Every school has them. Every kindergarten. Every playground. Those little souls who are so misguided, so confused in regards to who they are in this world, misinformed about the good they can foster. Those kids who are denied, disallowed, disapproved, revoked, and rejected, those kids who are so hurt – they have no other choice but to hurt others. To teach them better, to “help” the bullies – we make their worst dreams come true.
What is the Source of Bullying?
The source of bullying is the sad reality we are, all, part of. We live in a world where nothing but power matters. We live in a world that sanctifies comparisons – individuals no longer stand alone, but in comparison to someone else. Success is measured in comparison. Wisdom is measured in comparison. Power is measured in comparison. Sometimes, even love is measured in comparison. From day one, we are encouraged to strive for more, crawl faster (because the neighbor’s son was already walking at this age!), speak better (because your cousin Lilly could already utter full sentences at this age!) be better students, be better sportsmen, dance better, draw better – but only a handful of very lucky children are actually asked “wait – do you even like dancing?”.
If this sounds too far fetched, give me another moment and see how this unfolds.
A World of Coercion
We live in a world that sanctifies coercion. We believe that making other people do things against their will is normal. We believe that babies have to be passed from hand to hand even when they show clear signs of distress, to not hurt the feelings of aunt Polly. We believe that suffering is a major part of the learning process called “life”. We let babies cry it out because we believe this will teach them to “sleep”. We force babies and toddlers away from their parents because we believe this is how they will grow independent. We believe that in order for someone to do better, we first must make them feel worse.
By letting babies cry it out, we teach them that their feelings, their fears, their insecurities – don’t matter. We teach them that no one, not even Mom and Dad, will come to their rescue. We force them into their solitude, teaching them that they are the only ones they can count on. Loneliness is the first lesson most human beings are taught.
By passing distressed babies around, we teach them that the feelings of adults are more important than their comfort. By fostering independence children are not ready for, we teach them that failure, that lack of self worth is an integral part of life’s experience.
A World of Distorted Powers
We believe in times out. We believe in punishments. We celebrate estrangement, dissolution, partition, and segregation.
We are taught to divide and conquer, because standing alone we are, indeed, weaker. And in order for “them” to better “control” us, the weaker we are – the better.
By sending children to times out we teach them that no one will share in their pain, we teach them that it is enough for someone to be stronger to push them aside. For acts of violence we punish, teaching children that violence can win over violence. It’s just a question of who is stronger.
We live in a world of violence. But unfortunately, we don’t seem to see it this way. Because it is normal. Crying it out, times out, and punishments are the norm. And if everyone are doing it – than it must be normal. But the truth is, that it isn’t. It is everything but the supposed norm of humanity. It is everything but what the human being needs to thrive.
Force Over, Rather Than Power With
Bullying starts at home. We all know that. But violence is broader, more encompassing than its physical aspect.
Violence is everywhere – in every word, in every condition, in every deed. “Don’t cry” is violent. “Don’t say that” is violent. “Don’t do that” is violent. “Because I said so” is violent. “Because I am your mother” is violent. And I can go on forever. The fact that a child is not being hit, doesn’t mean that he is not suffering violence.
Human mechanisms of internal coercion take care of that. Fear, guilt, and shame are the core reason to why we do things – we are afraid of what they might think of us if we won’t do it, we are ashamed of what they might say about us if we won’t do it, we are guilty of what someone else might feel if we won’t do it.
For the sake of other people’s emotions we sabotage our own. This is what we are taught to do, and it is when we feel most powerless that we end up resorting to force.
Bullying with the Hope for Change
When we witness bullying, in front of us is a child desperate for someone else to see his feelings, to understand what lives in him, a child for whom violence is the only option. “Maybe if I’ll make him feel the way I feel, he will understand?”
In front of us is a child who feels so small, so insignificant, so un-thought of, a child for whom violence is the only option. “Maybe proving someone else’s weakness will make me stronger”?
In front of us is a child who had experienced nothing but denial, disallowance, disapproval, and rejection, a child for whom violence is the only option. “Maybe by the rejection of another I will finally be accepted”?
These children are masters at finding each other. It is as if they can scent the suffering that draws them one towards the other, and together they feel unite. Undefeatable. Superheroes. But they’re blind shepherds, leading blind sheep.
As adults, we (at least most of us) know that the answer to all these hopeful questions that are the driving force behind bullying, is always “no, you won’t”. But being the only strategies children are taught, bullying is what surfaces.
And then, what do we do? We punish, we yell, we estrange. We deny benefits, affection, connection. We make them feel worse. So much worse. We make them live their biggest fears. Hoping this will help them do better.
We bully them with the power granted to us by “adultness”, a force as deceitful as any other.
Nonviolence is a Way of Life
We are violent in everything that we do. Not because we are bad, God forbid, but because this is what we know. This is what we have been systematically taught for 7,000 years of patriarchy. Because no one told us there is another option, there is another way to live this life.
The source of bullying is every home, every household. The fact that not all children end up bullying others, or bullied themselves, is not because of what they were taught, but in spite of it, because in this world – violence is core to everything that we learn. These kids, who are attuned to their needs and feelings, who manage to stay true to themselves in the terrifying noise of the outside world are the real messengers of Nonviolence. They are the epitome of its existence, the prophets of peace.
Where do We Stand?
There’s nothing about this text that aims at blaming any of the readers. I grew up the same way. I was only allowed the emotions that didn’t clash with their expectations of me. I was only allowed to pursue the interests they wanted me to pursue. I was only allowed to eat what they let me eat. I was only allowed to wear what they chose for me. Writing this line brings tears to my eyes because in the first months of my parenting journey, I did the same.
And I thought it was normal.
But I sobered up. I closed my ears and opened my heart. Only then was I able to see what the world doesn’t want me, you, or anyone else to see – that Nonviolence is an option. And I embraced it with all my heart. In the following years, I un-taught myself from everything I had known and I taught myself, from the very beginning, what this world is truly about. I saw the amazing affects the method of Nonviolent Communication had brought into my life and I promised myself I would do everything in my power to spread the word. Because we deserve a better world. Because our children deserve a better world.
Every person who takes the pledge of Nonviolence brings this world a step closer to where it can actually be. Every child who is taught to accept and handle his feelings, brings this world a step closer to the world of good it can be.
Bullying doesn’t have to be our reality. We can CHOOSE better. Much better.
How Can We Help Bullies?
The more pain one carries within, the more pain he’ll inflict upon others. The more hate one feels towards himself – the more hate he will show others. Children who bully are crying for help, with the only means they were ever taught. What they are really saying is “please see me. Please feel me. Please take me out of this terrible solitude”. What they need from us is acceptance, and space. What they need from us is for us to finally believe in them. They need us to know that they can, in order to find it within themselves. They need us to show them love and compassion, empathy and grace. Only through this will they be able to emerge. It is our job to help the bully. It is our responsibility.
Join my parenting support group on Facebook and sign up for the mindful parenting challenge below. There’s absolutely nothing you can lose, from taking Nonviolence in. Hope to meet you soon.