Calvin Neufeld on Bullying - Q&A Session

Calvin: Alright. So now, who would like to talk about what? I told you to brace yourselves!

Comment: I’m a grade 6 teacher and I see a lot of bullying and the way I look at it is that - how I explain it to the victim and to the rest of the onlookers, the bystanders - that the bully is suffering so much inside, for whatever reason, that when he bullies it makes him feel better. Just for that little bit of time, it gives him a relief of his own suffering to see somebody else suffering. So from there I have my school kids think of how to help the bully to release him from his suffering other than making someone else suffer.

Calvin: Yes. Bullies are victims themselves.

Comment: Yes. And often the victims, what I’ve been teaching them is to break the silence. Break the silence. And they often, if not helped early enough and given the tools to counteract the bullying to no longer become a victim, if they aren’t helped, and if they don’t work it out, they themselves become bullies. And then the bystander, when I talk to my students and I ask them why aren’t more of you speaking up about this, I hear that they have tried in the past and then they became the target of the bully. So then it was trying to teach the victim and the bystander how else they can break the silence without necessarily being directly involved in that punch or whatever it is.

Calvin: There’s all kinds of ways to destabilize this equation. Which is ultimately what it is. Because something’s happening, it’s like a chemical reaction that’s occurring and it doesn’t take much to just throw that off, to stop that catalytic process. And there’s some material that I was reading prior to this that talked about different ways. There can be ways like distraction, humour, going and just standing by the victim or deliberately including the victim in what you’re doing. There’s all kinds of ways that you can participate without making yourself a target. But even then, one of the things that this material was talking about was that what makes a target for bullying tends to be if somebody, with the first instance, if you don’t stand up, if you don’t respond assertively to the aggression of the bully, then the bully knows that you’re a safe target. So whatever way you do it, the bully’s not going to go after somebody who has a strong, assertive reaction. Because it’s not worth their effort. They’re looking for easy targets, safe targets. So if you’re going to be a stand-up make-myself-a-target-now to save the victim, you want to make sure that you have the confidence not to stand up and then “oh, sorry…” And then you’re the next. So depending on whether you are a person of an assertive nature or a very passive nature, there’s all kinds of different things you can do from just actively helping the victim, for example, and showing “No, this is not okay. Look at this poor hurting person here.” It can be a very – whether you’re a Mother Teresa type or a strong… you know… there’s different ways you can respond to the situation.

Comment: Yeah, just the thought occurred to me that I think a lot of bullies don’t even realize what they’re doing to the person, like long-term or what that person is experiencing after they turn and walk away from that. I think just from my experience of people that I may have been a bully to in high school, like, you know, just that I’ve known them now as adults and been able to rectify that. But just to realize that it did affect them more than I realized. But also just an experience that I had myself in a park where I approached a bigger kid, like older, making fun of a kid because of his speech or the way he was talking like a baby. And I went up to that kid and I said “How would you feel if a kid bigger than you said that or did that to you?” And the kid was just shocked and ran to his mother and I remember it just bothered me all day long. I’m hoping that that kid then will think twice about that next time, you know?

Calvin: Isn’t that a shame that you wouldn’t be aware that this kind of behaviour destroys people. That’s why one of the exercises that is very commonly used - my wife is an elementary school teacher and her mom is as well so I know these little exercises, right? One of them is you take a piece of paper, all the kids have a piece of paper, and you say okay now everyone scrunch up the piece of paper. Okay, now open it up and it’s all wrinkled up, and now try to make it flat. You can’t. You see, that’s what bullying does. Once you’ve done that damage this person can’t go back to the way they were before. This is a permanent damage that’s occurring. You need to understand the effect that your behaviour has on others. And this is a phenomenon that is involved with bullies, they aren’t always conscious… and there’s often associated with bullies a notable lack of empathy for the victim. They simply can’t project themselves into the victim’s shoes. Which is why this education, this awareness is so important. And I’m thinking with that paper thing, how much paper do we need to waste before people get the picture?

Comment: How do you feel about the pending government legislation and the attempt to define the terminology and prescribe the consequences that are going to have to be in the education system. It appears that they’re trying to focus on what it is, and even talk of making it a hate crime. You know, is all of this going just a little bit too far?

Calvin: A hate crime, my goodness… I think that bullying can be used as a tool to perpetrate a hate crime, if you wanted to. But I don’t think bullying itself is a hate crime. It’s a behaviour that’s common to us all. Defining it, I’m sure it has its use. Coming up with a methodical response to these situations that can be implemented school by school, that has its use. But it’s the individuals, the person, I want to find out why would you do this? On a human level, what is occurring in you? You can pathologize, you can label, you can define all you want, but I don’t think that will touch the heart of the problem, of the person. So everything has its place but there has to be the human factor. And that’s, I don’t know, individual, one-on-one, I don’t know what that is.

