Kindness Revolution

A few months ago, our co-founder, Cameron Gill, wondered if we should change the name of The Bullying Revolution to “The Kindness Revolution”. We had already changed our name from “I Stand Against Bullying” because we felt that “standing against” implied an aggressive stance that was often associated with “bullying back” and punishment approaches. We did not want to be perceived that way. He also wondered if the fist in the logo was too aggressive. We discussed this for a while, and decided not to change the name. Cameron didn’t really want to change the name again, or the logo.

We like the juxtaposition of being strong, different and revolutionary, alongside our approach of kindness, compassion and empathy. We love our grungy, street art branding speaking a perhaps unexpectedly gentle message. We like standing out, standing up and standing with, without standing against. The word LOVE reads backwards in the word rEVOLution. The fist is one of solidarity, not of battle. If you look closely, you’ll notice the fist in the logo is separated from the arm at the wrist. The fist image used to be the “I” in our original “I Stand Against Bullying” logo.

Evolution

Cameron was transparent about our journey and our history, and was always willing to embrace change when new information made old ideas redundant. Even as we evolved, he remained open about the foundations of who we are. The revolution is not a war. It is not a battle. It is simply about creating real change.

The background of the image that accompanies this piece is a photo of a brick wall taken on a recent visit to Alcatraz Island, San Francisco. It is a historic place of human cruelty, resilience and survival, in a city that Cameron loved to visit. The whitewashed brick wall was screaming for some Banksy style stencilling. Cameron loved street art, and he loved to create art in this style, and as soon as I saw this wall, I could see his face on it. The photo, taken a few days after his first brain surgery, staples proud and prominent, grinning like the Cheshire cat and ready to get back to life, felt like the perfect picture to capture his vibrancy and vitality for living well. “Banksying” Cam himself felt like the perfect way to honour him.

Use your time well

I can hear him asking, “Is this the best use of your time?” (It probably wasn’t; I am slow and minimally skilled at graphic design!) and I can hear him reminding me, “Use your time well.” His life and choices serve as a daily reminder that our time here is short, and that we can use it to choose how and when we make our difference in the world. Cameron would not be a fan of me making it “all about him”, but he was a huge fan of keeping it real.

This post is not a eulogy. It is simply a sharing and a reminder of the value of focusing on leading a passionate, meaningful and most importantly, a kind life, and how that can inspire people around us. We are privileged to be able to use the enthusiasm – that he both brought out in us, and also instilled in us – to act to create change. Instead of just feeling that things need to change, we are able to excite and energise others to engage as well. To spark others, and to be sparked, is really something. This week, it was the World Anti-bullying Forum. Next week, it will be something else. There are no limits to our opportunities to share a message of kindness with the people we encounter.  

The Bullying Revolution is about more than just bullying. It is about approaching everything from a “kindness first” position. Cam believed that kindness was the solution to almost all the world’s problems. (That, and planting trees.) Not just being kind, but being kinder than necessary, kinder than it seems is possible, at every opportunity. 

Kindness Virus

What would it take to make kindness the “go to” response to everything, even – Cam would have probably asked, especially – as a response to unkindness? What would it take to stop people responding with surprise, when offered a smile, a kind word, or a helping hand? The number of times this week that we have heard people comment with surprise, “Oh my gosh, that is so kind of you!” is both interesting and kind of sad. We have been at a gathering of people from all around the world who have made it their life’s work to try to understand and eradicate bullying and all forms of unkind behaviour.

Why are people so surprised, especially within this population, when offered a chair at a shared table, when a door is held open for them, when a pen is handed over as they scramble unsuccessfully to find their own? Why are our expectations of fellow humans so low?

The words on the image that accompanies this piece, “Kind thoughts, kind words, kind actions” were not Cameron’s words. They are words that have been spoken and reiterated in many different variations and translations across the globe for centuries. However, the words were a code he absolutely lived by. Seeing less important messages and stories “going viral” every day, he envisioned a kindness virus.  What would it take to send kindness viral?

Think with kindness, even when you are angry or hurt. Speak with kindness, even if the words are difficult to say. Kind actions will follow. The work of The Bullying Revolution is indeed about creating a kindness revolution. We won’t be changing who we are. We are Cameron.

Teresa Butler

The Bullying Revolution.

Standing Up

Standing up for what we believe in, and for what is important, is a necessary function of the human condition. Passively standing by, rather than taking a stand, often communicates silent endorsement or approval of behaviour. This is especially true when it is challenging or negative behaviour that can have harmful impacts.

It was once often said that if we don’t stand for something, we might fall for anything. And in old speak, “united we stand, divided we fall” was a mantra that implied that if we did not stand together, we would fall apart. However, while this was really about joining together with a common goal in unity, support, and cooperation, the phrase was often used in contexts such as war and conflict, leading to a segregation, division, and an “us and them” mentality.

People stopped standing with, and started standing against.

The mantra of recent times changed: “If you are not with us, then you’re against us”. Where “taking a stand” had been an expression of our personal values, it shifted and became used as an accusation by people in positions of power.

There is nothing wrong with taking a stand. But standing up does not need to mean standing against. At The Bullying Revolution, we have advocated for a shift away away from “standing against” terminology as necessary to creating cultural change. Organisations must evolve as they learn and grow, and we ditched the “standing against” language when we realised how its use may be negatively construed, even though we were always focused on building a kindness approach.

