What If…? Creating Cultural Shifts in Our Understanding of Bullying
While we continue to make gradual progress in reducing bullying rates through increased social awareness, reduced stigma, and willingness to speak openly about long term effects, the belief remains that bullying is a part of life that we can’t eradicate altogether. As such, the majority of research focuses on risk factors, personality traits, understanding perpetrators, treating victims and minimising the impact of bullying, with a limited number of solutions aimed at the broader arena of prevention.
But what if everything we thought we knew around bullying needed rethinking? What if the answer doesn’t lie in prevention strategies, in interventions or in treatment programs, but in society and culture? What if we don’t consider it an individual, school or workplace issue, but rather a behavioural, social and cultural issue we have all been guilty of, with a solution we can all be a part of?
What if we shifted our focus away from definitions of what is and what is not bullying, away from labelling who is a “bully” or a “victim”, and away from which interventions work best with which perpetrators or personality variables? What if we focused instead on supporting all stakeholders involved in interpersonally challenging situations to develop better social relating skills to help prevent recurrences? What if we focused on dealing with the impact of challenging behaviour on the person, to prevent the psychological harm and long term mental health effects that we know bullying contributes to.
Bullying is a behaviour that can be displayed by any person under certain circumstances, and can also be educated and modified, rather than labelled and punished, when allowed to be addressed openly in a non-threatening environment. Many responses are judgemental and reactive, often replicating itself. What if we instead provided proactive, educative responses that allow learning and understanding to occur?
Prevention is possible. However, it is almost certainly only possible through greater cultural and social change. It is time we stepped outside definitions, perceptions, labels, and old ideas and shifted our focus to all the behaviours that are damaging people. All behaviour, including bullying behaviour, is a form of communication, and perhaps what is needed is for people to continue to strive to understand what others are trying to communicate, and to help people learn to communicate in more effective, kind and compassionate ways.
By Teresa Butler and Cameron Gill from The Bullying Revolution (formerly I Stand Against Bullying)
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