< 12 point National Anti-Bullying Action Plan
Sep 13, 2013 13.09.13 17:02 Age: 7 yrs

It's not o.k.

It never ceases to perplex me what we as human beings will accept as ok and not ok.  I’m talking about how we communicate with one another.  How our friendship constellations sometimes demand of us that we are not our true selves.  How we sometimes conform to unhealthy norms just to feel like we are part of something.  How we then put ourselves under pressure and have inner dilemmas because we know instinctively that our friendship rules have shifted our inner value systems and we lose something of ourselves.

I’m talking about bystanding. With our own friends. Often I have experiences that throw this bystanding phenomenon into pretty high relief for me in my own life, but then, the work I do means that I see the pretty horrific end results of long term bystanding on those who have not been stood by as well as those who didn’t really think about the fact that they were doing it very,very often. I have pledged never to bystand. Ever.  I’ve seen too many lives destroyed by it and often lives brought to a premature end, that’s how serious it is. That brings with it it’s own challenges but it keeps life very simple too.  If I feel something is wrong, someone has been the butt of behaviour that is inappropriate, no matter how subtle, I’ll say it, confront it.

I overheard a conversation between two women on a train last week.   One mentioned that she had heard ‘on the grapevine’ that some mutual married acquaintances had separated.  She added, meant as a jovial, humorous comment that some of the husband’s had been talking and had made a comment to the effect that perhaps the wife had found a ‘new jockey’. The comment just hung there without as much as a sigh of disappointment from the listening party.   Of course, my in built over the boundary line censor kicked into action.  And I felt like challenging the comment.  I wanted there and then to have a long debate  with these women about what the teller of the story called ‘Locker Room banter’ amongst men and what was just plain out of order, inappropriate framing of two peoples deep pain at separation and the ending of a relationship.  No winners.  No debate, I didn’t have the courage to challenge.  I feel so bad I didn’t have the courage.  I try harder the next time. 

So let’s thrash this out a bit.  Why was story repeated?  Why didn’t the listener challenge the comment when it was expressed to her.  Why was there a complete and utter void of compassion and impetus to support two people in pain? Why was there an absence of attempts to offer kind smiles and warmth to these two people?  What is ‘Locker Room banter’?  Is a comment of such hurtful intent passed from one person to another and then another as a joke healthy banter? Why is the ‘Locker Room’ an ok setting for this type of interpersonal communication between men or lads? Why is this ok? Or more to the point, why did these two women think it was ok?

And then we remind ourselves that this is communication between adults and maybe parents. And it’s ok? What hope is there for our children to learn healthy ways of communicating if the significant role models in their lives are showing them this sort of behaviour.  On a daily basis I receive emails and phone calls from deeply traumatised and distressed parents who have found themselves in the depths of a dilemma because their child is being bullied.  Often I have to explain the anatomy of bullying behaviour first to help these poor people understand why it has happened and who we need to work with to get it to stop.  The Bullied person, the person who chooses to bully and the people who know that it is happening and often stand by, unable to find a way to stop it or may in fact join in because it’s easier and is good damage limitations for themselves, preserves their place in their social pecking order and keeps them safe from becoming bullied themselves.  I mean, who wants to be on the butt end of what they are seeing happen to another poor unfortunate. All of the most recent research findings on bullying point to the fact that the bystander is really the only group who have the true and healthy power to stop the behaviour, by saying stop themselves. Often the whole situation has begun with one ugly but delivered under the guise of  ‘humour’ comment being passed to another and then another, and the seed is then sown. We have a target and we have support for what is about to happen to them by just being silent and not challenging a comment that was hurtful, dangerous and definitely not ok.  And we do it to preserve our place.  This is the point, why not challenge, why not say ‘Hey, hang on a  minute? That’s a bit out of order. Stop it, and by the way, has anyone given so and so a buzz to see if they’d like to have a coffee or drop around for a bite or do they need any help with the kids for a while, like a couple of school runs ect? ‘

I decided to relay the story to some of my friends I asked them would they consider telling the wife in question what was being said in the ‘Locker Room’.  They were horrified at that prospect because they felt that this would rupture friendships, destroy neighbourly support and kill relationships between the children of ‘Locker Room’ lads.  They felt that this would cause conflict that would become deeply embedded and that too many people would lose in the process.  And all the while, all I could think about was how one inappropriate comment passed from one to another and then another was being okayed to protect the status quo and the by the sound of it, unhealthy, mistrustful and untrue relationships that exist already.  No learning curve, no reaching for health, no understanding of the real potential for personal growth, true kindness, warmth and a brilliant and bright future for our kids because they are seeing the best behaviours ever from their parents.  It’s not ok, is it, No it’s not ok.  Try telling that to the families of all of our suicide victims whose pain began with one in appropriate comment passed from one to another and then another.  It’s never ok.

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