Also, “This was the case for parents of a special needs student at Miami Trace Middle School in Ohio, who sent their daughter to school with a hidden tape recorder last fall after the girl repeatedly complained about teacher bullying. The revelation was shocking: the educators on the recording called the child lazy and dumb, and forced her to run on a treadmill with increasing speed.”
The principal and teachers at Sheila’s school were proud of their efforts to stop bullies. They had a team, including a psychologist, to deal fairly with students accused of bullying.
They were certain that:
Students became bullies because they’d been bullied at home.
Bullies had low self-esteem and weren’t aware of other ways of making friends.
Bullying was in retaliation for bad treatment and that if provocation decreased, so would bullying.
If other students stopped hurting the feelings of bullies, bullying would eventually stop.
Since bullying was not the fault of one person, negotiation and mediation, would eventually stop bullying.
The best way to stop bullying was through forgiveness, sympathy, compassion, understanding, education and compromise.
These educators were not going to let those poor, damaged kids who’d turned to bullying be harassed, taunted or abused, verbally or emotionally, or through unjust accusations.
Sheila’s mother met with the teacher, principal and school psychologist. They assured her that there was no evidence for Sheila’s accusations. Then they asked many questions about Sheila’s home life and psychological state. Maybe Sheila was going through something difficult at home. Or maybe she was simply jealous and suffering from some teenage turmoil because she didn’t fit in.
They suggested that Sheila try to make friends with the popular girls – be nice to them, ask them what upset them and try to change that, give them friendship offerings, open her heart to them or turn the other cheek if she was misunderstanding what they said to her. Maybe Sheila was simply too sensitive to the way high school girls naturally were.
They told accused clique of girls that Sheila had complained about them and encouraged them to be nice to her, despite her complaint.
Having been forewarned and directed at Sheila, but having no consequences to make them stop bullying, the accused girls escalated their attacks and got sneakier. Sheila was subjected to daily barrages of hostility, venom and meanness. When nothing happened to the clique, they got bolder and eventually beat Sheila up in the bathroom.
Unfortunately for them, a teacher happened to be in one of the stalls and heard the whole scene.
The school officials now initiated their program to stop bullies.
They encouraged Sheila’s parents not to talk with the parents of the clique girls.
They encouraged Sheila’s parents not to go to the media or to a lawyer.
They assured Sheila’s parents that the quieter the issue was kept, the more likely there would be a rapid resolution to the situation.
The principal and therapist had Sheila meet with the girls to mediate the situation by themselves. They told the girls that they thought the students could solve the hostility on their own and that Sheila was willing to compromise with them.
At that meeting, the girls pinched Sheila, punched her, pulled her hair and threatened her with worse after school. Then they told the principal and therapist that they’d apologized and promised not to do anything if Sheila would treat them nicer, but that Sheila had called them names, insulted them and refused to compromise.
There’s a world of difference between being an active witness to bullying and abuse, and being merely a bystander.
A bystander has already decided to be an uninvolved spectator, to look the other way, to pretend ignorance if called upon.
A witness can make a tactical decision based on the circumstances – intervene now in some tactical way or speak up later.
At work, co-workers or bosses are bullies; at home, abusive parents will harass and bully one young child while lavishing goodies on the other; in addition, toxic parents will favor one adult child over another with love and inheritance on the line.
I’ll focus here on kids, but the larger implications should be obvious when you think about slavery or the Nazis or a hundred other public examples.
Often, at school and at home, mean kids will try to turn siblings or friends against each other.
For example, Charles’ friend, Brad, was relentlessly nasty to Charles’ sister Sarah. He made fun of her, called her stupid, dumb and ugly, and, even though Sarah was tall and skilled enough to play with the older boys, he’d cut her out of their games or he’d intentionally knock her down.
Charles looked on in dismay but never interfered. That was puzzling to Charles’ parents because, in one-to-one situations, Charles played well with Sarah and liked her. Yet Charles had become a bystander; he wouldn’t step up to what he knew was right.
How come he didn’t protect Sarah from Brad? Was Charles afraid that if he interfered he’d lose a friend or that Brad would beat him up? Did Charles secretly want his sister out of the way?
