Thursday, 1 December 2011

We're not in Kansas anymore...

My apologies for such a long absence. My summer in Ghana culminated in a serious bout of food poisoning which saw me hospitalised due to dehydration and low blood pressure. In hindsight it was all a very relaxing blur - a detox, complete rest and being very well looked after by family. In another post I will share the virtues of developing-world hospitals, as well as some of the reasons why brown, taupe and dirty chartreuse are particularly well chosen colour schemes in locales where foreigners are prone to picking up stomach bugs. I will also regale you with the fantastic storylines that abound in daytime soap operas emanating from Ghana and Nigeria (initially sceptical, 48 hours in ward 3b and I was hooked!). 

Suffice to say, returning to Normal Life in London - school, work and routine - was not as difficult for me as it might have been, especially since I was so relaxed and slim. Alas, Normal Life takes a toll and I can no longer boast of such heights of relaxation or indeed such a svelte and tanned silhouette... Nevertheless, the past three months have raced by, full of school, work and routine. And the myriad highs and lows that accompany them; fatigue, homework, leaking pens, mean girls, new friends, horrible food... And that's just my set of problems. What must the off-Spring be going through? 

With the Autumn has come global anxiety too: floods and devastation, the Eurozone crisis, challenging job markets, increasing prices. 

Though it's not all terrible. The glut of good new tv shows is a silver lining this time of year (and the real reason for my long silence).  I wish I could comment on things like X factors and dancing and celebrities in forests, but I can't. What could I possibly add? I do want to recognise though, the profile and publicity that celebrities lend to causes that are important to them, such as bullying. 

I came across a very interesting article recently when researching bullying. I would recommend you read it if you or someone dear to you has faced bullying. Indeed read it in any case. As a parent, bullying looms large in the lexicon, if not the experience, of many. Yet, despite a theoretical understanding of the causes and myriad manifestations of bullying, there is nothing quite like the gut-wrenching, eye-watering sense of dis-empowerment and heartache that a parent feels when first learning that their child is a victim.

To be clear, I am not talking about playground tussles, squabbles over toys or friendly, mutual teasing. Anyone with a sibling is toughened up at home at the hands of brothers and sisters and prepared well for shenanigans such as these.

But sustained, systematic, mean and persistent victimisation is something altogether different. 

The fact that such can occur in "nice" schools, under the noses of teachers who genuinely care, is staggering. At risk of sounding like someone's elderly mother, in my day (ie when I was a child) such things did not seem to go on to this extent, with this sort of frequency or in such a prolonged and damaging way. Perhaps one forgets. I will not stray into the world of cyber bullying for now. Even a cursory glance at comments left on some of the broadsheet's web pages would indicate that common courtesy in a scarcer commodity in the electronic world than face to face. While the language and abuse I witnessed in several discussion on a writer's forum I once logged on to were so vile, intimidating and aggressive as to leave me scared to post a comment at all, let alone defend the person or point of view that was being attacked.

But returning to schoolyard and classroom bullying, it seems to me that that as Izzy Kalman suggests in his article above, there is no actual "solution". There will always be bullies and anti-social behaviour. There will always be people who enjoy excluding and oppressing others. There will always be fear and suspicion of anyone different or who stands apart. There will always be naive and seemingly innocent jokes that cut to the quick. There will always be troubled children lacking in empathy and sensitivity, desperate to fit in, to be seen as powerful or cool or a force to be reckoned with.

Worrying, there will also always be "normal" children from "good" homes who bully others, who think it's "cool" to treat others badly; to ridicule or poke fun, to put someone else down and thereby make themselves feel better. And there will be adults who tacitly encourage such by their acts or their omissions. The pages of literature are strewn with heroes and heroines who faced far worse!

So, yes, I agree, making it stop is neither a realistic nor an achievable goal.

But that is not to say one should give up.

Perhaps we can find ways of helping adults see how their behaviour, language and tone contribute to and condone bullying. Perhaps we can learn that in a pressure pot, steam must eventually escape. In other words, in hot-housing and pressuring, living through, and failing to listen to our children, we may be part, or a source, of the problem.

Sure, everyone can be mean or self-centred. We all have days when we don't want to share. There is always someone who is not really "our cup of tea", who we'd rather not have to play with. Who of us has not stood by and said or done nothing when someone nearby was being hurt, left out, teased or worse? This is the human condition, afterall.

But it also seems to be incumbent on us as humans, let alone as parents, to help and guide young people to find within themselves the courage, wisdom, heart and intelligence, not only to forgive, deal with, learn and grow, from bullying, but just as importantly, never to become a bully either.


As an aside, when I was a child, back in my day, I watched the opening moments of "The Wizard of Oz". Captivated by all musicals made before 1970 (and "Enchanted") I was very keen to find out about the yellow brick road and to where it led. The psychologists amongst you can let me know what it means that I was terrified of the red shoes and those legs poking out from  under the house. I fled in tears to my room, imploring my parents to "turn it down". Such was my fear that I never ever watched the film. Indeed, I would have to rank "Oz" as among my "top 5 scariest movies of all time" (along with Psycho, Nightmare on Elm Street and Dirty Dancing). Accordingly, until reading Mr Kalman's article last week I had no idea that "The Wizard of Oz" is at heart a simple tale about dealing with bullying. I did not realise the significance of the characters' quest. 

Luckily, (despite what you may think of me, given my penchant for US TV shows) there are other sources of information and character formation at one's disposal... We don't need an Emerald City, a Wizard or a broomstick to guide us to the courage, heart, wisdom and way home.

But I will be watching "Oz" asap!