Moving from Anti-Bullying to Positive Community Norms

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As I reflect on this past week, I am struck by a common theme that affirms community well-being.
One is from a fourth grader writing a letter to this newspaper with a message to end bullying;   “….Change bullying to be nice…People are different…it doesn’t matter.  It would be cool to love each other”, and the other was a workshop on Positive Community Norms.   One view from a young student is calling for an end to intimidation and bullying and the other viewpoint lives in the world as if community norms are already positive.

Today, we see anti-bully campaigns pervading our schools especially after so many shootings.  We know that bullying can escalate to gun toting kids who feel they are not seen or heard and worst of all they feel they are not loved and do not belong, in short, they are hurting.  What we have learned from the anti-bullying campaigns is that “hurt people, hurt people”…… And this is true for grown-ups too.  Bullies do not feel seen or heard and feel that they must attack others to assert their place in the world and prevent perceived attacks.   So what is needed to turn this around?  Love!

Yes, I said it; the “L” word; bullying is a call for love!   Perhaps you remember from Sunday School days when you learned that Jesus reminded us, “to love your enemies” and that forgiveness is the surest way to disarm bullies. The way I see it, to stop bullying one must do three things; 1) have self respect, draw personal boundaries and hold your ground ,  2) call it out; name it when you see it,  3) join with others who share values that affirm “being nice”.   It is not OK for someone to intimidate you and attempt to instill fear whether it is the school yard bully, a neighbor, a public figure or a partner.   It is time that we all start turning the tide from negative community norms to positive community norms.  And the good news…it is happening!

Just last week, the Commission on Children and Families Health and Human Services hosted a workshop conducted by Montana State University on creating positive norms.  We learned that the key is to shifting from negative community norms to positive community norms is to challenge assumptions.  Assumptions based on fear, (False Evidence Appearing Real) lead to attacks in all of its various forms ranging from verbal slights, written word or physical threats.  Our assumptions are based on our view of the world and according to Albert Einstein it all starts from one fundamental question, “Is the universe a friendly place?”  If you see it as unfriendly and fearful place, you are ready to attack it before it attacks you, if you see it as friendly place, you expect to see possibility even in the face of serious concerns.

Annamarie McMahill, the researcher from Montana State, made the distinction between having a “fear” and having a “concern” and that a shift occurs when we balance a concern with hope because hope pulls us into a positive future and creates new cultural norms.   When people are open to new possibilities, it means leaving a familiar  and perhaps fearful place (the “known”) and launching in a new direction where we see possibility and where we acknowledge each other’s personhood without diminishing , demeaning or bullying each other.  We all need to belong, to be seen and as Mark Nepo, a leading contemporary philosopher, reminds us;   “As far back as we can remember, people of the oldest tribes, unencumbered by civilization, have been rejoicing in being on this earth together.  Not only can we do this for each other, it is essential.  For as stars need open space to be seen, as waves need shore to crest, as dew needs grass to soak into, our vitality depends on how we exclaim and rejoice, “I See You!”, “I Am Here!”.

My hope is that we grown-ups can find a way to actualize a fourth-grader’s call to “be nice” and to “see each other” even if we have different views of the world.

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