The National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence is here, and we are again reminded of one of the fundamental problems with most of the approaches to addressing bullying issues. This day is Australia’s leading anti-bullying day, and presents an opportunity for schools to help deliver the message that bullying and violence are not okay. However, while the promoters call for people to imagine a world free from bullying, many schools have responded by reminding students in their assemblies and classrooms of their zero tolerance policies to bullying behaviour and by threatening the punitive consequences that will result for students who are reported to be bullying. We are constantly seeing calls for stomping out, standing against, fighting back, and one recent media campaign called on viewers to help “beat the bullies”.
This negative language of standing against has become part of the problem, such that the most common response to bullying seems to be bullying back.
A quick scan through the comments on any blog or Facebook post about bullying shows an epidemic of bullying back behaviour by responders attempting to share an opinion or experience of how terrible bullying is. Very occasionally, an astute reader may add a comment such as “Do you realise these comments and responses are all also bullying?” Sadly, this insight is often shut down by others demanding their voice be loudest by bullying back.
Standing against language does not promote empathy or understanding, but rather promotes exclusion and division and helps to create an “us and them” mentality. It encourages retaliation as a response, and perpetuates aggressive behaviours, rather than educating alternatives that prevent harm, such as kindness and unity.
If the goal is to promote togetherness to end bullying, why not call for people to “Stand united for kindness”?
Standing against language and responses have evolved so insidiously, that often it is not even recognised until the contradictions are pointed out. For example, our Prime Minister, who was reported to be profoundly affected by the saturated media coverage of the suicide of a child attributed to bullying, recently called for Australians to “Stand together united against bullying”. Uniting and togetherness are incongruent with standing against. If the goal is to promote togetherness to end bullying, why not call for people to “Stand united for kindness”? An anti-bullying organisation who promote punitive zero tolerance approaches are also taking a “united against” stand for the national day of action, with self-contradictory banners concurrently promoting “be kind” while hashtagging “zero tolerance”.
We must stand up for what we believe in and for things that are important. But let’s stand FOR something, rather than against something.
We propose a shift away from “standing against” terminology as an important step towards a revolutionary change in creating kind cultures where people are not harmed as a result of bullying. We propose a for kindness rather than an against bullying campaign.
The National Day of Action for Kindness is here.