Comment: I also find myself really overwhelmed by where you go from here. Listening to your talk, I was thinking that it would be so great to see that in high schools, junior high schools, where kids are developing that sense of independence and learning that, you know, I do have a little bit of power and control in who I am, how I am, why I am, all of that. And then I think, but how do you put that into an elementary school context where for many kids, who knows, maybe they’re being bullied or something like it in their home. And I think the schools don’t necessarily - and this is just an outsider’s opinion - the schools I don’t think have a lot of power in how they respond to these things. It seems, on one hand you could say well, the bully gets punished and then you can coddle or take care of the victim, but as you’re pointing out, everybody is a victim, everybody’s insecure, everybody… and then this is where I get overwhelmed because then it becomes this huge issue that as a society we are all unhealthy, mentally sick people. We are, right? What is wrong with us? We don’t have… you know, where’s the village that raises the child? It doesn’t exist, we’re not a community anymore, we don’t know our neighbours, we don’t say hello on the street. We don’t even blink when we witness something happening. It’s across the board, so how do we fix that?

Calvin: You know what, what you just said there - one thing I didn’t say in my talk was the answer to the question of why is the problem getting worse, not better? To me it’s that. This disintegration that’s occurring.

And one of the interesting things that I read about with regard to bullying is that the younger you are, the worse it is. The reports of bullying decrease with age. Grade two is about the age where it’s the highest. It’s shocking.

Comment: Is that because as we get older and we’re exposed to different information, we can intellectualize it?

Calvin: Well they do say that younger kids tend to be targeted by the older kids, right? So the younger you are the more likely you are to be a target. And I think that’s where the crude form of behaviour is occurring and the early signs of behaviour. Did you want to comment on… my wife, with regard to what’s occurring in the very younger ages when you start to see the signs of the behaviour that will then…

Comment: Well I teach grade two, so that age, and I think maybe the kids themselves are trying to establish who they are. And not only trying to establish that to themselves but to each other and to the rest of the class. Trying to figure out their role in this hierarchy of the classroom. And one way of feeling at the top is by bullying and targeting other kids.

Calvin: So that’s the perfect opportunity to stop it right there, where it’s at the seed stage, where it’s just beginning. And if you can implant a new way of dealing with what you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing, then that can be carried forward.

Comment: But how do we do that across the board? Right, that’s where the challenge is. Right? If we’re all parents and we’re all imparting that in our own children, you know, yay. But what about all the rest of the kids who aren’t getting all of that?

Calvin: In terms of actual recommendations for what to do in what circumstances… I mean, the factors that lead to bullying, they say, are family factors to begin with, whether or not you see aggressive behaviour modeled at home. That increases the risk of a person becoming a bully. Individual factors, if you’re an aggressive and/or impulsive person by nature, your natural tendency, you’re more likely to be a bully. And if you’re physically strong, you’re more likely to be a bully. You’re more likely to be a victim of bullying if you’re insecure in your physical capabilities, if you’re naturally shy, quiet or passive by nature. Right? So it’s who people are. It’s the same phenomenon – fear – but if you’re an aggressive person you become a bully, if you’re a passive person you become a victim. Right? It’s two people branching off of the same root of fear. And how do you deal with that? By… I don’t know, by building, by nurturing each other, by being a community, by participating, by not sitting around apathetically and maybe just posting something on Facebook and then feeling like “There, I’m an activist, I did something today, I took part in this problem.” Taking part is serious, it demands so much. And that’s why it’s often so overwhelming, I can’t think about it, it’s too much. If every person… It’s like Sharon said – if everybody was happy, then nobody would be doing this! So it’s almost like building up happiness, building up quality of life for people, and that can take… I don’t know, I don’t know what that takes.

Comment: Can I add something to that? Just a couple of little thoughts. One is about the legislation and such, I’ve seen like in other areas of society like in women’s rights and slavery and that kind of thing, the pendulum almost has to go too far to the extreme in order for it to come back and settle. And so the legislation might seem extreme but it may not be necessary in future years as people just accept that you can’t bully, it’s not accepted in schools, and so then the incidences are decreased and so there’s less punishment to be dealt out. But I think also that if Calvin could just get into more schools and the kids, and the bullies themselves could hear his speech, they will leave there feeling really, you know, they can’t now bully because everybody knows that I’ve got issues or whatever. So they’re going to think twice. So if grade 2 is the age that this is coming out, then really it has to be done not only in high schools but in elementary as well.

Comment: I would add to that that just the fact that the audience here are adults, and how many adults don’t understand exactly what is bullying, and what makes up a bully, a victim, a bystander. By talking to parents of the school kids right off the bat, the entire parent population of schools and let them know so that they can watch their children and say “Whoa, my kid has a victim type tendency or a bully type tendency” and from there, start having the parents helping their kids.

