Bullying is emerging from the shadows of our culture, becoming a topic of conversation that has the potential to transform both individuals, and our collective mindsets. Thankfully, awareness is growing as the victims of bullying and the people around them are finding venues to express what bullying does to people – both the victim and the perpetrator. We are learning how the long-lasting effects can shape lives, and our society. Talking about bullying is the first step but how do we go beyond the dialogue and begin to create a true shift in the way we treat one another? Can we teach children to plant the seeds of respect, tolerance and acceptance that our world urgently needs?
Bullying appears and manifests in many different ways. There are few among us who cannot relate to some form or incident of it. A large percentage of children are bullied during their school years, often on a regular basis, destroying their self-image and following them into adulthood. In the worst-case scenarios, suicidal feelings develop and are, increasingly, acted on. Is the bully the culprit, or have we accepted and allowed aggressive behaviors to go on unchecked? Have we excused them away, labeling them as “normal stages” of growing up? It’s time to look at the causes of bullying in the bigger societal picture. Whether your child is the victim of bullying, or you see another child – or adult – bullied, speak up. Be supportive, offer help, and encourage them to feel good about themselves. Bullying should never be ignored.
Look at your family and the dynamics of how you communicate and react. Are you creating a bully by making derogatory remarks about people? Do you model tolerance, understanding and kindness, or do you criticize, become angry quickly, or act disinterested. It’s no surprise that a kid in that environment will be more likely to act out. And a child who is bullied, and whose parents have tuned-out and painted a happy picture on everything, is more likely turn the hurt and anger in on themselves. Be present, and not just with your kids but with everyone. Listen and practice empathy, with children and adults.
Bullying rears its head in all kinds of relationships. Do you bully your partner from time to time, or do you feel oppressed or intimated by them? Remember that all these interactions have an effect on the greater whole. The energy we create between us sets the stage for what will be a harmonious environment, or one of intolerance. Why not start an anti-bullying program in your local school or community center? How about volunteering to work with youth or adults who are marginalized by society, feeling they don’t “fit in?” For every small step you take to reach out, there’s an ever-growing shift in our mutual and cooperative respect for each and every other human being.
Whether it’s physical or psychological bullying, school-related, cyber-bullying or workplace harassment, speak up! Fear can fuel the environment of bullying, so if its victims are afraid, reach out to them. If it’s you or your child, look for the help that’s available. With that help comes hope. The nature of life is change. There will always be a swing of circumstance over time, and what seems insurmountable at one point in your life can be surprisingly temporary in the bigger picture. It’s the sometimes-lasting damage that we need to nip in the bud. Stand up to the bully, but give them the understanding and empathy that guides you. We are all in this together, and stamping out bullying for good is an effort that starts in our own lives.