The only thing we take away is negativity and hostility.

It is really quite simple to shift language while maintaining a position and taking a stand. Take for example, the context of recent events in the global media involving protests following gun violence. In response to this, we would not say that we stand against gun ownership; we would say that we stand for an end to gun violence, and that we stand with youth protestors. The only thing we remove in this shift is negativity and hostility – the things that foster violence.

Let’s work towards proactively standing for something, rather than taking sides against things.

Take a stand: stand up, stand for, stand with, stand together.

 

National Day of Action… FOR KINDNESS

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.

Focus on Wellbeing

We have spoken about how bullying prevention programs have not had remarkable success in changing bullying rates globally over the past half century. Indeed, it seems the only time noticeable change in rates of bullying has occurred over the years has coincided with trends to tighten definitions and measurement. This does not mean that bullying is reducing. It means we are getting better at tightening definitions, and then measuring that. That is, we are measuring changes in definitions, not improvements in outcomes.

Tightening definitions and measurement does not reduce its impacts or improve outcomes for our kids or communities.

The reason we care about bullying is because of its harmful impacts. Tightening definitions and measurement does not reduce its impacts or improve outcomes for our kids or communities. In fact, we argue that it creates larger issues and dangers for our kids. We have discussed this in depth in our book, UnBullying: Uniting for Revolutionary Change.

While concurrently working towards cultural and systemic change, we must change how bullying is addressed on an individual and social level. To that end, we need to shift our focus from definition, measurement and reduction of behaviour, to wellbeing outcomes and reduction of harms.

Anti-bullying Policy or Wellbeing Approach?

Does your school have an anti-bullying policy, or a total wellbeing approach? One suggests a reactive approach to behaviour management, while the other reflects a positive proactive long term goal of wellness. There is strong evidence of the benefits of promoting positive peer relationships from early primary school as part of a total wellbeing strategy.

There are many things we can do to help kids develop resilience and social skills. These will  prepare them not just for the challenges of growing up and surviving school, but also to help them thrive throughout their lives. Kids need to develop good play and friendship skills. They need to learn to regulate their emotions to be able to respond calmly and assertively in challenging situations. They need to learn to read body language to interpret peer situations accurately which will help them resolve potential conflicts before they escalate. These may seem self explanatory, but evidence does show that kids who develop these skills do better on mental wellness scales over the long term. This must always be our goal – to raise kids who thrive into adolescence and adulthood.

A note of caution

We must be mindful of not relying solely on social skills training and resilience building strategies as a bullying solution. This ignores the need for cultural and systemic change. As a preventative tool or a reactive strategy, teaching these skills implies developing preparedness for a world where bullying is assumed. That is, they suggest that our focus should be on skilling kids up to become “unbullyable” in a world where bullying is the norm.

Teaching kids to avoid bullying through better social skills, to get better at handling and resolving conflict before it escalates, and to bounce back from challenges are all good things. But none of these strategies are a solution to creating cultural change or eradicating bullying. They simply move the bullying behaviour or interaction away from one child to another. Likely to a child who has not had the opportunity to develop their social and bullying defence skills to that level.

When we talk about bullying prevention, we are not talking about preventing it from happening to this child, that child, or my child. We are talking about preventing it from happening. At all. To anyone.

 

UnBullying… is that a real word…?

UnBullying™ is not just the name of our book. It’s a fundamental key to the revolution, a concept that underpins our theory, approach, strategies and processes.

Yes, UnBullying is a made up word, like many of the words we use.

Sometimes we make up words because our brains are working too fast to find the word that means what we want to say when we want to say it. Sometimes it’s because we lose all our words in that process and grasp at something close enough. And sometimes it’s because no matter how deep we dig into our collective vocabularies, there isn’t a word that captures what we want to say. So we make one up.

Hey, it’s the English language. We’re not the only ones!

UnBullying is one of these words.

So what does UnBullying mean?

When we tried to find a word that captures what UnBullying means to us, there wasn’t one.

Undefining didn’t capture it. Unlabelling didn’t capture it. Undoing didn’t capture it. Ending didn’t capture it. So we created a new word for a very different approach. The ‘Un’ in UnBullying reflects The Bullying Revolution’s bent on coming at things differently.

UnBullying is a change concept that describes the process of breaking the system to create a revolution in the bullying prevention field.

UnBullying is about undefining bullying. It is about undoing damage that misguided focus, misdirected energies, mislabelled behaviours, and limiting definitions has caused. These include harms and behaviours going unmeasured, unaddressed, uneducated, and unrepaired.

UnBullying is about unsticking and changing our mindsets. It is about changing focus and broadening our understanding, focusing on the harms caused by behaviours, regardless of whether we consider that behaviour warrants the experience of harm or not.

UnBullying is about taking responsibility as a society for where we are now, and for making changes so we can help children thrive.

UnBullying is about undoing the harmful impacts of both bullying and not-bullying behaviours, words and actions. It is about ensuring all the things that cause harm are addressed in an open, empathic and compassionate environment. It is about creating a culture of kindness.

UnBullying is about making an impact, so kids are able to grow up to become the best version themselves, to become the people that they want to become.

It is about gathering a community of people together with a deeper understanding of the cultural issues behind bullying and how rampant it is.

UnBullying is about uniting for revolutionary change.

***

PS. Yes, we wrote a book about it!

You can read more and BUY IT HERE!

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