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Ladakh: A Society with No Bullies–Or Victims!

A place without bullying really does exist on Earth.

I often say, "The place where no one bullies anyone is Heaven, and you have to die to get in." We are trying to get rid of bullying from our schools, but we are failing because we are alive, and living people are not angels. And the harder we try to force kids to stop being bullies, the bigger of a problem bullying becomes.

However, this doesn't mean we should despair. Bullying can be dramatically reduced. It just can't be done by trying to make people stop being bullies.

While there is no society on Earth where there is absolutely no bullying, there are, indeed, societies that come remarkably close. And if we wish to reduce bullying in our society, we need to do what they do. We can't do the opposite and expect to be successful.

A couple of years ago, I read what I consider to be one of the most important books ever written: Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh, by Helena Norberg-Hodge. A documentary by the same name was subsequently produced, and I highly recommend you watch it after reading the book (I think you will benefit more from the film if you read the book first).

Ms. Norberg-Hodge is a linguist who spent many years living with the Ladakhi people. Ladakh is a region of the Himalayas adjacent to Tibet with a population that has been steadily hovering around one hundred thousand people. Their climate is very cold, and there are only four months of the year during which it is possible to grow crops. They have no modern technology, yet they have everything they need. There is no litter, as everything they produce is used and recycled, and their houses and yards are pristine. They do not use money except for some luxuries they don't produce on their own, particularly jewelry. The Ladakhis take turns helping each other with planting and harvesting, and they have fun when they are working. They are followers of Tibetan Buddhism, a philosophy integral to their way of life.

How do the Ladakhis create a society without bullying? It is certainly not by passing anti-bully laws. In fact, they have no formal government. The way they accomplish a bully-free society is by teaching people not to think like victims!

They Ladakhis do not promote the foolish idea that they are entitled to a life in which no one is mean to them. Instead, they teach people not to get angry when people are mean to them or when bad things happen to them.

Norberg-Hodge never ceases to be amazed with the equanimity of the Ladakhis, how it is practically impossible to get them angry. Whenever she would ask a Ladakhi why he or she didn't get angry about some negative experience, the typical answer would be, "What's the point?"

In our modern anti-bully culture, we consider it terrible to stigmatize people. Except for bullies, of course. We freely say the nastiest imaginable things about bullies, and we do this in the effort to convince people not to be bullies. In the Ladakhi culture, it is the opposite. They stigmatize victims! Their most serious insult translates as, "One who angers easily."

What few people understand is that anger is a victim feeling. We only get angry when people do things against us. By ridiculing people who get angry, they teach their people not to get angry, and that is, of course, the solution to bullying.

The book has a wonderful description of a typical Ladakhi response to bullying. I quote the following passage from the book. I believe it speaks for itself.

At the end of one summer, I went with Ngawang Palijor, a sixty-year-old thanka painter, to Srinagar in Kashmir. He was traditionally dressed in woolen goncha, hat, and yak-hair boots, and in the Kashmiri's eyes he was obviously from the "backward" region of Ladakh. Wherever we went, people made fun of him; he was constantly teased and taunted. Every taxi driver, shopkeeper, and passerby in some way managed to poke fun at him. "Look at that stupid hat!" "Look at those silly boots!" "You know, those primitive people never wash!" It seemed incomprehensible to me, but Ngawang remained completely unaffected by it all. He was enjoying the visit and never lost the twinkle in his eye. Though he was perfectly aware of what was going on, it just didn't seem to matter to him. He was smiling and polite, and when people jeeringly shouted the traditional Ladakhi greeting, "Jule, jule!" he simply answered "Jule, jule!" back. "Why didn't you get angry?" I asked. "Chi choen?" ("What's the point?) was his reply.

We in the modern world are trying so hard to solve the bullying problem, and we are getting nowhere. The reason should be obvious. We are teaching the exact opposite of what the Ladakhis teach. We are teaching that bullying is horrible. We are teaching that bullying is abnormal. We are teaching that bullying shouldn't be tolerated. We are teaching that bullies must be punished. We are demanding that people be outraged by bullying.

And until we learn from the Ladakhis, we will continue scratching our heads in bewilderment as to why bullying is a growing problem.

Wisdom, not foolishness, is the solution to bullying.

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