Again and again we are witness to the horrors of social violence, when a person who is depressed or powerless or otherwise disturbed, like the UC Santa Barbara shooter, commit outrageous acts of violence in our schools, shopping malls and streets. Other than being appalled, upset and feeling powerless, what can we, as individuals and as a nation, do to foster a shift in our culture from acting out to conflict resolution and justice?
Being safe in body and mind ought to be a right of citizenship and is also one of the seven core elements of Affluence Intelligence: "Being safe in body and mind” is a necessary condition for navigating the journey of having a personally and financially-successful life. This means not feeling physically threatened or continually fearful in your daily life. Our work has shown us that the prescription to reduce social violence starts with our families and communities, with how parents, teachers, law enforcement, and children deal with conflict, disagreement and change at home, at school and on the streets.
Joan and I recently had the opportunity to meet with Nicholas Carlisle, an attorney, psychotherapist and the Executive Director of No Bully. Having experienced firsthand the reality of high school bullying, he is committed to creating schools where every child feels accepted by their peers. Nicholas graduated from Oxford University, qualified as a lawyer with a human rights focus and was chairman of the non-profit section of Amnesty International in Britain. Nicholas is a seasoned conference speaker, expert witness and commentator on school bullying for television and radio stations across the country.
Why do you say that bullying concerns us all?
I’ve been reading Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
There’s a school close by us where students are being targeted today because they are different, or simply because some other kids don’t like them. Here’s the choice that each one of us faces. Knowing how much suffering bullying causes, and knowing that silence is participation, can we stand by and do nothing? It’s this question that spurred me to found No Bully and gives me the motivation to take our program national. Having endured the daily reality bullying in my high school years, I cannot stand by and see the current generation suffer what so many of us endured.
As the U.S. attempts to elevate its educational standards to compete in the international marketplace, bullying brings an academic, social and economic cost we can ill afford. Beyond this, if we fail to interrupt habits of aggression and intolerance in the students who bully, they will bring these same habits to the workplace, to their marriages and the communities where we live.
Why do you call it an epidemic?
This past school year one third of the students in elementary and secondary schools (roughly 17 million students in the U.S. alone) were involved in bullying, either as a bully or a target. Those numbers are huge. If bullying were a disease, parents would be breaking down the door of the US Surgeon General, demanding action.
You talk about bullying as a disease--why?
Bullying is a behavior that describes how we relate to power. Bullies use “power over” to get their way and targets too easily surrender to the role of victim. The disease metaphor is apt for a phenomenon that causes young people so much physical and emotional harm. Similar to disease, it varies in intensity and has greater or lesser impact depending on the psychological and friendship resources of the students involved and also their family situations. Typically bullying leads to anxiety, depression and psychosomatic symptoms in its targets and in some cases suicidal and violent ideation.
Bullying can leave long-term symptoms. There was a study earlier this year in the American Journal of Psychiatry reporting that victims of bullying at age 45 were at similar risk of emotional and psychological symptoms to adults who had been placed in care or who had suffered multiple childhood traumas. My guess is that 5 percent of the students currently at school (2.5 million US students) will never reach their full potential as adults because they have been repeatedly targeted by bullies.
Why do you think bullying has so much impact?
I have a long running debate about this with my colleagues who practice attachment therapy. We are wired for close and positive relationships with our peers as much as for secure attachments to our parents. It is in our friendships that our identity and positive sense of self are forged. Bullying is a denial of friendship and our need to belong. When bullying targets a student because of their core identity – and students are particularly at risk of bullying because of race, disability, body size or sexual orientation – shame based trauma is added to the mix and can be devastating.
You are a man on a mission; why do you have hope in the face of the recent increases in social violence?
In the past few years we have agreed as a nation that student bullying will no longer be tolerated. Every US state (excepting Montana) has enacted legislation banning bullying. We now have solutions. We know from the research that the schools trained in the No Bully System are solving over 80% of cases of bullying using Solution Teams of students without having to resort to punishment. The biggest obstacle to change is that bullying is an unfunded mandate. If government and philanthropists combined to provided the resources to train schools in effective anti-bullying systems, we would see fights, bullying and the dropout rate all significantly reduced. Schools would be places where learning could take off. That would be revolutionary.
In closing Joan and I would like you to consider: If we accept this increase in social violence as ‘the new normal’, as some in the news media have expressed, then Silence is indeed Participation in the erosion of the human right of attaining safety in body and mind. Then what are we passing on to our children and grandchildren?