Recent school bullying and cyberbullying statistics show that one out of four kids are bullied; one in five students admit to being a bully, or doing some bullying; 160,000 students miss school each day for fear of being bullied; 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools each month; and 100,000 students carry a gun to school.
Bullying is a serious issue. As a result, schools, sports organizations and many youth groups are attempting to address bullying head-on. Almost all high schools, for example, have anti-bullying specialists on staff. So why does it seem that this issue is getting worse?
In short, bullying will persist until we examine the current anti-bullying strategies and admit that they are, and will always be, ineffective. These strategies often include “ground rules” such as the following that William Throckmorton, Ph.D. laid out in his book, “Bullying Prevention Information: Resources for Schools”:
- Listen to each other
- No put-downs or name-calling
- Respect each other
To those who are the victims of bullies, these tips are often offered:
- Teach others how to treat you
- Act and look confident
- Be assertive
These ground rules and tips, however, do not get to the root cause of bullying. They fail to explain, to the bully or the victim of bullying, where the impulse to bully comes from. And if you don’t know the true source of behavior, you cannot change it.
A student’s propensity to bully, or fall prey to a bully, is 100 percent dependent on his or her state of mind at that moment. When an individual finds himself or herself in a high mood, the urge to bully — if it occurs at all — will come and go. But when an individual is in a low mood, he or she may look to bullying as the solution to unruly thoughts and feelings. Likewise, if you are in an elevated state of mind and become the target of a bully, the answers to overcoming the bully will become obvious. But if you are being bullied and in a low mental state, you are likely to feel quite vulnerable.
Bullying is the result of a lack of understanding of how our perceptions of others are formed. Nothing more; nothing less.
There is only one reason that a student will bully: He or she accepts and acts upon the errant thoughts and feelings that are the byproducts of a low mood. This being the case, rules, and codes of conduct will not help, because low moods prevent us from seeing our circumstances clearly. In other words, a bully is viewing his or her circumstances through the blurred vision of a low state of mind. Thus, it is unlikely that, from this low place, the bully will comprehend behavioral advice like “respect each other.”
So, what is the answer to this growing quandary? Teach students that there is a cause-and-effect connection between their moods and their perceptions. We all live in a continuum of moods. When our moods are high, our thoughts and feelings are loving, compassionate, respectful, and resilient. But when our moods are low, our thoughts and feelings are judgmental, egotistical, insecure, and helpless. Until this connection is deeply grasped, it is unfeasible to expect the student who is in a downtrodden state of mind to be considerate or self-assured. Once a person recognizes the link between moods and perceptions, his or her behavior will turn productive — with little effort.
As an empowering illustration of this understanding, let’s look at Maria Venegas, a teacher in the Albuquerque, New Mexico, school system. Maria has developed what she calls a “mood meter.” Every day her middle school students arrive and are given the opportunity to chart their moods. From love to hate, from contentedness to misery, her students indicate where in the range they fall. Maria does not dictate their behavior. She eschews the standard anti-bullying advice, since, to her, the worst thing a teacher can do is thwart the free will of her students. To the contrary, her mood meter reveals the precise link between moods and perceptions. Her students have learned that productive behaviors come from moods at the top end of the chart, while unproductive actions — such as bullying — are generated from moods at the bottom of the chart.
This points us toward a simple, revolutionary way to rid our schools of bullying: Like Maria, stop telling young people how to behave. If a student was capable of accepting these anti-bullying ground rules, he or she wouldn’t be behaving badly in the first place. Instead, let’s help children discover that one’s circumstances do not create one’s outlook; only a person’s current state of mind can do this. Maria’s mood meter perfectly exemplifies this paradigm. Without study or memorization, her students have come to the conclusion that any ominous situation has the capacity to appear differently — once a person’s mood and quality of thought ascends. The result: young people who consistently act from clarity and pull back from the other end of the spectrum; students who are creating their own environment of harmony, respect, and confidence, in and out of the classroom. In fact, one student remarked that this idea has the potential to change the world.
The time has come to look away from the outward behavior of bullying and toward the inner state of mind that produces it. This astute teacher has done her part — and her students are reaping the wonderful benefits. Now it’s up to each of us to impart the same understanding in our own insightful way.
Garret Kramer is the founder and managing partner of Inner Sports and the author of “Stillpower: Excellence with Ease in Sports and Life.”