The National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence is here again. It 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. We are reminded, as in previous years, of one of the fundamental problems with most approaches aimed at addressing bullying. While promoters call for people to imagine a world free from bullying, many schools respond incongruently. Some remind students in their assemblies and classrooms of their zero tolerance policies to bullying behaviour. Others threaten the punitive consequences for students who are reported to be bullying. We are constantly seeing calls for stomping out, standing against, and fighting back. 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. Responders sharing an opinion or experience of bullying often engage in this way. 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.
Standing against language does not promote empathy or understanding. Rather, it promotes exclusion and division and helps to create an “us and them” mentality. It encourages retaliation as a response. It 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 has evolved so insidiously, that often it is not even recognised until the contradictions are pointed out. For example, our Prime Minister, was reported to be profoundly affected by the saturated media coverage of the suicide of a child attributed to bullying. He subsequently 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”? One anti-bullying organisation who promote punitive zero tolerance approaches are also taking a “united against” stand for the national day of action. The self-contradictory banners promote “be kind” while concurrently 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. This is 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.