Why the Word Bully Does Not Work
One of the great learning in my years as a vice principal, through countless investigations of disputes of all kinds, rarely will you find a full on bully or a full on victim. The first story that comes in the office is never ever the full story and every perspective is told from the viewpoint of the harm-eee versus the harm-er so to speak. We all find it easy to remember times we have been harmed. It is much harder to talk about the times we harm others.
I am reading the book "One" by Kathryn Otoshi as part of a social responsibility lesson for primary students. In summary, the story uses colours and numbers to explain the power of standing up to 'unkind behaviour' (read bully if you must). "Hot head Red", always teases "Quiet Blue" and although all of the other colours observe the disrespect, no one stands up to Red. It isn't until number One, "straight as an arrow" takes a stand, and says no to Hot Head Red's behaviour that the rest of the colours begin to do the same.
I use the book as a springboard to talk about what do we do when someone is unkind. Standing up to "Hot Head Red" means we look at Red in the eye, say her name, then, "Stop!", and define the behaviour.
"Red, Stop poking me. It bothers me and you need to stop right now."
"Red, Stop! You are calling me names and it hurts my feelings. You need to stop calling me names right now."
You get the idea. The truth is, we teach people how to treat us, and if we practice using the name of the person who is disrespecting us, saying the word stop and naming the behaviour that needs to stop, we practice a culture of empowerment. And that is what we need.
The reality is, everyone takes a turn at being "Hot Head Red". Every single one of us will get a turn to be angry, disrespectful, mean, intimidating or unkind. When it is my turn to be red, I hope that there are mirrors that will reflect back the Stop! so that I can learn it is not okay to be disrespectful to others.
And I know this is simplistic and just the beginning of a more complicated conversation on how we navigate conflict but it is a great starting place. Every day we have the power to teach all those around us about our own personal value. We get to practice holding boundaries and determining how we would like others to speak to us and be with us.
I respect the sentiment around the movement to wear pink. I understand that the idea is about having everyone take a stand against those who choose to harm others and to align ourselves with those who are powerless or less powerful. Aligning ourselves with the "victim" is easy. We naturally connect with being wounded. Acknowledging our red is a whole lot more challenging but in my point of view, where we need to go in order to encourage cultures of self awareness, compassion and courage.
So, for that reason, I am not wearing pink today, and instead, I am wearing my ever-present shiny red Dorothy like shoes, grateful that for the next few weeks I get to teach children how to stand straight like arrows, while looking at their "Hot Head Reds" and saying stop.
By and large this lesson is for primary students but there are no shortage of stories in both our local and international news that speak to the need for this practice. We as adults are notoriously bad at modelling positive communication skills. There are many lessons and skills needed to work with standing up to our own unkindness, but this is a good place to start. I look forward to writing about more strategies in future blog posts.