Without knowing the real answers to the “why” questions, the pain, shame, anxiety and stress of watching his sister tormented and the guilty laceration of his conscience finally drove Charles to choose which side he was on. He stood up for his sister and for high standards of conduct, but then he had to solve another problem; Brad was a head taller and 30 pounds heavier than he was.
In front of Sarah, Charles got in Brad’s face and told him to cut it out. If Brad wanted to be his friend and play with him, he had to be nice to Sarah…or else
Most of the Brad’s in the world would back down but this one didn’t. Angry words led to shoving and Brad grabbed Charles and threw him down. At this point Charles and Sarah’s advanced planning gave them a tactical advantage. Sarah, as tall and heavy as Charles, jumped on Brad’s back and the brother and sister piled on Brad and punched and kicked him.
As with most kid fights it was over fast. Brad got the message; he was facing a team. If he wanted to play with them he’d have to play with both of them. If he wanted to fight he’d have to fight both of them. No parents were involved and Brad chose to play with them and be nice to Sarah.
As much as the incident helped Sarah, Charles was the major beneficiary of his choice. His self-esteem soared. He had been courageous and mentally strong. And he learned that he and his sister could plan and stand firm together.
In a different situation, Ellen was popular and Allison, who was outgoing but had no friends, wanted Ellen all to herself. At school, Allison put-down and cut out anyone Ellen wanted to play with. If Ellen refused to follow Allison, Allison would get hysterical, cry and wail that Ellen was hurting her feelings. Ellen didn’t want to hurt Allison but she wanted to play with whoever she wanted to play with.
The situation came to a head during the summer. Allison wanted to play with Ellen every day. And on every play date, Allison would be nasty to Ellen’ younger sister. She’d mock Jill, order her to leave them alone and demand that Ellen get rid of her younger sister. They were best friends and there was no room for a little kid.
Ellen faced the same choice that Charles had; hurt her sister in order to collude with her friend or lose a friend and classmate.
Ellen didn’t agonize like Charles had. Ellen was very clear; colluding is not how a good person would act. However, her requests that Allison stop only brought on more hysterical anger and tantrums.
Ellen didn’t want to play with Allison any more but didn’t know how to accomplish this. When she told Allison, Allison threw another fit – hurt feelings and crying.
This situation required different tactics from Charles’ because Ellen was younger and arrangements for them to play during the summer and after school had to be made by their parents.
Ellen’ parents could have gone to Allison’s parents and told them what Allison was doing. However, they’d observed that Allison’s parents had never tried to stop her hysterics, blaming and finger-pointing at school. They’d always believed Allison’s accusations about other kids and added their blame. They demanded that teachers do what Allison wanted.
Ellen’ parents thought that raising the issue with Allison’s parents would only lead to negativity, accusations and an ugly confrontation, which would carry over to school.
They decided to use an indirect approach; they were simply always too busy for Ellen to play with Allison. The rest of the summer they made excuses to ensure there would be no play dates. When school started, they made sure there were no play dates after school, even if Jill wasn’t there. They didn’t want their daughter to be friends with such a stealthy, manipulative, nasty, control-freak like Allison.
In addition, they told Ellen’s teacher what Allison was doing and asked them to watch if Allison tried to control Ellen and cut out other kids.
Most important, Charles stopped being spectator and became an effective witness-participant. Ellen also would not remain a bystander. She made her feelings clear and her parents helped intervene. Both children learned important lessons in developing outstanding character and values.
Tactics are always dependent on the specifics of the situation. As parents wanting to help and guide your children and grandchildren, remember that there’s no one-right-way to act. The people involved get to choose where they want to start the process of standing up as witnesses and participants. You can get ideas and guidelines from books and CDs but on-going coaching, to prepare you for your “moments of truth,” is essential. You will need to adjust your plan in response to what happens at each step along the way.
Numerous articles, including Sandy Maple’s on parentdish.com, “Teen Insult Web Site Shut Down,” have reported that online free speech has bowed to the pressure of community values. In an effort to stop online harassment, cyber bullying and abuse, a coalition has pressured Go Daddy, the internet host, to pull a web site, “People’s Dirt,” out of cyberspace. Calling it an “insult site” is misleading. The site was forum for anonymous hate mail.
