Sunday, December 6, 2015

Self-Defence vs. Empathy.. Wait, Can't We Have Both?

I've seen a few people posting this image lately on the Book of the Face:

Caption reads: We will never get rid of bullying. We should teach kids how to stand up for themselves instead of wearing pink ribbons and passing anti-bullying laws to create a society of victims.
"We will never get rid of bullying."

Well, that seems defeatist. Like, I get that there are always going to be people who are generally assholes and who are going to give others a hard time because some people just love to power-trip, but on the whole, I think most people are generally okay people, and if we all try a bit harder to be okay people and not be assholes, we can probably not obliterate bullying, but at least mitigate some of the damage.

"We should teach kids how to stand up for themselves..."

Yup, okay. Totally with you there. It's super-duper important to be able to stand up for oneself, whether it's setting personal boundaries and enforcing them or holding one's own in an actual physical confrontation.

"...instead of wearing pink ribbons..."

Interesting. Not sure where breast cancer awareness comes into play here.

"...and passing anti-bullying laws..."

Technically, I can kind of stand behind this sentiment, because we shouldn't actually need anti-bullying laws, because there are already laws against assault, laws against harassment, laws against stalking, laws against uttering threats etc etc.

"... to create a society of victims."


... and, you lost me.

I mean, why does this have to be an either/or situation? What is wrong with teaching kids to defend themselves, to enforce personal boundaries and stick up for themselves, while still teaching them to be empathetic and how to be kind to others. 

I won't begin to deny the effectiveness that a good, hearty punch in the face can have in getting some asshole kid to leave you alone. Gord knows, just being able to put on an act of being able to fuck someone up got me out of a few jams, even if I was secretly pissing myself in fear of having my bluff called.

But why can't we teach kids to defend themselves, while at the same time taking steps to make sure they won't have to by teaching kids to just be fucking nicer to each other?

I think the problem with a lot of current anti-bullying rhetoric is that it's lazy. "Bullying" is such a weird, vague term that it becomes this abstract concept, a boogeyman. Educators and other child care professionals, as well as parents, rush to label any act of aggression as bullying. Anything done by any kid that makes someone else feel bad is bullying.

Bullying is much more insidious. Bullying is repeated, systematic, physical and/or psychological violence.

It has roots in sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, etc.

It is assault. It is stalking. It is the threat of being personally violated.  It is the threat of having your reputation torn to pieces.

It is being told, over and over, that you are worthless, ugly, that nobody likes you and that you should probably just die already.

A kid that pushes another kid and tells them to fuck off because he had a shitty day is not a bully.  They may be reasonably called an asshole, because let's face it, kids can be assholes, but kid-assholery tends to stem from an egocentric tendency to forget that other people are a thing and that other people having feelings and their own shit to deal with is a thing too. 

The difference falls between the active desire to victimize others, and negligence in making an effort to not victimize others.

Current anti-bullying rhetoric does have a horrible tendency to label all aggressive behaviour as "bullying".  There is also a tendency to label the kid and not the behaviour, and a kid that gets labelled a bully tends to hold onto that label. 

I sometimes wish it were more socially acceptable to swear around kids because I feel like being able to say "Jimmy, when you pull Susie's hair, you're being a real asshole," might be an effective deterrent without the same long-term effects of being labelled a bully.

The answer is also not unending positivity and making sure everyone is friends.  Kids, just like adults, are not going to like everybody they meet, and part of standing up for yourself is the ability to set boundaries. It's easier to "just walk away" from an asshole kid if your teacher isn't forcing you to play nice together.  Kids need to be able to enforce their own boundaries.  They also need to be allowed to experience negative emotions, while learning appropriate ways to express those emotions (i.e. don't be an asshole about it).

A quick anectdote:  The street I lived on had a lot of kids within my age range. My best friend lived next door to me, and another girl our age lived a few doors down.  This other girl, was a real, honest-to-gord asshole, as far as eight-year-olds go, and she in particular liked to give us both a hard time.  In fact, she was one of the two girls responsible for the worst year of my childhood.

My friend's mother had told her that she had to be friends with other kids and (through my friends interpretation) that she wasn't allowed to 'hate' other kids.  This kid knew about this rule and would hold it over our heads whenever we would tell her to go away because she was being an asshole and we didn't want to play with her.  She'd threaten to tell my friends mom that we weren't letting her play with us.

(It never occurred to me until over 25 years later that MY mom had no such rule and that I was perfectly within my rights to tell her to fuck right off).

This is a very small example of simplistic ideals made it easier for this little shit to victimize both my friend and I, because we were not able to effectively enforce our own boundaries.

I just wish we could teach kids not to be assholes.

Don't want to play with Johnny? Cool. You don't have to, but don't be an asshole about it. 

Johnny doesn't want to play with you? That sucks, and you're probably sad, and its okay to be sad, but just because you're sad that doesn't mean that Johnny's a bully, it means that you have to find someone else to play with. 

Johnny says that he's going to make sure no one else plays with you ever?  Well, now we have a problem, because Johnny's being an asshole.

I've kind of gone on a tangent here, but I guess what I'm meaning to say is that there is plenty of room to teach kids the following:

- You are allowed to defend yourself.
- You are allowed to assert yourself and enforce boundaries.
- You need to be kind and empathetic towards others.
- You are allowed to have bad days and bad thoughts and bad moods.
- Other people are allowed to have bad days and bad thoughts and bad moods.
- You are allowed to not like some people. You do not have to be friends with everyone, even if they are the nicest, kindest people in the world.
- Other people are allowed to not like you. It does not make you a bad person.  Even if you're an amazing person, nobody is obligated to like you.
- You still have to be fucking nice to people, even if the level of "nice" you can muster consists only of not punching them in the face or not telling them to die in a fire.
- Whenever possible, don't be an asshole.

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