Calvin: Absolutely. Every single person has a role. A nice little quote dealing with this whole question, from “A School-based Anti-Violence Program” from 1996: “Some important strategies in stopping bullying are: providing good supervision for children; providing effective consequences to bullies; using good communication between teachers and parents; providing all children opportunities to develop good interpersonal skills; and creating a social context which is supportive and inclusive, in which aggressive, bully behaviour is not tolerated by the majority.”

That’s it. Right? So working towards that. And they do say that the majority of bullying happens out of the eye of adults. Bullies aren’t stupid. The behaviour is stupid, but bullies aren’t stupid!

Comment: One school I was in, they had procedure steps 1, 2, 3. The first time something happened, the kids knew that this is the consequence, the second time, the third time and so on. And the bystander, also the teachers, the principal and then on up the line. In the situation that I was privy to, is it stopped at one of the authority figures. “Oh they’re just kids, I can’t do anything about it. He’s under 12 so I can’t take it to the cops…” There’s always something more that can be done. And I think it would be really helpful if it came from the board down to the principals, if the principals were trained as well… because I think in the trenches most teachers are doing everything they can but if responsibility stops when it gets to the principal… why are we banging our heads against the wall? But if there could be step 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 right up to, if necessary, under 12 year olds being brought to the attention of the police, because often in that case it is the parents who are not directing the children correctly. So they’ve tried the school plus parents avenue and nothing has happened that’s positive, and in fact that’s confirmed that bullying is OK to continue. So at some point maybe the family as well as the kid needs the something scared right out of them. To say, look, if you’re in an adult world this is what’s going to happen. If we’re trying to bring you up to adapt to an adult world, you may as well learn now while it’s little.

Calvin: Yeah. They do say too that bullies, becoming adults, have statistically a much higher risk of multiple criminal convictions. This behaviour, if it isn’t stopped, if it isn’t taken seriously, it doesn’t only destroy the victim, it destroys the bully’s life as well.

Comment: I quite agree there. To add on to the victim’s side of it, some victims can be quite strong and get through it but it wears away and eventually, later in life, it comes out, and sometimes not in a very good way. I do have one story that gives hope. I was teaching grade 7/8, so hard trying to get through to this one lad, knowing that he did not have a good home life. And his father came in that night drunker than a skunk to complain about me. I won’t go into details but the fact remains that it was sort of like “I’m trying to help your son.” We all thought for sure that this lad would end up in prison actually. Met him in his mid-20s, married to a lovely lady, two really lovely kids, and he was so nice to talk to and I said “I have to ask you,” I said “We all had you pinpointed for the prison. What happened?” He said “My father found God. And my father turned from an alcoholic and a bully into someone who loved his family and supported them. The whole family, not just the immediate family but cousins and everything were affected.” And it’s amazing how one person turning can make such a domino effect to the positive.

Calvin: It’s a powerful effect, and that’s all it takes sometimes. In the case of that, there being an immediate direct solution, the source of the suffering that the bully was experiencing being removed. And also being modeled how a person can be transformed. Children, bullies can see, “I don’t need to be like this. I can change.”

Comment: I wonder, I don’t have any experience being a teacher or whatever, but I wonder if maybe in schools – I’m sure this is done to some extent – but as a prevention of bullying if there is more emphasis on kindness and more singling out and honouring kindness, examples of kindness, wherever it happens in the school. Talking about it in the classroom, pointing out when children are kind to each other, maybe having a kind student of the week award or whatever. So that there’s a lot of emphasis on the opposite of bullying, being kind to each other.

Calvin: Proactive. To encourage and reward the good behaviour rather than worrying exclusively about how to stop the bad behaviour.

Comment: Not that we wouldn’t be standing up and doing what we need to do when bullying is happening, but also working on the prevention.

Calvin: Absolutely, yes. And there’s no reason not to. Of course we want to raise people to be kind and loving. So why we wouldn’t be doing it…

Comment: If we don’t recognize it, if we take it for granted, and, you know, kind of value it, you know, show them… children have to learn that kindness is really… “Isn’t that wonderful, I’m so happy to see that you made your friend feel better after he fell down” or whatever. You know, that kind of thing.

Calvin: If we neglect that, that’s where the corrosion happens. We think it’s not important, we don’t need to do that, and look what happens.

Comment: I just wanted to comment about what you had said over there about, you know, shining the light, like with Calvin’s speech here. And if other students are hearing this, then oh, okay, we’ve just neutered the bully here by having that kind of talk. And the emperor has no clothes now, because everybody knows my secrets and okay, I’m not effective anymore. So it’s an interesting strategy, just to get it out there.

Calvin: Understanding, yes.

Comment: I work at the high school, I’m the Child and Youth Worker there. And we do do presentations in our grade nine classes. I go in and we talk about bullying. I think one of the big issues is that students are given so many mixed messages. They don’t know what is bullying and what is just darn old rotten behaviour. So again, once we empower them with the definitions, the stumbling block does seem to be getting kids to come talk to somebody, to tell. They still look at it as being, they’re ratting, this will go away if I just kind of ignore. So again that’s one of the things that we continually try to work on.

