I am a partner in the Charter for Compassion. They are doing some wonderful things regarding creating an awareness of the need for compassion as well as supporting some great projects. However I think all of us need to dig much deeper. I am upset. It is a terrible thing that three 16 y/o boys raped a young girl few weeks ago. What is much more disturbing is that instead of rallying to support her in a time of extreme distress, her classmates turned on her. She was verbally abused both directly and over cyberspace. “Slut”. “Will you have sex with me?” She is now dead from hanging herself. A photo went viral. I recently wrote a website post, School or Prison – What’s the difference? Bullying. Children are being required to attend school with people who they not only dislike, but also are being treated badly by them – very badly. We come up all types of solutions; such as talk circles, zero tolerance, etc. None of it is going to work until we address root causes. Ari Cowan, a very active member of the Charter sent a link to us regarding the prison system in Norway. It is a short video clip describing their approach to treating prisoners. It is striking that spending time in their prison system would probably be a more pleasant experience for many children than spending time in our school system. I am doubtful whether there is much difference between our private and public schools. I would like to list some of the issues around bullying and then look at more creative ways of solving the problem. First, most bullying occurs at a level well below the teachers’ radar. Just being excluded from a group can be devastating. It is not going to be possible to put the responsibility solely on the their shoulders. Second, our children are at an age where they are discovering and creating their identity. Most of it depends on some type of approval from their peers. For some reason the approval usually needs to come from the person or group who is the least likely to give it. When someone else defines your identity the person has power over you. Third, people wring their hands and point out that all of this should be done in the family. There are several significant problems with this thinking. I resent the term “dysfunctional family”. That implies that there are functional families. I have yet to see one. Every human has significant behavioral patterns that are problematic. This is always played out in the home setting. Even if a child comes from a less dysfunctional family they then become targets for the bullies. They are similar to a domestic animal turned loose into the wild. They either fold or become tough. Neither is great. Fourth, the argument goes that school is an important socialization process. Really?? Going into an environment where peace, love and joy are hammered into the ground does not create a person who is loving and compassionate. They are just learning dysfunctional survival skills. Behavioral patterns set before age 12 are permanent. Bullies as children have a high chance of exhibiting aggressive behavior as adults. Many children with their egos destroyed will live the rest of their lives in fear. Fifth, home-schooled children have been shown to do well later in life. My observation of several families that have taken it on is the their children are more creative and thrive without the hierarchy of the schoolroom. Sixth, look at what is happening to our society. We have a life that any generation prior to a hundred years ago could not imagine. Are we happier and more loving? We are not passing along peace and love to our kids – especially in school. External possessions and accomplishments do not change human nature. Finally, there is a high correlation between the ACE score (Adverse Childhood Events) and disability. As pain drives anxiety and frustration and vice versa this should not be a surprise. These pathways are linked. We are not going to solve the chronic pain problem, which is crippling our society, unless we tackle it in kindergarten. The Charter For Compassion is increasing the awareness of the need for compassion and engaging in many commendable projects. But the people that need to learn compassion the most are the bullies. The people, who are having the most negative impact on our children, are not going to engage or be engaged in a compassion project unless we figure out specific strategies to include them. An important book for each one of us to read is “Influencers: The Power to Change Anything”. It is a brilliant book and dramatically changed my approach to challenging projects. The main question they ask is “What behavior do I want to change to result in the desired result?” The result that the Charter wants is for the world to become a more compassionate place. But everyone already knows this. I think most of us were taught about the Golden Rule since we could speak. Compassion is great and desirable. Yet when people are angry and reactive, it quickly disappears. We are not going to have a meaningful impact if we just work on increasing awareness of the need for compassion and engage in compassionate activities. The question is what can we create and implement in our school system that will teach our children to act and react in a compassionate manner when they are under stress. I have to say it again. Right now we have the opposite scenario. Bullying a girl to death is not compassionate. What about just passing the photo along to your other classmates? She may have survived the rape. Solutions This is a solvable problem with an accurate assessment and implementable action plan. Here are my thoughts as a starting point. . There are a few givens: As all families have various levels of dysfunction this is not going to be the arena to implement solutions. This also means that everyone is somewhat on the same footing. Life is stressful including your immediate family. Stress in life is not the problem – it is your reaction to it. Stress never stops and your ability to engage and thrive on it will determine your ability to be successful. Stress, including your family, becomes the opportunity to practice your tools. Although stress management is a critical part of life it is not taught in the school system – anywhere. I went through medical school, internal medicine and orthopedic residency, a trauma fellowship, and spine fellowship and there was not a word whispered about how to manage stress. I made it through because I was tough – really tough. Tough does not equal compassionate. Although I thought I was trying to be compassionate I was really just trying to survive. Ten years into my practice I broke – badly. Tough always gets worn down. What does a second grader do when under pretty extreme stress? He or she is trapped in very anxiety-provoking situation. What does the world look like from that perspective – especially when you are defining yourself by these experiences? Without any resources he or she is going to be forced to act out and keep the cycle going. What is the desired result? Children that will support each other. That requires a couple of things. The capacity to care for him or herself. You cannot reach out unless you have an internal compass. It also takes courage. Watch out for their friends – a culture of support. The only people that can watch out for each other are the students. Within the student environment unkind words and acts must become unacceptable. Accepting and celebrating differences – both positive and negative. Compassion for the bullies. There are several behaviors that can be targeted in order to effect a significant change. Every child must learn functional stress management skills. Curriculum can be developed from many sources. It must be taught at least two hours a week. When a child is anxious and frustrated they have minimal awareness of other’s needs. Reward systems can be implemented for being nice to each other Set up a buddy system with the specific task of supporting your buddy regardless of the circumstances. Educate students regarding the devastating effects of bullying – both on the bully and the victim. A bully also needs compassion. Serious focus needs to be put on the most troublesome students. Bullying arises from abuse and anxiety. They also don’t have the tools to deal with stress. Their acting out is just more extreme. i. The antidote to anxiety is control. The more power you have the more control you have. The ultimate cowards are the bullies. ii. But they are that way for a reason. Zero tolerance is important It is more important to find the reason. By the way, how are you going to define a bully? Overt behavior is easy to recognize. But what about subtle acts such as excluding others from your group, snide comments, texts, etc. Unless you are taught to actively care for others a lot of seemingly innocent behavior will be damaging. i. The only alternative is to actively engage in compassionate behavior. What about the teachers? It is easy to be critical of a student’s work or behavior. A book, “Verbal Abuse: Survivors Speak Out” by Patricia Evans is a very sobering book that clearly redefines abuse. Endless criticism in any relationship is abusive. Do they understand their role on possibly engendering bullying? Are they inadvertently bullies themselves? Were they bullied or bullies while in school? i. They have a high chance of being part of the problem. I am challenging the Charter to teach our children the tools that will enable them to be aware of each other’s needs and create a compassionate environment. Arming the whole student body is the only solution. They are the only solution to this growing problem.