Tag Archive | belonging

Talking bull

This week is bullying awareness week, well, unofficially and Pink Shirt Day is Friday 20th May. So how to start a conversation about bullying that hasn’t already been done a thousand times….

There are plenty of bullying stories out there, and stories of people who make a stand it against it. There are lots of ideas on how to stop bullying, and schools put in punishments to make it clear it’s wrong to bully. There are also plenty of groups willing to come in and do a presentation, performance share a personal story to help ‘get the message out’ about how bad bullying is. How is that in spite of all this education, it still happens?

I think some of the reason is we go looking for a kind of person or action that we can identify. But is there such a thing as ‘a bully’ does this type of person actually exist? Because I get a bit confused when I talk with people about ‘bullies’. If I ask a range of people about a student from parents, teachers, friends, coaches I get different responses – I never have everyone say ‘yeah they are a bully 100%. So one shift I think needs to happen is to look at bullying not IN people – but BETWEEN people. Anyone can bully or be bullied, there is no ‘type’. You can also be bully and bullied at the same time, which is perhaps why it gets a little confusing.

Another thing I find interesting is the idea that people grow up and grow out of being bullies, I’m not so sure about that. Adults bully that’s a fact, our family violence statistics back that up. Family violence is about control and the use of fear to maintain that control. Bullying is similar. Anyone can bully because everyone feels vulnerable, scared and powerless at times. Bullying is a form of social event – no – I don’t mean it’s something to promote, but people form connections. People make sense of themselves and others through these actions, they give entry into groups. If we look at it this way then anyone can become involved because everyone needs to feel connected, a sense of belonging.

One good example is mocking, put downs, teasing. Humour and laughing are something all of us enjoy. The thing about humour is in order for it to work there has to be some form of shame attached – otherwise it doesn’t work. Friends can sometimes do this with each other. If someone has to say ‘naaaaa jokes’ to convince you that you shouldn’t be offended then it’s likely to have been intended to shame, hurt or humiliate.

Bullying and humour can be an uncomfortable fit. Both can pick on difference, or a sense of wrongness about that difference, this is something we all need to challenge. Laughing together at circumstances or even ourselves is good and healthy. Humour can help us understand the strange ways we are expected to be in the world based on our gender, culture, age, sexuality or functioning. But pointing and laughing at someone is not joining with them in a sense of understanding, it’s alienating and isolating.

I guess my challenge is to groups of friends. How do you respect each other’s differences when having a laugh? How do you laugh in public together-including in digital spaces? Is someone potentially getting their way of being in the world made wrong in the moment? How can you in that moment shift what you do to create a safer more respectful and ethical form of action? Because while you might not be doing the action that gets defined as bullying, your response will either be part of the acceptance and normalising of that or it will challenge it. I’m also interested in challenging homophobic put downs and harassment. Even if it’s amongst friends it can hurt but making it unsafe to be gay or transgendered. Sexuality and gender are unique human qualities we all want others to value. Feeling safe in who we are as people is a fundamental human need.

And just for the record, I think the worst examples of bullying are from adults not young people. It’s also why I love animals, they are just straight up about how they feel about you and they don’t really care about what their friends think if they are friends with another species.

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Group dynamics

Yesterday I remembered how useful it is to have a group if you want to have a group discussion.It’s interesting noticing how arriving at a venue for a workshop or presentation first, can be a little weird. My theory is that less than 5 it’s way too intensely personal and at 8-10 it’s starting to feel ‘groupy’.

It kind of got me thinking what it’s like to be in a class of 20-30, how young people in schools become familiar with ways of sitting in groups or ‘put into groups’, left out of groups. Like standing in lines – being in groups is a bit of weird thing anyway. However a group of 7 means individual participation is magnified and what surprised me was how in spite of this awareness people kept offering their thoughts, observations and taking that focussed energy and dispersing it, sharing it around and refracting it through stories or laughter.

By the time we’d munched our way through hot chips, discussed our favourite movies and books and watched Katherine Schulz talk about being wrong the number 7 had grown in size and presence, the depth and complexity of diversity was not just a topic of conversation it was being lived in the moment in a swirling mass of whiteboard scribbles, punctuated by plenty of giggles.

Divergent: Romeo and Juliet meets Dystopia

I read somewhere that ‘movies are like the modern version of the campfire’ and I think what that means is they have become a way of telling stories about ourselves. Books do this of course but the visual aural spectacle of watching something on the big screen (and in 3D if you don’t get motion sick like me) is probably how a lot of people come across powerful themes like dystopia.

If you’re not familiar with the term, dystopia is the opposite of utopia or living in a ‘perfect world’. Typical features of dystopia are totalitarian governments with severe or extreme forms of control that are often dehumanising or degrading in some way, and sometimes include a version of environmental disaster (natural or unnatural). Dystopian themed literature exploded in the 1930’s and 40’s perhaps in response to world events at the time with some real classics emerging such as Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley and my all time favourite 1984 by George Orwell (written in 1949..clearly didn’t predict the true horror of 80’s fashion).

With The Hunger Games, Delirium and Divergent arriving to push dystopic themes into the ‘hearts’ (fluttering?) and minds of young people, it is probably important to look beyond the visuals of these productions to some of the important messages they potentially have.
I saw Divergent recently and putting aside the romantic under/overtones the messages around how societies might re-organise themselves after an apocalypse of some kind follows a familiar pattern. The first is the idea of social structures changing especially government and law. In Divergent society is organised into faction based on roles performed by people. Once you reach a certain age you are tested to see what faction your personal qualities best suit. You then get the choice to go with that or stay with your faction of birth. The risk is if you choose another faction you say goodbye to your family. The second idea is of revolution and where that comes from is resistance. In Divergent, if you are someone who’s skills, qualities and abilities fit multiple factions you get an ‘inconclusive’ result meaning you are divergent and this is a threat to the governing social structure. Divergents hide and do what they can to stay hidden as they are hunted down.

I liked the idea of some following their hearts rather than the test result, breaking free of family tradition. The idea of ‘fitting in’ versus belonging runs strongly through Divergent. It reminded me of schools in many ways and how quickly they test you to see where you fit. The factions in this case could be generalised stereotypes of ‘sporty’ ‘sciency, mathsy (geeky)’ ‘languagy’ ‘arty’ you get the idea. Gradually the lines between the factions appear to strengthen as the expectation to choose your future pathway draws nearer. Psychological tests are beginning to appear in schools as a tool to help young people ‘choose’ where they fit. Teachers and parents sit eagerly awaiting your decision, they know you, your potential but here you are secretly ‘divergent’ screaming on the inside ‘yes I’m good at sport but I love literature and chemistry, why do I have to choose?’ It isn’t an extreme leap to notice as well that families have certain hopes and expectations for where their children should belong. Walking away from that to follow what deep down you know is important to you can feel like being exiled or disowned.

We not only label people by looks we have drawn imaginary lines around knowledge and skills and forced young people to ‘fit’ and for me this resembles a socially acceptable form of dystopia. I like divergent ways of being and want to reassure any others hiding out there that you are not alone and your place is everywhere and anywhere.

Really the only difference between the topias is ‘dys-u’ how strange language is at times.