Calvin: And it can be… one of the forms of bullying is deliberate social exclusion. And that can be absolutely invisible to anyone who doesn’t know that it’s happening. So it’s so important that the youth themselves, even adults to be aware – you can be socially excluded as an adult, trust me! And this can be done intentionally, it can be done unintentionally as well, but where it’s bullying is when it’s being used as a weapon against somebody. And that can be something that – who knows, like what do I do, do I go and tell my parents? And will the parents believe me? This is one of the reasons that people often won’t report bullying. They have this sense, and they’re often reinforced, that if they tell somebody about it, an adult, that the adult won’t take it seriously. And this happens. We all like to think that we respond responsibly to these things. But we’ve all failed I think sometimes, from time to time. And it doesn’t make a bad person out of you. We need to take things very seriously. And if somebody is reporting - even if it’s not technically under the definition of bullying - if someone’s just reporting being hurt by something, or feeling damaged by something, we have to take it seriously. Quality of life for everybody is quality of life for me, for you. Right?

Comment: Part of the “break the silence” for the victim, when I talk to my kids about it, and they say “Well I did talk to somebody but they didn’t do anything.” And so I say, “Well then you go to another person, and if they don’t do anything then you go to another person, and then another person, until somebody acts.” And there’s telephone numbers you can give them, etc. But recently at a parent-teacher meeting, I brought in a family, had the mother and father come in, and I said “Congratulations, you are the parents of a bully!” And I’m smiling and laughing, and they said “Why do you say this?” And I gave them the reasons, the difference between bullying and just a downright nasty person is the repetitiveness of what they’re doing. And in this case it was a girl who was doing the social isolation and telling the other kids, “Don’t be around that person, ignore them, etc”, whatever. So I’m telling the parents this, and the father’s going, “Well, she’s not hitting anybody, she’s not a bully.” And I said “Well no, no, bullying isn’t just physical, it’s mental and in fact mental in my opinion is works because you don’t see the actual marks and scars of what it’s doing. And he, like other parents, came to the conclusion “Well, she’s just being a girl” or “he’s just being a guy.” This is what I really like about what you’re doing here Cal, you’re educating us, and if everybody could be educated like that, then that’s going to be a big step towards diminishing it, if not stopping it.

Calvin: And totally unintentionally, that parent participated in the bullying. It’s like a victim of sexual abuse. They say that if you report it and the person doesn’t take it seriously, that’s another abuse, it’s a part of it. And speaking of that, that story that you told me about one exercise to use when it comes to somebody who’s been victimized by bullying, for example, or by whatever it happens to be, sexual abuse or bullying or whatever. Then you imagine a circle around yourself, and this is my Safe Space. And whatever words or insults or whatever it is that you throw at me, you take it, you visualize it, you write it down, crumple it up and throw it out of your circle. Sorry, that doesn’t stay in here. And even just a practical exercise like that, you can throw the stuff in here and I’ll throw it right back out. Boundaries. And so, to deal with the victim and how the victim can respond to bullying. And the parents, and the teachers, and friends. How often is a friend directly involved? Just knowing or laughing. They say the bully isn’t always the one doing it – that’s the bully - but even if you’re a friend supporting the bully, that’s bullying.

They say that if teachers in a school context or whatever, if the adult does not respond effectively, then that sends the message to the other youth that this behaviour is okay, that you’ll get away with it, it can tolerated. So appropriate responses to this happening is very very important. And if it continues, then, if it gets to that point, send the bully out of the class, of the school, whatever, not the victim. That sends a strong message to other students. Consequences are for the one who is having this behaviour. We’re not going to remove the victim so that the victim is safe, remove the bully so that the victim is safe. Appropriate responses. Yeah, so “If the bully(ies) will not change their behaviour, despite concerted efforts by school personnel, they, and not the victim, should be the ones who are removed from the class or school, or transferred to another program. Consequences for the perpetrators will be of considerable interest to all students, and will set the tone for future situations.”

And one of the things that I love, talking about positive responses to these things, is two children’s books that my wife brought home for me to read about it, by an author called Kathryn Otoshi. And one of them is called One, the other one is called Zero, and I highly recommend them. They’re beautiful works and they’re so positive, and they’re bang-on. So, as an adult or a kid, whatever, read them, they’re absolutely fantastic and they paint the picture in the simplest terms, and the solutions in the simplest terms.

