Through the month of February, I’ve been exploring the impact that bullying has had on Tipton County schools. In doing so, I’ve encountered many methods used by educators and parents to reach out to students and motivate them to treat their peers with respect and kindness.
Many of these methods, especially with younger children, involve training them to think about how their actions impact others. They are encouraged to think with empathy and put themselves in the shoes of their peers, and are often asked to consider how they would feel in certain scenarios. I’ve spoken with educators who have personally witnessed the success of these patterns of thinking, and it’s very encouraging that students are responding to prompts toward being friendly, kind and compassionate when interacting with peers.
However, when these noble values fail to penetrate the hearts of students, there is another perspective to be considered.
I have a friend who is a police officer, and there’s a story he likes to tell about his childhood involving bullies, Transformer toys and a bit of poetic justice. To me, it is the absolute classic case of the past coming back to bite.
When my friend was a child, he was picked on often. He tells of one particular instance where he was playing with a couple of new Transformer toys that he was particularly excited to have when he was approached by a larger boy that had been known to bully him on an ongoing basis. The boy stole my friend’s Transformers out of spite and continued to antagonize him. The toys were never returned.
Well, my friend grew up, as children do, and the incident was all but forgotten as he gained self-confidence over the years. He became a sheriff’s deputy and was respected around the community as a law enforcement officer as well as a business owner.
The other boy, at this point, found himself on the wrong side of the law. My friend picked him up one day per an arrest warrant, and from the back of his patrol car, his childhood antagonist began asking for favors.
The guy begged my friend to remember how they went way back as “buddies” during school and should give him a break because of their long chummy history together. Of course, the stolen Transformers, along with the rest of the taunting, instigating and abuse, had not been so easily forgotten, as this former bully was reminded from the backseat of his childhood victim’s patrol car.
The moral of this story is this: if students were to take into account what the person they’re picking on could become one day, how likely is it that they would continue to victimize that person?
While some students may have a hard time responding to values such as kindness and compassion, they may prove easier to reach with more self-preserving logic.
Several people I’ve talked to over the course of this series, both students and educators, have confirmed that much, if not most, bullying occurs out of retribution for what they perceive was instigated by another. Not often do students seek out confrontation for no reason, but are instead looking for justice or revenge for an action against them.
Students, and many times adults, need to be reminded that getting even or retaliating doesn’t help anyone. It only perpetuates the violent cycle. As with my friend’s childhood Transformer thief, those who seek to do harm to others are hurting themselves most of all.