Bullying and Genocide

After writing about my recent experience of a first hand incidence of bullying in one of our Montreal schools I recalled the first time I had heard about the connection between bullying and genocide. In the summer of 2009, I had covered a conference ‘Mieux connaître pour mieux être l’humanité’. A five day training program for teachers wanting to teach about the complex subject of genocide that was offered by ICESG in Ottawa.

What about Barbara Colorosa? Most of us know about her for her books on educating children but did you know that this mother, teacher and former nun was asked to speak at a university in Rwanda on bullying (“Extraordinary Evil: A Short History of Genocide”, is her latest book)

She explains that as there are are three actors in any bullying episode, the bully, the target and the bystanders, there are also generally the same three actors in the phenomenon of “genocide”: one, the the organizers and their followers ie. the ringleaders and their active joiner/participants; two, the targets, (victims) and three the bystanders.

I found her description of the “bystanders” most interesting. She explains that among the bystanders there are also three categories: one, the “henchmen”, i.e. the active supporters, two, the passive supporters, people who are afraid to step in, and three, those who oppose the genocidal action, i.e. people who actually do step in to defend the victims and oppose the bully.

Since the Holocaust, the World War II Nazi genocide of Jews, Gypsies, and anyone who opposed the Nazi authorities, there have been many studies on both bullying and genocide. The bullying studies have described how easy it is for even one person to stand up to the bully and prevent harm by influencing bystanders to oppose the bully. When there is noone to stand up, the bully gets away with it and the bystanders become collaborators.

Interestingly, Barabara Colorosa who dissected three genocides, the Armenian, Rwandan and Nazi genocides, those in each country who did step in to oppose the genocidal actors were often outsiders. Colorosa shares a story about an elderly Rwandan woman who was an outsider (she had never converted to the dominant religion of Christianity) who saved Tutsi babies who were brought to her by their mothers. She was able to not go along with the ideology that demonized even Tutsi babies. A perpetrator said to her “Is that a Tutsi baby?” and she said “No, that’s a baby and I am a mother.”

There are two threads here that I found fascinating: One, most of us are not aware of the planning and execution that goes into genocidal activities by governments and those in authority. (Often it seems as though these “genocides” happen and the “world” is helpless but actually great planning and effort over long periods of time goes into the execution of each genocide reported here. These acts don’t just happen as we are lead to believe via media reporting.

Two, is the participation of ordinary individuals and citizens like you and me. We too have our roles to play. Especially in the twenty-first century global village.

What are your thoughts on this very complex and difficult subject?

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