Comment: Okay. As a survivor of bullying - I’m now 68 and you’re just lucky that I’m still here. Because if I had known about suicide when I was the age of 8-12 years old, I would have done it, that’s how bad it was. It was all types, it was physical, psychological, sexual, anything you want, I had it. I don’t know how I survived it. But I’m so grateful that today it’s coming more forward and that there are resources that can deal with this type of thing. Because of what happened to me up to the age of 13, well I was a tiny little person so that’s why I got picked on and then I got hit. So I figured, hm, I’m too small, so I’m going to put on weight and I’m going to be big and then they’re not going to be able to do this to me anymore. Fine, that’s what I did. Hm. And how did that work for me? Yeah, the bigger people who were the bullies, they got bigger too and they just wanted to see how strong I was. So they took me on and I got the worst of it again. Like, there was nothing back then. You’d tell your parents but they were like “Yeah, okay, you know, don’t be such a suck. Put up with it.” It was just “You’re being a suck, stand up for yourself.” I mean, how do you do that? You’ve got one girl that’s about, what was she, I suppose she’d have been about 12 and I was about 8. She had a gang of boys and she was the leader of this abuse, this physical abuse, and she’d get the boys to surround me so I couldn’t get away from her, I couldn’t run. And there’s all kinds of things she would do. Ugh, the worst thing I can remember that happened to me - and if I can ever see this person I’m going to ask them why they did that - she spit on her hand and she hit me so hard across the face, when I was 8 years old, I spun around about 3 times. I never forgot that, never will forget that. But I’ve forgiven everybody, I had to in order to live. So that’s my point, and Calvin, I promise and I pledge right here, if you can use me in any way to help stop this bullying, I’m there. I’m going to be a participant, I’m not going to go on Facebook…

And it’s funny, also, because I was bullied, my daughter was bullied. But I had to bully the bully to get him to stop. I called his parents, I was talking to the mother at noon one day, I said “This can’t go on anymore, this is terrible, he’s catching her every day coming home from school, and he was hitting her.” I mean, that was bad enough psychologically, but he was hitting her. And I said “You know, he can’t do that!” “Well it’s her fault, whatever she’s doing to him makes him hit her.” I said “No, that’s not what it is, there’s no reason for it, I watch it, she walks on the other side of the street and he’s going home on that side and he’ll run across and he’ll hit her, because I saw it!” She said “Well, it’s got to be her fault, we know he has a bad temper and we don’t aggravate him.” I said “Thank you very much!” And I hung up the phone. And that day I watched and I saw what he did and got in the car, I put my daughter in the car and I said “Show me where he lives.” And I went, and I had to drive around and eventually he did come out of the house. I stopped the car right in the middle of the street, I left the car door open, and I went over to him - and I didn’t touch him because I knew I’d go to jail – but what I said to him can’t be repeated anywhere. But I on no uncertain terms told him that if he ever laid a hand on her again he would never walk. And I said “Don’t make me come back a second time.” So I got in the car and I went home. He never touched her again. He didn’t have much good to say about me but at least he never hit her again! And we could deal with the psychological stuff of what he was doing, I could counsel her and help her to deal with that. But other than that… I’d like to know what he’s doing today.

Calvin: Well I bet that was a wake-up call. Often people just don’t stand up to bullies. So that probably shocked him, first of all. And he probably experienced “I don’t have power now. Somebody has taken it away from me.”

Comment: And then my son got the same thing. So like, did I have “Go ahead, bully me and bully my kids too” written on my forehead or what?

Calvin: It keeps going, perpetuates.

Comment: Yep, almost like the cycle of abuse and violence in life.

Calvin: That’s right, absolutely. And it’s interesting, that in your experience, the female being the ringleader of this group of bullies. One of the things about bullying, that the majority – you’ll see where I’m going with this - the majority of bullies are boys. The majority of victims of bullying are boys. This is statistically true. That doesn’t mean that girls aren’t bullies and I’ll tell you, when a girl bullies, it can be… But in my talk I compared the bully to an alpha hyena. Right? And after I’d written that I thought I should really look up an alpha hyena to find out if that even exists, this term, an alpha hyena. I just pictured this laughing, strong, dominant… the alpha hyena is a female. Always! And the alpha hyena has high levels of testosterone. Google it, there’s really interesting characteristics that are associated with all of that. Uh, very interesting. But this aggressive, dominant behaviour, in humans and in animals, comes with the ones that are aggressive and have high testosterone and things like that. So there’s a biological basis for a lot of this behaviour. And if a female becomes a dominant female, very often, not just in the animal world but also in the human world, this can be even more violently dominant than even a male may be.

How do people get away with this? If someone came up to me and punched me, I’d be like “Oh my goodness!” I’d tell everybody. “Did you see? Can you believe that this person punched me? You can’t do that! You can’t do that!” I never for a moment would have thought that this can be done or tolerated, I would have been appalled. So the idea that there are people being punched, beaten, physically, sexually, psychologically abused, and the sense of “Oh but I can’t tell anybody…” What a shame, what a horrible omission in our society, in our families, person-to-person, that people would think that this isn’t something to be appalled by, to report, to tell, like “I can’t believe would do this!” Or if somebody’s doing it to somebody else, “I can’t believe you’re doing that! And why? And how?”

Comment: It just goes to show that things don’t change from 60 years ago.