What did it take to pressure Go Daddy to drop the site?
The site was very popular with vindictive and vicious high school students who used it anonymously to publically trash-talk, harass, abuse and embarrass their targets. The combination of slander and defamation on the hate board was illegal, but the anonymity offered by the site protected the abusers.
The Go Daddy hosting service agreement with its users allows Go Daddy to end service for sites whose content includes activities that “defame, embarrass, harm, abuse, threaten, slander or harass third parties.” The contents on the site, including a threat to kill students and staff, racial slurs, claims of promiscuity about named high school students, and accusations against named teachers fit into those prohibited categories.
Go Daddy could have resisted the effort and forced the group to go to court to prove some sort of illegal activity. But this is a much better solution: common cause to stop bullying and abuse. Go Daddy will find other ways to make money.
Every society or community limits complete free speech because of a more important value: The balance necessary to maintain the strong sense of community that enables the people to live together peacefully. Neither end of the scale – complete free speech or complete censorship and repression – yields a society worth living in. Some form of compromise, some balancing of individual and communal desires and needs is always reached in communities that move ahead amicably.
Whether the site will remain offline is still an open question. Other internet hosts may be willing to carry it. Alfredo Castillo, the site's founder, has previously said that if the site was removed by Go Daddy, he would move it to an international host, where it could skirt any American prosecution.
Mr. Castillo is a person who doesn’t care about his community. He’s an individual isolated from his community’s values. He’s interested only in his own desires to make money. Those are some of the identifying characteristics of bullies and sociopaths. Anyone know where he lives and where his children go to school?
Bullies at work can ruin a culture, destroy productivity and make your life miserable. Many people focus only on bullying bosses, but I’ve seen just as many coworkers and employees use these bullying methods as I have managers and supervisors. Before you read the top ten I’ve seen, please think for a moment. What bullying methods used by whom, have you seen most?
Have you seen these techniques ruining your workplace?
Yelling, physical threats (overt or subtle) and personal attacks.
Verbal abuse, emotional intimidation, personal insults and attacks (in private and in public). Put-downs and humiliating, demeaning, rude, cruel, insulting, mocking and embarrassing comments. False accusations (especially outrageous), character assassination.
Harassing based on race, religion, gender and physical attributes. Sexual contact, lewd suggestions, name-calling, teasing and personal jokes (sometimes overtly nasty, or threatening or sometimes given with laughter as in, “I was just kidding” in order to make it hard for you to fight back.
Backstabbing, spreading rumors and gossip, manipulating, lying, distorting, evading, hypocrisy and exposing your problems and mistakes.
Taking the credit; spreading the blame. Withholding information and then cutting you down for not knowing or for failing.
Anonymous attacks and cyber-bullying – flaming e-mails and porn. Invading your personal space and privacy – rummaging through your desk, listening to phone calls, asking extremely personal questions, eating your food.
Hypersensitive, over-reactions, throwing tantrums (drama queens) – so you walk on egg shells, back off in order to avoid a scene, or beg forgiveness as if you really did something wrong.
Dishonest evaluations – praising and promoting favorites, giving slackers good evaluations and destroying careers of people the bully doesn’t like.
Demeaning at meetings – interrupting, ignoring, laughing, non-verbal comments behind your back (rude noises, body language, facial gestures, answering phone, working on computer).
Forming cliques and ganging up. Turf wars about budgets, hiring, copiers and coffee machines.
Most bullies use combinations of these methods.
We’ve all seen the effects of bullies and the hostile workplace they create. There’s increased hostility, tension, selfishness, turf wars, sick leave, stress related disabilities, turn over and legal actions. People become isolated, do busy work with no important results and waste huge chunks of time talking about the latest episodes. Effort is diffused instead of aligned. Promotions are based on sucking up to the most difficult and nasty people, not on merit.
Teamwork, productivity, responsibility, efficiency, creativity and taking reasonable risks are decreased. The best people leave as soon as they can.
