The Ring of Valor: No Bullying
I had asthma as a child. I often woke up in the middle of the night, barely able to breathe. Suffocation is a horrible ordeal for anyone, especially a child. Strenuous exercise would leave me wheezing and gasping for breath. The taunt “asthma kid! asthma kid!” often followed me when I left playground games.
Try this. Run in place while breathing only through a straw. That will give you a glimpse of how asthma feels and the panic it can trigger.
Mockery is unfair. I knew that at the time. I had no satisfying response to the injustice other than ignoring it, feeling shame, and experiencing suppressed anger. Fortunately, as I grew older I could self-medicate my asthma with an “atomizer” of epinephrine mist. But the echoes of that childhood taunt remain in memory.
Perhaps that memory motivated me to focus on bullying in my work as an Extension specialist. Bullying is a conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile (but not criminal) activity intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and assert power and control. If we want to stop bullying, we might consider it as a three-legged stool of bully, target, and onlookers. What happens if you knock out any of the legs? The stool falls. There are three overlapping strategies for stopping bullying: change the bully, make onlookers witnesses instead of enablers, and encourage targets to find the strength to face the injustice instead of becoming victims.
In my elementary school visits I encouraged children who are targets of a bully to consider what the bully wants to achieve. Make you cry? Make you fight? Make you run away? Surrender your lunch? Then refuse. In other words, "Don't feed the bully." Don't cry. Don't fight. Don't run away. Don't surrender your lunch. Will there be consequences? A test of the target's resolve? Of course. But we have to stand up and refuse to descend as victims.
Recent research has shown that passive onlookers who do nothing to stop bullying suffer long-term damaging consequences. Being docile when we face a challenge to our moral beliefs undermines our self-respect and intensifies shame. This is true for both children and adults. For both targets and witnesses. If we want to impart a moral code to our children, we should realize there are always risks in acting in accordance to what we believe is right and standing up to what we believe is wrong. To do this, targets and onlookers need to be both courageous and smart to respond effectively to bullying.
The resources I created for The Ring of Valor: No Bullying include a perspective on bullying, eight fact sheets, elementary school activities and a PDF handbook for teachers, administrators, and other program leaders. Although I wrote these resources a decade ago, the information remains relevant. Many of the links to other sites are no longer possible. I should have captured my interview with Alaska Public Radio. Many listeners called in and we had a lively discussion.