Calvin: No they don’t, and every new generation… it has to be wiped out. It’s like a virus, if you don’t get rid of the whole thing, a bacterial infection, if you don’t get rid of all of it, it’ll come back, it’ll come back, it’ll come back. The roots of oppression, they have to be dug out entirely. The idea that anyone is inferior, the idea that anyone is superior for whatever reason. Okay, so your muscles are bigger. Oh, well, so what? So what? Everyone’s different in all kinds of different ways. The idea that anything would be associated with making anyone better than anyone else, or that anyone would get away with that kind of thing. It’s disgusting. And it happens all the time.

Comment: Well I know bullying certainly changed the outcome of where I’m at today. I don’t think I’m the person I’m supposed to be because of the way it happened, what they did.

Calvin: And victims of bullying, even if they get their life on track, even if they report recovery of all these things, it’s almost always associated with a lifelong lower self-esteem. The damage is permanent, some of the damage can be permanent. And on the CBC recently, they did a whole thing about bullying, I didn’t get to hear it and I haven’t been able to find it online yet, but I think it’s there, my sister was telling me about it, where they had bullies call in to talk about it. The bullies’ lives have been permanently affected by this for the worse.

Comment: Bullies years after they had done the bullying.

Calvin: Years after, this is after, as they grow up, and the memories of having done it, the damage it’s caused to them to be aware of the damage they’ve caused to other people. And so they’re all sharing this, their lives have been damaged by having been bullies. And then of course the victims had a chance to call in too, victims of bullying, as adults, and talk about, you know, “Do you forgive?” And some of them, so violently, “No! I will never forgive. The damage is so severe, I can’t.” And that is so tragic to me, the idea that somebody can be damaged so excessively that forgiveness is not possible. That’s damage. If you can’t forgive a person, you’re damaged. And sometimes that’s how severe it is. The bullies’ lives permanently affected. The victims’ lives permanently affected. And of course the bystander, how does that affect you long-term to see things like that happen and know that you just stood by and watched? People experience guilt for that. I think there were people even who called in saying that, “I still today regret that I just stood by and watched that.” This is such a serious problem. But the CBC radio, everyone’s fighting it, people are fighting this. Like we were just talking with LGBT Lanark County here, and when it comes to lesbian, gay, bi, trans youth who experience disproportionately high rates of bullying compared to the general population – very high – that there’s a momentum happening. And I think sooner rather than later, it’ll be something that we’ll look back on and think “How on earth did this happen?” It’s being eradicated. The antibiotics are being injected into our youth, into our adults, into everybody.

Comment: By just bringing it to the forefront of our attention. It’s now, everybody’s talking.

Calvin: Yeah. And if there’s a parent who says “Nah, this is not bullying.” You don’t tolerate that, you don’t let someone get away with… what is that, what’s the term for it? Denial? Accessory? It’s something along those lines. Accomplice? Rationalization? Enabling? It’s just the way… “we don’t provoke him.” Right? So there’s a failure on the part of everyone involved, including often and especially the parents. And especially also if the parents are modeling… they say bullies learn this behaviour, they learn to deal with situations aggressively. And there was one report I was reading, they say that it’s a myth that bullies suffer a lower self-esteem. That the studies indicate that bullies have actually an average or a higher-than-average self-esteem. And I think, bull! If you really sat down with that person, to treat somebody like that, you’re not okay. Somebody who’s okay is a loving, happy person. It’s the damage that is occurring, or not knowing what model to have… they say “It’s aggressive behaviour modeled at home. It’s not low self-esteem, it’s aggressive behaviour modeled at home.” I’m thinking, aggressive behaviour modeled at home? That would affect my self-esteem! If this is all I’m seeing, if this is how my parents interact, rather than being raised as I was by parents who genuinely love each other and support each other. That was my model. So actually I grew up with an unmeddled-with sense of self-worth. Somebody who has the opposite being modeled does not have a healthy and unmeddled-with sense of self-worth, they just don’t. This is a malfunctioning that’s occurring. Somebody who’s well and healthy is good and loving. Call me crazy.

Comment: One of my kids was assaulted off the school property when they were in grade 5 and I ended up taking it to the police. And after all the information was in and so on, the constable asked me why did I come to them? Because… this constitutes assault! And she said, “You would be surprised at the number of parents just call it ‘kids being kids.’” And this was literally one girl holding her down and the other punching her. And it turned out they had just decided that whoever comes along next they would beat up. Now one of them was a teenager and she was charged. But we have to assume… another angle I find too is you think oh, your child is just being sad about something, you know. And you don’t delve into the reasons why your child stays in her room, why your child doesn’t want to have friends, etc. So it’s very important as a parent, even in our busy life, is to try to delve into reasons behind that and play the nosy parent. Yes, you definitely get from your children “Oh mom” or “Oh dad.” But that’s the role. And if it saves your children in the long run, try to pay close attention to the signs. If you have even an inkling there’s something not quite right, delve into it with teachers, with the principals, with other parents of what friends she has and so on. Try not to be “Oh that’s just normal for a child.” Because obviously if it’s enough to make you have an inkling, then there’s something there to delve into.

