This week there was a story in my local newspaper about a young first nations girl who was taking a stand on bullying. She was being bullied at her school by a group because she was native and because of her weight.
This had gone on for over a year even though her mother tried to intervened on her behalf and the school and the local school board also tried to solve this issue. Yet the bullying still continued.
This brave young lady decided to do something positive so she told her story and posted her picture on a Facebook site called Healthy Active Natives. Her post went viral with thousands of positive comments of support. She has since started a new Facebook site called Team Alvena where she is documenting her new healthy lifestyle.
Today there was a follow up story in the local newspaper about Alvena. The headline read “Young Girl Now Happy at Her New School”, and these words were what prompted me to comment on the bullying issue.
First let me say that I am happy for Alvena that she has made new friends at her new school and hopefully will be able to move on from the bad experience of the last year because she deserves it. I would also say that I understand and respect Alvena and her mom’s decision to move to another school to get away from the bullying. Sometimes leaving a bad situation and starting fresh somewhere else is not the best solution but the only solution.
So why do I have such a bad taste in my mouth over what sounds like a happy ending to this story? Because the bullies ultimately won.
Imagine an invading army attacks an unsuspecting, peace loving village. The villager put up a valiant fight to protect their home and their way of life but in the end the relentless bombardment from the heartless attackers wears the villagers down to the point that the only alternative left to them is to pack up what ever they can salvage and leave to start up somewhere new giving up their village to the invading army. Sure they ran away to fight another day, but they are forced to change their lifes due to no fault of their on other than the attackers saw an easy target.
Fight or flight, one of the most primal survival responses in humans beings and bullies have been capitalizing on this element for millennia.
In our modern society and judicial system, we have come to realize that perpetrators must pay for their crimes. To have a just society where everyone regardless of race, gender, financial means, education, religion, or physical capabilities, has the right to live in peace and relative safety. This has become the gold standard for global human rights. Yet we still are struggling with issues of bullying in our schools. I guess the one exception to global human rights is when it comes to the safety and rights of our youth.
Why is it even acceptable to be okay with suggesting that any bullied student change schools to solve the problem? The bullied victim gets bullied twice. Once by the bully and once by the establishment. What if instead of suggesting the victim changed schools, we demand that the bully leave the school.
What message are we sending the silent majority in our schools? Keep your head down and hope the bully doesn’t notice you next or your life will be up heaved too for no other reason than because they didn’t like the looks of you. God forbid if you have a visible difference about you, maybe you are better off to just hide!
What message are we sending to the fringe bullies? You know the ones that don’t actual do the bullying but egg on the bully from the sidelines. That bullies are winners and victims are losers? The bully won after all, the victim fled the scene. Doesn’t that just perpetuate bullying?
What would happen if schools adopted a three strike policy on bullying? First incident, a warning up to a suspension depending on the seriousness of the situation. Second incident, mandatory counselling (parents included) for the bully and third incident, expulsion from the school, you and your behaviour are no longer welcome here.
Ok, I will admit that the issue of bullying is a complex one but why is the victim always the one who has to change, never the bully. Could you imagine the courts telling a rape victim, we know who did this to you but the best we can do here is ask you to move away because we don’t plan to make him responsible for his crimes. Hope that works out for you.
In some South American villages when women, through the success of micro loan programs were becoming empowered by starting small but successful businesses that changed their families financial circumstances, it was no surprise that some men felt threatened by this cultural shift. Women were being attacked and raped in a bullying tactic aimed at demoralizing the female village population. The solution was not to run and hide but stand and fight. Each women was given a whistle. When a women was attacked or witnessed an attack, they were to blow their whistle and in turn every women in the village would begin to sound their whistle. The noise brought awareness and people running. The attacker(s), the bully would be publically shamed into stopping the violent behaviour or kicked out of the village. Maybe we should offer students whistles.
The point here is, we can raise awareness about bullying, wear pink shirts on Feb. 26 in solidarity of bullying victims, make anti-bullying videos and education programs, and vow to not bully others, but that only works for the people who are empathic to the cause in the first place. Unless we are ready and willing to punish the bully in some sort of way instead of the victim, we will never change the attitudes of those that are prone to bully in the first place. The cause and effect of the current solutions are only perpetuating the age old top dog of the pack mentality. Rule by fear and keep the passive gentle people in a constant state of flight.
Is that what we are still tolerating for our young?