In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Martin Luther King Jr.
The title of my book is The Bully the Bullied and the Bystander. William S. Burroughs, the English author said it so beautifully; “There are no innocent bystanders…what are they doing there in the first place?” My role as an educator, as a grandparent now, as a community person and someone who works all over the world my goal is to raise a generation of kids who are the fourth character that ally, that witness, resistor and defender. When that high status socially bully says all the other girls, “I don’t like the new girl. You want to be in my group you won’t eat lunch with her either.” You see I want the young people here and I want all of us who have sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters who have a kid who says, “That’s me, that’s cruel”, and has the courage to go sit next to the new girl because it takes a lot of courage to do that because she’s not going to get stickers or stars or lunch with the principal, catch a Being Good Award. She’s going to get “Oh, Miss Goody Two-shoes” or “Your next…” I want your sons when their friends say, “Look at that kid over there!” different skin color, religion, gender, physical or mental ability the Big Five for hate crimes. What makes a hate crime different than any other crime? It’s criminal bullying. “Let’s go mess him up.” I want your sons to be the one to say, “No.” When the burdens heavy when their friends say, “What are you chicken,” “What are you just like them?” No. But how on earth do we begin as a community to raise a generation of kids who will stand up for values and against injustices, who are not easily led, you don’t do to please, who have what Carl Sagan said all three year olds have. The beauty of what so many young people here have, that gift of skepticism and wonder, why and wow. Wow! Look at the spaghetti, Wow! Look at the snow, Wow! Look at the rain. Wow! Wow! Wow! and why, why, why whyyyyy. Well I want 16-year-olds to have that “wow” and “why” that three-year-olds have. They tend not to harm themselves and others when they do. When they have that “wow” and “why” when their friends say let’s go vandalize that building “Why would I want to do that?” But how do we begin to raise a generation who are not swimming in a Culture of Mean, but are truly interconnected, interrelated, and interdependent, who recognize what Martin Buber said, “I am I” and “You are thou”? I’m unique and you’re unique but we have a common humanity. That’s the “we”, what Archbishop Desmond Tutu called, “the ubuntu”, our connectedness.
I tell students you do not have to like every kid in this classroom, you don’t! But you must honor their humanity. You must treat them with dignity and regard. How many have you have an adolescent at home right now? I bet some of you do not like your teenager right now, you do not like them. You say, “Oh no, that’s politically incorrect, I don’t like his behavior.” No, you do not like them. You don’t want to go home, but you love them deeply, and you would be there for them if they got in trouble. You would get down there as fast you can, put your arm around them and say, “We love you. You’re in trouble. We know you can handle it. Brought a list of lawyers we think might take your case. Good luck, buddy.” But you’re there. That’s what I’m asking young people to be, to be there when all those other kids decide it’s cool to be mean and get locked in what is known as the trap of comradeship.
I work in Rwanda with orphans from the 1994 genocide…In 100 days almost a million human beings were macheted to death and we as a community in the world stood by and watched. We were those disengaged onlookers. The premise of my genocide book is that it is a short walk from schoolyard bullying to hate crimes, which is on the rise in your country and mine, to genocide. Genocide is not an unimaginable horror. It was certainly imagined, meticulously planned, horrifically carried out by people who turned other human beings into an “it” not a “thou,” but an “it.” Once you’re an “it” to me I can do anything to you and not feel any shame or compassion. I can take a Matthew Shepard, beat him up, tie him to a fence post and leave him to die in Laramie, Wyoming. When those two young boys were arrested they said, “Yeah, but he was gay.” Take a black man in Jasper, Texas, James Byrd drag him from the back of a pickup when those three kids were arrested they said, “Yeah, but he was black.” Reena Virk, 100 kids knew about her death before her parents and the police. Twenty-five of her normal classmates cheered those kids on as they broke her arms before they drowned her. And one of the young girls charged said, “Well she was brown, ugly and fat, I didn’t like her.” Another girl said, “I couldn’t stand the sound of her voice.” “Another girl said, “Well, I was only doing what they told me to do.” Utter contempt for another human being.