Calvin: Absolutely. And that is a form of butting in. Butt in! Do whatever it takes. Take the risk of trying too much, rather than the risk of not trying enough. Always err on the side of caring, of concern, of interest. The supervision is directly related. Parents who aren’t involved with their kids enough, teachers who don’t supervise or aren’t paying close enough attention, these are direct factors in bullying.

And very quickly before I forget. When it comes to tattling and kids who think that they can’t tell, because you’re told not to tell, don’t tattle-tale. And I’m thinking, well, tattle tale, compared to this, tattle-tale. I don’t care. But there is also, as my wife has said, what she tells her students is there’s a difference between tattling to get someone into trouble and tattling to get someone out of trouble. If you’re reporting something to help someone, or reporting something to hurt someone, even a little kid can understand the difference between those and use their own judgment when it comes to that kind of thing.

Comment: There was an article in the Toronto Star yesterday about a police officer whose entire job description is the social media officer. He has maxed out his Facebook friends at 5000 and he has a list of 300 waiting to get on. He has a Twitter account. He’s prevented all sorts of suicides. It’s had a terrific effect, not just on youth in Toronto but youth overseas. And there’s a bit of attention because the Ontario College of Teachers recommends that teachers not be engaged with their students in social media except through class pages. But at the same time, students who have their teachers as friends behave a lot better online.

Calvin: Very good point. Seriously.

Comment: So there’s a lot of discussion on this within the profession – are you friends with your students or are you not? And as a teacher, initially, in the early stages, I did let my students friend me. And here is this wonderful picture into their world immediately – who’s going out with who, who’s being mean to who, who said what to who… they don’t filter. And it’s amazing how the tensions between them went down. And then the Ontario College of Teachers said no, no, no we really don’t want you doing this. You can put yourself into a nasty position, so sorry guys. And this is at the same time such a powerful anti-bullying tool that it would be very nice to see people looking at the online presence a bit more frequently since this is where our kids are engaged. This is also where they’re bullying each other and saving each other and saving the world.

Comment: It’s the new schoolyard.

Calvin: That is so important. Adults today may not realize how the world has changed. Social media is everything. And you can think “Well I’m there, I see my kid, I see what they do” or whatever, but you may not see what’s going on on the computer, right? This is a new world. The majority of a young person’s life now is online, and a lot of adults don’t “get” the Twitter, the Facebook, you know, all those things like that. And how do we respond to it? It’s just emerged so quickly and so powerfully that even the teachers, the College of Teachers is still trying to figure out how do I respond to this new reality? Do we friend or not friend our students? This question has never been asked before because it’s never been relevant before. And the fact that bullying is occurring on a massive scale online. It’s a whole new form of bullying that we’ve never seen before or had to deal with before. Before it was, it was if there’s a person being beat up or teased or whatever. And now, online, how devastating it is to have your life destroyed online! Permanently out there. Videos posted of people that they take and put permanently out there. It’s disgusting, it’s shocking, it’s horrifying. And maybe, that’s maybe a form of supervision, isn’t it? If teachers were actually involved on the Facebook lives of the students and things like that. Because how else can teachers and parents supervise that part, that massive part of a young person’s life? I don’t know, I don’t know the answer to that, I really don’t. And I’m still avoiding Facebook like the plague. But that’s so important, how do you take that piece of the puzzle and work it into a solution? Because it’s huge, that can’t be overlooked.

Comment: I have a girlfriend who has a 13 year-old daughter, or who was 13 at the time, and she didn’t know how to even handle her own daughter, she was a single mom, and her daughter was even bullying her to the point where she couldn’t approach her teenager. And I guess there was this online bullying going on, her daughter was doing it to another student in the school. And I don’t know who made the decision but what they decided to do was actually to arrest her, charge it as a crime, she went to jail for one day, or was taken to jail by a police officer, and when she went to pick up her daughter – totally different person. She said it’s unbelievable. It’s like the biggest miracle that could have happened to her, to her life. So it was this horrifying thing to think that her daughter was taken away by a police officer and charged with this crime and whatnot, but what a difference it made to this child’s future.

Calvin: That’s why I firmly believe that whatever front a bully puts out, that’s not who they are. There is a good person in there. And it can come out like that. This is not someone to give up on, this is not someone to think this is just an embarrassment in our society that we have these horrible versions of people. These are good people. There’s a good person inside of that. And so when somebody’s doing that, why? What is going on inside of you? And what will it take to get the good one out? And it will make all the difference in your life and everyone else’s. And it’s for the better! We just want quality of life for you and everyone else here. What will it take? Will it take a night in jail? Because we can arrange that.

I know a kid who had a bully throwing rocks at her. A little trans girl out in Manitoba, having rocks thrown at her. And this is… that could kill a person! How is this not being treated as criminal behaviour? This is physical abuse, it can lead to death and injury. And why is this not being taken seriously? Why would she not think she could report something like that? What’s going on?

