After being a participant in many classes in Peace and Peace Studies, I have had the opportunity to reorient my beliefs about the role of war and violence in humanity. Contrary to the Hobbesian view that humans are born to be violent, their birth is violent after all, and people resort to violence naturally to maintain their social, political, and religious power and positions, I find that this is not necessarily the absolute truth. Several “truisms” are now more apparent to me: (1) that while conflict is unavoidable among living beings (humans and primates), the resolution of the conflicts can take various forms including nonviolent practices; (2) peaceful resolutions can be taught through socialization and education; and (3) war did not exist prior to 10,000 years ago. These are broad, I know, but they underline my revised thinking about the state of our world today and the messages that are conveyed by the media, education systems, politicians, etc.
In an article on aggression in children, it was shown that children can be taught to be cooperative or aggressive and that their responses to frustrating situations will be contingent on their training. Those children who were taught and encouraged to be aggressive, responded with aggressive behaviors when denied their movie and ice cream. And those who were trained and encouraged to be cooperative, actually became more cooperative when faced with the same frustrations. The article ended with “can peace be taught?”. I think this is definitely so as we have studied different peaceful societies where conflict resolution techniques include: avoidance, withdrawal, mock conflicts (where no permanent harm is done), apologies, community mediation gatherings, etc. In addition, there is research that shows that the majority of soldiers in previous wars did not pull their triggers and that soldiers have had to be trained, coerced, and shamed into going into battle to kill another human being. As we are facing a daily crisis of suicides committed by veterans, we know that by putting men and women in aggressive, warlike situations permanently scars them not only physically, but even more so emotionally. If violence was innate, we would not be having so many emotionally wounded returning soldiers who struggle to enter and maintain daily life and their relationships.
If we look at the research from Chenoweth & Stephan’s Why Civil Resistance Works, we find they demonstrate that not only do nonviolent campaigns have a greater success rate and are increasing in frequency since 1900, they tend to attract many more participants from all ages, social sectors, and economic classes. Whereas, violent movements typically attract young males and may be related to their need for social recognition along with promised economic and status rewards. Another aspect to consider when looking at the violent versus nonviolent nature of humankind (or creature-kind!) is that in nonviolent movements there are loyalty shifts that occur within the security sector. Men and women who are hired to be violent towards another have been shown to lay down their weapons or just stand there rather than exercising violence on another who really is just like them or a family member. I think about the nonviolent campaigns where resistors presented soldiers and police with roses to put in their guns, told them they were loved and were embraced as being one of them and not the enemy. Popovic talks about the use of toys to demonstrate the sentiments of the people under oppressive regimes, to present some levity, but also show the nonviolent tactics in a civil resistance movement. Even the use of language can reinforce nonviolence in the words and expressions selected. Instead of “Death to the Shah”, one can pick a slogan that is positive and nonviolent – “We want peace now”. All of these remind each of us, and the communities we belong to, that it is our responsibility to make choices about whether to be nonviolent and peaceful or violent in our lives, actions and words. I do think that it is a choice that may take re-education and intentionality.
As I type this, there was news notification about a senator who was raped while she was in the military and how she felt raped also by the system. I think we have used the excuse that men are just men and they are innately violent to give them passes for the actions they take instead of condemning their actions and reinforcing that we all are peaceful until we learn to be aggressive with others and sometimes with ourselves. Peaceful interactions and actions can be taught and socialized and reinforced within any society!
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Saying and repeating this mantra is a daily occurrence on some playgrounds and households. The harsh reality is words do hurt because the bruises and wounds they inflict remain in the core of the psyche and being. A video of Keaton Jones set the world of social media ablaze on his behalf late last year. Jones, a middle-schooler from Tennessee, tearfully retold his experience with bullies during the day. There is a temptation to turn Jones into a “poster child for inspiration porn”; thereby negating the reality that being different remains a negative within some societies, including America. Siblings bully each other by calling one another names, coworkers often haze the newbies, jocks put nerds in lockers, and presidential candidates mock journalists with disabilities. In other words, we are in the midst of a bullying epidemic.
Epidemic is generally used to describe the spread of an infectious disease, one that is seemingly out of control. Society fails to view the unintended consequences of words as part of an epidemic that spans the public and mental health sphere, and reaches into the realm of human rights. The ultimate issue with this bullying epidemic is that it infringes on the individual’s (or group’s) right to a peaceful environment. Humiliation and marginalization, fueled by a desire for control, are the ultimate effects projected onto countless targets. These effects, often times, cause targets to make irreversible and life changing decisions like 10-year-old Ashawnty Davis and 13-year-old Rosalie Avila who both committed suicide after copious amounts of schoolyard and online bullying they endured. Their deaths speak to a direct need for awareness and prevention tactics in the classroom, family, and society. The words bully and bullying have a stereotype and stigma that leads many individuals to make assumptions that seek to label the bully rather than their actual behavior. The misapplication of labels, placed on a bully, dehumanizes their personhood rather than their behavior. This blog examines the interplay between the assumptions and realities of the bullying persona.