The wrong people or the wrong culture can always find ways to destroy the best operational systems. Your pipeline will leak money and your profits will plummet.
I’ll go into solutions in future posts, but I want to mention one frequently used tactic that does not work to stop dedicated bullies. It’s based on the false assumption that if we – educate, explain, understand, reason, show the consequences, accept, forgive or make enough attempts to satisfy bullies – then they will become reasonable, civil, professional, friendly and good to work with. That approach only stops people who are not really bullies, but have forgotten themselves one time and behaved badly.
Determined bullies don’t take your acquiescence as kindness. They take your giving in as weakness and an invitation to grab for more. Bullies bully repeatedly and without real remorse. You won’t get a sincere apology from them. A sincere apology doesn’t mean anything about how they look. It means that they change and stop bullying.
Are your children and teens resilient? Do they bounce back after they’ve been disappointed or faced hostility, bullies, abuse or trauma? Are you resilient? Do you know how to resist a hostile, abusive, controlling or bullying husband or wife? Can you resist your self-bullying tendencies? How about abusive, controlling or bullying friends, relatives or neighbors? How about at work; hostile, abusive, bullying bosses, managers or co-workers? Do you bounce back from getting passed over, terminated or fired from a hostile workplace? You know – lies, yelling, cursing, back-stabbing, verbal abuse, demeaning insults, harassment, false complaints or accusations.
According to a Newsweek article written by Mary Carmichael (The Resiliency Gene: A genetic variant may protect some abused kids from depression and other long-term effects) the National Institute of Mental Health is funding studies to find the genes associated with resiliency to hostility, abuse and trauma. As a former practicing biochemist, I can say that, of course, we’ll find genes associated with almost every pattern of behavior.
But, I think it’s a dead end if we focus merely on the genetic expressions of what’s going on.
Why do I think it’s a dead end? Because you end up thinking that either you have the right stuff or you don’t. That belief won’t help your children develop strength of character or as much resilience as they can. For example, contrast the behavior of the teen in cyber-bullying suicide case with the teen who was acquitted of punching a racist tormentor .
Worrying about the resiliency gene won’t help you be courageous either. You’ll remain a victim; hoping the system can be made 100 percent safe and fair. You’re better off thinking that you can develop the right stuff to protect yourself, to create a bully-free environment. That approach to make the world totally and completely safe is being tried right now in our schools .
Resiliency is something that we’ve seen and studied throughout history. For example, in their elegant studies of about 700 famous men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962), Victor and Mildred Goertzel, called the eminent survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, “The Invulnerables.” Our history is full of men and women who failed and then bounced back, struggled and succeeded.
In my coaching of adults (including parents wanting to know how to help their children), I encourage them to focus on the “free will” aspects of their lives. You have much more control over what you create in life right now, than you do over your genetics. No matter what life throws at us, whether we’re subjected to natural disasters, large scale human destruction or individual family brutality and trauma, we all must struggle to rise above those events in order to create as great a life as we can. We can take charge of our efforts even though we can’t control the results.
Inspire your children by them to look back at their inheritance. Think of what their ancestors must have lived through. No matter what their ancestry, they come from an unbroken line of men and women who survived drought, flood, plague, famine, disease, war, uprooting, slavery, rape and every other form of disappointment, hostility, control, abuse, brutality and trauma known. Everyone one of their ancestors survived long enough to make a baby who grew up to make a baby who grew up to make a baby … until they were born. If one of their ancestors hadn’t grown up to do his or her part, they wouldn’t be here. They have a legacy of survivors.
Also think of their mental and spiritual inheritance. There must have been people who took in some of their ancestors and nurtured, encouraged and stimulated them; even though they weren’t blood relatives. Despite all the abuse and trauma, here they are. They have the legacy of survivors. Stop worrying about their genes and start training them to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong. Start helping them develop the discipline that’s worthy of all the struggle and effort that went into getting them here.
I remember the stories of what my grandparents went through in order to get here. They didn’t have credit cards, cell phones, health insurance or own their homes. How can I let them down by not living as gloriously as I can? How can I let them down by not encouraging my children to do the same – no matter what their genetics has given them?