anything we like to others.
There is nothing wrong with people voicing their opinion, describing how they feel, or stating they feel that they have been wronged, but the manner in which we do this is most important. We need to start our thinking with ‘the end in mind’ – that is, in making my point what do I hope to achieve and how can we move forward from here. This is something we must model to our children, and in all honesty, when reading some people’s responses on the internet, I think we as adults have much to be accountable for in this regard.
It takes great courage to respond to hatred with kindness, rudeness with courtesy, negativity with positivity, and anger with compassion and understanding. Not all have this courage, but it is who we are called to be, both for ourselves and those around us.
“No one person can change the world, but one and one and one add up” (Sylvie Guillem). Be the change we need.