Comment: I wonder sometimes if using the word “Bully” is part of the problem. You know, if you give something a cute name, or a name that is associated with other things, I mean, I don’t know, I don’t know the answer. Does it make sense to talk about bullying as this pervasive thing that we have to fight? Or does it make sense to say why can’t we teach people or children that they deserve to be treated nicely and that people around them deserve to be treated nicely. You know, why aren’t we addressing the behaviour rather than the label?

Calvin: And talking about definitions, is this the right one, does this apply to everyone, does it fall into this category because otherwise we’re not going to take it so seriously. What is violence? What is an act of violence? I read a story one time by Mel White who’s an American author. He told a story, he knew Martin Luther King Jr, and they were driving at night - Martin Luther King Jr was driving - and a car was coming and flashed their lights at him, their high beams, like “Your high beams are on” or something. But their high beams weren’t on. So Mel White says, “Well flash your beams back, he’s flashing at you but your high beams aren’t on, so flash back!” You know, that jerk. And Martin Luther King Jr said “That would be an act of violence.” And he was taken aback by that, like how can that be an act of violence? So we have to understand, what does it mean? An act of violence, an act out of anger, an act of punishing somebody else, for example. It can be the tiniest thing. And these are the seeds that grow into the rest, and unless we understand what true goodness is... Loving actions as opposed to violent actions... If we don’t understand that, how can we solve the problem?”

Comment: In my son’s kindergarten class they’re doing exercises that sort of sums that up, very simple really but allows the smallest to understand what kindness is and what acts of violence are. And they do the bucket filler and the bucket dipper. And so every kid in class has a bucket and when one child does an act of kindness to another child they each get a heart to put in their buckets and the goal is to get your bucket filled. And when there is an act of violence of any type then the buckets of both the offender and the other person get emptied out and they have to start over again. It’s very simple but I just love that idea.

Calvin: I love that kind of thing. And a little kid, they can understand, they can relate. You just have to paint the picture, you know. My wife just told me another story of an exercise that was done, I think, about a fence. Where they got the kids to, for every mean act, to go and a nail gets hammered into the fence. Another mean act, another nail, and so the fence is filled with nails for all these mean acts. And then for every good act, go and take a nail out. And after, if you get all the good acts that make up for all the mean acts, then you say to the kids, what does the fence look like? Well, the fence is full of holes. Even if all the nails are taken out, the fence is full of holes, it’s been damaged. You can make up for mean acts but you can’t erase that damage. Kids can see that, they can understand that. I’m so sorry for people whose lives have been damaged by this kind of thing, it’s devastating, it’s horrible, it’s horrifying.

Comment: Calvin, on a positive note, there was a conversation I had the other day with some friends about how to get more people into the church and so on, thinking there are all these neato programs you can do and so on, but it came down to basically you have to go out and find somebody, you have to go and do the one-on-one. Not just the minister and so on. And then what you were saying is we all have a bit of everything in us, sometimes a bit of bully, a bit of victim, a bit of bystander, and to take the action, the one-on-one action, as you were saying, seems to be a big key to it all. So thank you for that.

Calvin: That’s how change happens. That whole thing about Gandhi, how did he control - not “control” - he had the ability to move millions at a time in a country where there was no media! It was word of mouth, from one tiny remote Indian village to the next tiny remote Indian village. Because that was the power of his message. He had truth and love and goodness on his side and that spreads like a virus. And it’s one to one to one. Because it means something in a person’s life and it transforms a person. You can send it out, you can broadcast, you can have all the Facebook pages in the world, you can have the fanciest posters with colour and everything like that. But the message itself has to be powerful enough to move itself from person to person to person, otherwise it’s just show, it’s just flash. The change has to happen one by one by one by one. And then it’s permanent change. We were talking about when it comes to people being affirming of lesbian, gay, bi, trans people - the idea that there are so many people who move from thinking that there’s something wrong with it to being affirming. But you almost never or never see anyone make the opposite move, from being affirming to then being not. Right? Once that transformation has occurred in a person, you don’t go back. And that speaks volumes, because there’s truth to it, as opposed to just a belief, an idea, a concept that you can adopt or reject. Truth changes people, and that’s permanent.

Haha, are we done? This is good, I’m so glad. This is why I’d rather have 20 people who care here, this is good, this is what matters. So thank you all for being here, I had fun, hope you did too. And I’m not an expert on bullying. I’m not. I spoke only… my talk was just what I’ve observed in my life. And then I did the research afterwards, and okay, it does actually kind of at least fit the research, phew!

The video will go on the website and I’ll try to post also some information that can be of use.

Comment: At least you’re doing something.

Calvin: Yeah. Even the dumbest idea is enough to put an end to cruel, senseless behaviour! Whatever it takes, do it. Whatever you can do, do it.