R.J. Palacio wrote Wonderfollowing an encounter with her child and another in an ice cream shop. Wonder tells the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a 10-year old boy, who is blighted by a severe facial deformity. Because of his deformity, his peers and often times other adults are cruel to him. As Auggie starts middle school, his peers find his appearance off-putting so they choose to isolate him. The school culture created an environment where ostracism is the result of not fitting in. The bullying behavior begins with isolation and badmouthing by his peers. The story begins to take a turn when one of Auggie’s friends, Jack, is caught making fun of him. Jack so desperately wants to fit in that his lack of self-confidence influences his courage and willingness to defend Auggie when others are badmouthing him. Jack is a classic example of the bystander role. Many of us find ourselves witnessing a bullying situation and we, more than not, choose to ignore the situation or join in on the bullying. Jack’s betrayal of Auggie cuts so deeply that he holes himself up in the bathroom in tears.
Auggie’s reaction is common. Much like Keaton Jones, those on the other end of a bully’s action and/or words do not understand why others are so cruel. Ultimately, in the book, Jack and the others in Auggie’s grade realize that it is better to choose kindness. They rally around Auggie and accept him as one of their own. They see all of the values he possesses and admire him for his courage and perseverance. This story is an example of what bullying awareness can bring; unfortunately, bullying situations do not always end so positively.
Bullying is a multi-faceted phenomenon, influenced by many factors that not easily explained. It is a unique and complex form of interpersonal aggression. Aggression takes many forms and manifests in different patterns of relationships; it is a show of oppression in an attempt to gain power over another individual. Coincidentally, bullying behavior is not just the result of individual characteristics, but influenced by multiple relationships with peers, families, teachers, neighbors, and various other interactions with societal influences. It is important to note this distinction in order to equate a bully’s actions to be a result of their personal psychology and their interactions with the environment.
Bullying can be broken down into two categories. The first form of bullying occurs when the bully and their target are in the presence of one another. This is direct bullying and observable when a bully physically or verbally harasses their target directly. Spreading rumors is a method of indirect bullying because the aggressive behavior occurs ‘around’ the target. Under those two umbrella terms, there are four types of bullying: physical, verbal, relational, and damage to property. Physical bullying encompasses hitting, biting, kicking, or punching. Verbal bullying occurs when the bully chooses to use words to hurt and harass their targets. Relational bullying involves efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted targets. Lastly, damaging one’s property is its own form of bullying because it not only involves a target’s personhood, but their property as well.
Bullying can happen in any number of places, contexts, and locations. It is not isolated to the stereotypical shove in a locker or thrown in the trashcan after school. The more digitized society becomes, the more complex and viral the bullying. Electronic bullying, or cyberbullying, involves the oppression and assertion of power over an individual through social media and other digital outlets. Cyberbullying focuses on context or location versus an actual type of bullying because it happens over the internet. Although this form of bullying occurs through the internet, its consequences are just as detrimental to its targets. Depression, suicide, and anxiety are just a few ways that cyberbullying can affect its targets. School, the workplace, the mall, online, and the bar are all places where bullying can be perpetrated. In the case of Ashawnty Davis, the viral sharing of the altercation she experienced at school proved too much for her to overcome.
When thinking about bullying and its perpetrators, it is important to note that it is fluid in its nature and involvement. Studies show that frequent targets and frequent perpetrators assume different roles in bullying across school years as well as young adulthood. Thus, individuals can observe bullying, experience bullying, and perpetrate bullying across different situations over time. Across contexts, for instance, a student may be targeted by classmates at school but bully his or her siblings at home.
Jack, who starts as August’s friend, later finds himself in the position of a bully. He badmouths August in order to gain notoriety with his classmates. Eventually, his role shifts from being a bully and a bystander, to becoming an “upstander.” An upstander is a person who acts for positive change. Jack does this by sticking up for August when others attempt to bully him. However, by standing up for August, he finds himself now being bullied as well, thus falling into the targets role.
Research shows that being involved as both a perpetrator and targets seems to compound the impact of bullying. Bully-targets find themselves at greater risk for anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, suicide, substance abuse, and a host of other psychoanalytic disruptions. The misconception that bullies bully because they themselves have been targets is an overgeneralization to the psychoanalytic aspects at play when an individual sets out to bully someone else. We cannot simply equate their actions as retaliation.
What makes an individual more susceptible to becoming a bully? A variety of factors including the association with callous-unemotional traits like psychopathic tendencies, endorsement of masculine traits, conduct problems, and antisocial traits may contribute to exhibiting bullying behavior. In children, being the target of a bully can manifest in depression, anxiety, truancy and poor performance, loneliness and withdrawal. Bullies targets those who tend to less well liked, less accepted, and more rejected by peers. The relationship between perpetrator and targets is a power struggle in allowance for the superior party to oppress and marginalize their targets. The consequences of bullying and targetization is complex in its nature. Studies show that bullies are also at risk for many of the same adverse side effects as their targets. Bullying perpetration often leads to anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, delinquent behavior, and adult diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.
We, as a society, must assist in implementing intervention and prevention tactics to combat bullying behavior. Education and awareness are essential. Begin by recognizing the many forms that bullying takes – beyond simple name calling in a second grade classroom. Bullying transcends the classroom into adulthood. At the end of Wonder, the revelation that Auggie’s bully experiences bullying brings the story full circle. Summer, along with Jack, help to balance out this narrative by offering their friendship and support to August when no one else will. Once we recognize the many facets of bullying, we can begin to have those tough conversations about choosing kindness.
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