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“BULLY” AND BEYOND

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Although the deeply disturbing documentary, “Bully,” has been out for over a year, I just got to view it as a rental a few days ago.  It grabbed my guts and gave them a wrenching twist.

The documentary focuses on the struggles of five families.  Two students end up killing themselves, others seriously consider it, while one young lady attempts to discourage her persecutors from continuing their bullying by bringing a loaded gun on a school bus and screaming threats.

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Each of the family stories is brought vividly to life.  For example, Alex, a 14-year old, is teased, humiliated and assaulted daily.

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Here we see him getting abused on the school bus.

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Trying to make sense of it all, at one point he sticks up for his tormentors, saying they are “just messing around” when they stab him with pencils and call him vile names.  At another point, he asks his deeply troubled mother, “If not for them, what friends do I have?”

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It is not only boys who are humiliated regularly at school.

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Many are berated about their sexuality.bullygay

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Others, because of the color of their skin.

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It happens on school buses.

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In school hallways.

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And more and more, on the internet.

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Often groups of children band together to pick on others.

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bullyadults2The educators that we see in the film come across as needing some sound advice on handling bullying.  A. O. Scott, in his review of the movie for the New York Times, refers to them as well-meaning but clueless.  Particularly irksome to Scott is the scene in which an assistant principal tries to settle a conflict between two boys who apparently had been fighting at recess.

bully14“When she insists that they shake hands, one eagerly obliges, with a smile and an apology.  The other sullenly resists, and as she scolds him for his noncooperation (letting his antagonist go), it becomes clear that this boy is the victim, and that the assistant principal’s rushed attempt to be fair is in fact perpetuating a terrible and continuing injustice.”

At first, I was very disappointed that the movie offers very little constructive suggestions about what can be done to turn this dismal problem around.  But its emotional impact has been an important part of the emergence of a coalition working toward altering intolerable conditions too often regarded as “just kids being kids.”

bully4The movie has spawned The Bully Project, an online site where people can learn more about dealing with bullying.  There, kids who are bullied can learn that they are not alone.  And educators can learn about how to set up a viewing of the movie for their entire school and to follow up the viewing with classroom discussions.

In one video that we can access at the site, we see one entire school going to the movie and then getting the reactions from students.  One kid reports that there was not a dry eye in the auditorium.  Others admitted that they had bullied, but now realized it was wrong.

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Also available on line, as my regular readers know, is this blog, Name Calling, Insults and Teasing: A Guide to Anger, Conflict and Respect.  The blog can be used as a free curriculum that teaches the social skills to deal with these challenging experiences.

Illustration by Eric Sailer

Illustration by Eric Sailer

For those of you who are first getting familiar with this blog and want to help others to learn how to deal with problems involving insults, I recommend starting with my post titled:

INSULTS: A COMIC STRIP LOVER’S GUIDE

There, readers can learn about eight different reasons why people insult others and get some suggestions about how to deal with each of them.

If you are a parent or educator, in my post titled, TEACHING CHILDREN HOW TO DEAL WITH CRITICISM, I recommend a fun game that teaches kids how to respond to criticism in a manner that enhances their reputation.

Illustration by Eric Sailer

Illustration by Eric Sailer

One approach that I have used in a school setting to deal with these types of issues is to have kids create brief TV shows that illustrate each of the four levels of responding to criticism that I discuss regularly on my blog (see, for example, RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: FOUR LEVELS OF MATURITY).  The kids loved doing this.  When the kids were done acting out these video role-plays, I had the parents of the kids in my group come, and it created a dialogue about these issues that was very well received.

After the parents saw the TV shows, I made another set of these four-level role-play videos with the same group of kids, and again, the parents showed up.  By now, the kids had learned this set of skills like it was the back of their hands, and were using them in settings outside the group.

A particularly powerful way to teach skills that deal with bullying is through narratives that are designed to change the valuation of bullying to make it signify ineptitude rather than manliness. We can change the culture by telling stories in which kids, out of fear, act nice to a bully when face to face with them but speak negatively about them as soon as the bully’s back is turned. “Is that the type of respect you are after?” is a question to ask the students after each story is told.

hero coverI’ve published a trilogy of three novels that not only addresses this question, but presents a character who rejects bullying and yet learns to achieve respect.

In my view, it is vitally important that we raise the awareness that something that is viewed as “normal” is terribly wrong.  The film, “Bully,” does an excellent job of doing this.  But we must go beyond this crucial step.  We must also raise the awareness that there are very specific actions that people can take to alter the awful injustice we find in and around our schools, and to teach students, parents and educators alike what those actions are.

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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

DEALING WITH INSULTS: LESSONS FROM THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY
RESPONDING TO CRITICISM: A LUANN COMIC STRIP LESSON

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

2 Comments

  1. I have been a trainer with the Anti Defamation League’s wonderful program on anti bullying and cyber bullying in the state of Florida for over a decade. The ADL has some of the best programs out there as evidenced by all the schools, children, administrators, and parents who have participated from Miami to Tampa. The ADL also has world wide offices and political lobbying and lawyers. Check out their website on line.

    Best,

    Deri

    PS Also, the study circle model from Everyday Democracy is a wonderful tool for bringing folks together who then choose an issue they want to see changes in or with.

  2. Hi Deri,
    Thanks for your comment about ADL’s efforts to counter bullying in Florida. I know ADL over the years has done some fine work. I do, however, have one image of an association with ADL from my past that I found disturbing, and perhaps you will be so kind to help me with it. It was from a TV newscast. ADL had organized a protest against some bullying. I agreed with ADL about what was being protested, but many in their group were hatefully shouting vile names at the people who had carried out the injustice. I’m not here suggesting that the shouting of vile names is a policy that ADL endorses, but I am wondering if you, as a trainer, could clarify ADL’s position on confronting bullying with throwing vile insults. If ADL does object to such conduct, what does it recommend as an alternative?
    Jeff

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