You see conflict is normal, natural and necessary, bullying is none of that. It is not a rite of passage. It’s not normal things that kids do. No, it’s about utter contempt for another human being and that is a learned behavior. I’m old enough to know the song from South Pacific you have to be carefully taught to hate before you are six, seven or eight. To hate all the people your relatives hate. So how do you treat hired help? How do you treat somebody moving through the grocery store a little slower than you’d like them to? How do you treat that new neighbor who looks different than you, has a different culture, a different first language, skin is different, faith traditions different? Your children are watching. And by the way how do you treat that bigoted relative at the family gathering? Now we all have bigoted relatives somewhere in the family tree. Some aren’t on the branches yet. They’re right there at the dinner table spewing racist and sexist comments thinly disguised as a joke. Can your children hear you saying, “I’m bothered by that”, or “That was mean”, or “That was cruel”. When all the other relatives roll their eyes and say, “Can’t take a joke?” Not that kind. And you know you’ve had an impact when you walk back in the dining room in every body shuts up. But you’ve had an even bigger impact on your children. As your mother in law is saying, “Look, it’s just uncle George, can’t you just let it go?” No, because your children need to see you standing up for value and against injustice when it’s uncomfortable to do it, if we are ever going to ask these young people in a closed system called school to go sit next to the new girl at cost, to say the other kids in the locker room, “Back off, leave him alone.”
You see there are those three characters in this horrific tragedy that goes from bullying, to hate crimes, to genocide. You see a hate crime is that social assassination that Teresa talked about, but it began with bullying, escalated to criminal bullying, to hate crime, and in Rwanda, genocide. You see they didn’t kill Tutsis in Rwanda, they killed cockroaches. And what do you do with a cockroach? You exterminate it. In Nazi Germany they didn’t kill Jews, they killed vermin and bacteria eating at the fabric of our society. What do you do with vermin? You exterminate it. But it didn’t start with the death camps, it started with verbal bullying, making somebody into an “it”. And that’s why you and I have to say “no more”, “not here”, “never.” This is safe harbor for every kid in our schools. “Well, I only called her a gross name.” Only called her gross name? No, that is step one. Herbert Kelman, who wrote about genocide, said there are three conditions for genocide… unquestioning obedience to authority, the routinization of cruelty, and the dehumanization of another human being. Unquestioning obedience to authority that’s why it’s so critical that we ask these young people to know how to think, not just what to think. Because they have to question that high status social bully who says, “I don’t like the new girl we aren’t going to eat with her.” Well, why would I obey her? And that’s why we don’t want to raise praise dependent, reward dependent children who’ll do to please us when they’re little but will do to please their peers when they’re older.
Any of you raising a strong-willed child? You say, “That’s why I got here early and stay late to get out of the house.” Let me tell you something about a strong willed child you may not fully appreciate. They are easier on us in the older teen years than compliant children. But if you think about it make sense. You see compliant children are very easily led when they’re little for two things, approval and to please adults. They’re just as easily led in the teen years for those same two things “approval” and “to please their peers”. Now strong-willed children, if you can get them up to puberty with both of you still excited about life, are never easily led by anybody, first by you, but also not by their peers. So I want you to go home and give that kid a hug and say “I knew there was a reason we were getting you up to puberty.” You see we want them to stand up for values and against injustices but they must believe at a very young age that they can make lots of decisions and they’ll be held accountable for their behavior. Then they believe they have agency in their life and that they can stand up for that other percent to be that witness, resistor and defender to be that ally. And we say, “You know, but he’s only in middle school. How can he do that?” I asked a lot of people about stories when I was writing the book. Derek Okubo internationally renowned for his work in conflict resolution told me a story that happened to him 35 years ago as if it happened yesterday. He was the only Japanese American child in Denver Colorado in that grade 2 classroom. His parents and grandparents had been interned much as David Suzuki was in Toronto being lifted from this province during World War 2 because of his ethnicity. Derek’s grandparents and parents were interned and his father served in the Air Force, but there was a lot anti-Japanese sentiment as he was the only Japanese American in that grade 2 classroom. He had to do a toe-heel, toe, heel toe together activity, wasn’t doing such a good job of it. His teacher walked over to him picked him up and said you get a “U” you little yellow Jap. Can teachers bully? Absolutely! This little boy who had come to school so alive was now broken and he went back out on the playground and a group of kids emboldened by what the teacher said and probably what they learned at home said, “Go back to where you came from you little yellow Jap.” He said, “But one boy, Scott Russell, (he remembers his name thirty-five years later) came running over seven years old and said, “Stop that, that’s mean! He said, “Derrick, come play with me. You don’t need those boys.” And Derrick said, “The rage that was growing in me was cooled by a little boy willing to stand up and speak out. But he did that at cost because the next day the other kids said, “Jap lover! Jap lover! Jap lover!” So Derek said, “You don’t have to play with me if they’re gonna call you those names.” Scott Russell, seven-years-old said, “It’s their problem, not mine.” That’s the kind of kid you want. That’s the kid who will break this cycle of violence, that’s the fourth character. Unquestioning obedience to authority.
