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?

A Lesson on Bullying

This morning as I casually asked Leenie, “How is your daughter?” She shared a disturbing story of her daughter’s schoolmates, kidnapping and imprisoning her daughter in the school basement. Leanne was found safe and sound but the event shocked and traumatized me, her parents, teachers, and friends.

We all have a stake in this since we are all either, victims, bullies, or bystanders:  Bullies can become victims, and victims can become bullies and we are all bystanders at different times. Recently I had the opportunity to hear a talk by a NY expert in the field, Dr. Rona Milch Novick. She is the director of the BRAVE program for the Azrielli Graduate School in in NYC.
Communities, parents and school staff need to:

1.  Notice the problem and learn how to address it in their own lives.
2.  Only then will they be able to assist the victims, the bullies and the bystanders.

We all have to educate ourselves regarding these issues. Our children need the help and guidance of adults to navigate these shoals.

Below I share some resources suggested by Dr. Milch Novick and others.

1. B.R.A.V.E. – Bully Resistance Anti Violence Education -
The skills that B.R.A.V.E. gives you are not just for today but for life. Remember that a bully is not only in elementary school!

2. www.bullying.org – You are NOT alone! – A Canadian website addressing issues about bullying. Includes many stories, poems, and drawings.

3. Helping Kids Deal With Bullies kidshealth.org Bullying is a common part of childhood. But parents can help kids cope with it and lessen its lasting impact.

This is a good website that has digital books, several of which deal with the painful issue of bullying. This offers one more way to broach the subject with younger children. Story Bird A collaborative storytelling site specializes in digital publishing.

Let me know about your own experience with this issue.