The routinization of cruelty. I’m often asked if I’m concerned about violence kids are exposed to, I am. You know what, I’m just as concerned about the humor they’re exposed to. Bill Cosby said it so beautifully; “I do miss the days when comedy wasn’t mean, when it wasn’t at the expense of another human being.” What is bullying, a conscious willful delivered activity intended to harm where you get pleasure from somebody else’s pain. It’s about laughing at their pain. That’s not normal, natural or necessary. We need to grimace at somebody else’s pain. We need to be upset that somebody is in pain. But bullying is the antithesis of that. It’s everyone standing around laughing at somebody in absolute distress. So the routinisation of cruelty becomes the norm, where people will say, “Aww, it’s just part of growing up. Boys be boys, Girls just wanna be mean” It is not, should never be a part of any kids childhood.
And the third, the dehumanization another of human being, and that’s why it is so critical that we stop the most common form of bullying, verbal bullying. Boys and girls do that one equally well. You know that adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is a lie. Ask Dawn-Marie Wesley’s mom. Don-Marie hung herself with a dog’s leash. Having moved from Ontario to British Columbia she left a suicide note naming the three girls had only verbally tormented her every day. And the two tools kids use today those of us are older here today never had to deal with them: cell phones and the Internet. The cyber bullying the last thing Dawn-Marie Wesley heard on her cell phone was one of those girls saying we’d all be better off if you were dead. By morning she was. We ignore this at every kid’s peril, but that dehumanization has got to stop. We cannot tolerate it. As I said I’m a former nun so I’ll throw this in, intolerance, bigotry, and hatred cloaked in the garb of religion are still intolerance, bigotry and hatred. We need to get a handle on that and be willing to stand up and speak out when somebody spews utter contempt for another human being and then cloaks it in a faith tradition. How dare we. Religion can be a vessel or a tomb, a weapon or a tool. It’s how it’s expressed. Our cultural norms can be any of those as well. It’s how we express it. Our young people have to be taught to hate and we mustn’t be vessels for this hatred. We have to be the ones to say, “No.”
There is a bully circle because bullies don’t tend to do this alone. In the center we have the target. Why do I use that word? Gavin de Becker who worked with people who had been stalked, he wrote the book Gift of Fear (fascinating book) he talked about how that inner fear, that natural fear keeps us alive. We don’t want to be fearful, but we want to listen to our clues our body speaking. And many of the people had been stalked were beating themselves up for having been in the wrong place, wrong time, wearing the wrong clothes. He said, “No, no, no, no, no!” You were targeted by that person. The problem is not with you. You were targeted. I want young people to know you can be targeted because you’re short, you’re tall, you developed early, you developed late, your race, your religion, your gender, your economic status, the fact that your new. The one thing all targeting kids have in common, somebody targeted them. Now you can be weird, dorkey, odd, strange, have ADHD Asperger’s… miss social cues. Nothing justifies mean, nothing. You can have social anxieties that doesn’t justify somebody being mean to you as Jay talked about…
Now the very top of the bully circle you have the bully. Now we have this idea that all bullies have some problems of their own, many do but not all do. I spend far too much time dealing in bullicide with high status social bullies those kids in the school who have a sense of entitlement, a liberty to exclude, intolerance to our differences, and thought they could get away with it because they always have because they had that sense of entitlement. I was involved with the Phoebe Prince case. Phoebe was from Ireland new girl beautiful had an Irish lilt…a very seductive lilt and a group of kids decided that they could treat her with utter contempt. And they did for five months until she killed herself. Couldn’t take it anymore. Now people often say, you know, she had lots some problems and the like so size very complicated. And I can’t say that she would not have killed herself that January with that silk scarf her sister gave her for Christmas. I can’t tell you that, but what I can assure you is had those kids not targeted her had somebody stopped them when they started to target her, had the school when they first found out about it done something and they knew early on folks, had their parents been aware of the mean and cruel cyber-bullying they were doing on this young girl, been tuned into what their kids were doing and had Phoebe not been so horribly weakened by all of this she may not have committed suicide. But one thing I can promise you is the last five months of her life would not have been hell. That I do know. And those kids need to be held accountable for what they did. We don’t know and I often hear studying the most recent suicide here though she had a lot of problems lot issues. Yes. And a lot of that was compounded by what was happening to her. It doesn’t happen separate. And every kid that fed into that (not so innocent bystanders) by tweeting, by sending messages, by ostracizing, have to be accountable for what they did. Because that Bully Circle, that trap of comradeship, is there. Right at the top you have the bully.
Now we often don’t believe target the kids well as a heist at a social bully. Amazing to me even after the six kids were held with complicity in the death of the press. And you know they showed up at the cotillion three days later wearing silk scarves mocking to hang themselves. They defaced her memorial page and made a new one, “Mission Accomplished” with a noose and her name. Utter contempt for Phoebe. But even after all of that the superintendent was quoted in Newsweek saying but these were nice kids, they came from nice homes…
Right below them we have our bully’s henchmen. Now you didn’t raise him or her to be a bully but you did raise them to please. She got all those S ++ in behavior, got the Being Good Award and got to go to lunch with the principal. But now she’s doing what that high status bully tells her to do. Kids who are praise dependent, reward dependent make wonderful henchmen.
And right below that are the active supporters. Those are the kids that cheer the bully on, get their cell phones out and video and put it up on YouTube. The active supporters are part of the problem.
Passive supporter… Adults, we won’t know about them unless we watch carefully, listen carefully and we overhear a young person say, “Ha-ha, do you know what those kids did that New Kid?” or “Ha-ha do you know what they did to that boy in the locker room?” They’re not doing it but they’re getting pleasure. You know what, they’re part of the problem.
At the very bottom of the circle is a deadly lot. And all of us adults here can be guilty of this. The disengaged onlooker who turns a blind eye, and says boys will be boys, girls just wanna be mean. It’s part of growing up.
On the upswing we have that potential witness. That’s that young person here who was raised to act with integrity and civility and compassion, but she’s afraid to the bully. She’s afraid that if she steps she’ll be next. She’s afraid that if she steps in she’ll make it worse for the target. Or she is simply afraid. All of these kids are locked in a trap of comradeship and will begin to justify their meanness by weakening the target even more by saying “Well, he is dorky, he is weird, he does have anxieties, you know he doesn’t quite fit, dark curly hair, and you know she’s new, and you know what she don’t play rugby very well. Trying to fault the target. Don’t let that happen.
What we need every one of us to be is that witness, resister, defender standing up and speaking out, stepping in, doing the right thing when the burden is heavy. It’s easy to do it when we’re all sitting here. But when the burden’s heavy, when it’s in those hallways…
And you know what? It isn’t just our school hallways. It’s the climate we create in our communities…we need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable in our politics…When I work with young people I talk to them about an old Sufi saying (Sufi’s are people of wisdom in the Muslim tradition) that our words must pass through three gates. I would love to put (this saying) on every parliamentarians desk on every congresspersons desk. Our words must pass through three gates before you push “Send”. This is the kind of information we need to get kids.
First if it’s true. If it is not true don’t say it. If it is kind of true, maybe true, half true, a rumor don’t even go to the next two gates. Put it back.
Is it necessary to say? Something may be true but not necessary to tweet all over the place.
The last gate is the hardest gate for all of us to get through. Is it kind? if it’s true, necessary and kind push “send”…You can say things that disagree with somebody else but not be disagreeable with it and still push “send”. And when you get a message in your Inbox and you know it’s coming from somebody who’s bigoted and sends racist comments thinly disguised as a joke do you re-tweet it? Do you send it on? Then you’re a henchman. Do you cheer them on and invite other new ways for them to spread that rumor? You’re the active supporter. Do you sit there and laugh and show your friend? Then you’re the passive supporter. Do you say I’m not even gonna open it because I know what’s in it? You’re the disengaged onlooker. The potential witness sits there and says. “Ahh, I wish they wouldn’t send this to me!” But they gutsy one, the witness, resistor and defender says, “I’m sending a message back.” Please this is a bigoted comment thinly disguised as a joke. I don’t want to be a party to this. Would you delete me. Well you might get a bit of grief about that, they may meet send your message around. But others might say, “You know what, I didn’t have the courage to say that but if she’s gonna say it then I can send a message saying I don’t like it either. You see one person taking that “u” out of bullying, when you take “u” out of it that trap of comradeship begins to break down. And when it begins to break down and swings in the other direction then we are beginning to create a deeply caring community. There are three virulent agents ripping apart the fabric of our humanity today and we’ve got to look at those if we’re going to create the kind of community that will erase bullying.
Hating other human beings with utter contempt putting them outside our circle of carrying making them into an “it”.
Hoarding me, mine and more instead of us, ours and enough.
And Harming with lying and cheating and stealing.
What’s wrong with lying and cheating and stealing? First it destroys your own personal integrity, secondly it destroys your relationship with the “thou” and when we don’t have a relationship we cannot get community. That’s what’s wrong with lying and cheating and stealing. So what are the antidotes to hating, hoarding and harming?…
Care deeply, Share generously, Help willingly.
We must measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create and who we include, what we embrace, what we create and who we include. A death camp survivor was asked how on earth can we break the cycle of violence and he said, “Each one of us must do three things.” So I invite each one of you to do three things, three things:
Pay attention to what’s going on around you,
Get involved and,
Never, ever look away.