October 2012 is Bullying Awareness Prevention Month.
There have been times of war when conventional forces were not enough. Situations were too complicated and too tenuous, hanging in a fragile balance. It was in these moments that a special force would be sent in to perform functions that emphasized cultural and training skills in working with foreign environments, hostage rescue, combat search and rescue (CSAR), security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, counter-proliferation, and psychological operations. This force was the Green Berets.
In February 1979 violence in New York subways was at a point of anarchy. Curtis Sliwa founded an organization called the Guardian Angels, made up completely of volunteers. They were unarmed and patrolled in a group to stop crimes in the subways. They trained themselves to make citizens arrests for violent crimes. Today, they patrol as well as conduct education programs and workshops for schools and businesses These protectors are identified by red jackets, white T-shirts, and... red berets.
We now have a situation where the assistance of a set of protectors is desperately needed. We are just a little over a month into the new school year, and we already have over a dozen deaths in schools due to bullying. According to NoHomophobes.com, the word "faggot" was tweeted over 215,000 times last week, and 2.7 million times since July. This week two 13-year-olds , Trae Schumaker and Cade Poulos, ended their lives. Both suicides were the response to bullying. In Cade's case, school officials rushed to state that bullying was not involved, and local media went so far as to suggest that the Batman films were the culprit. However, family and friends have stated bluntly that the cause was bullying.
I ache for the families and friends of these boys. I also ache for the families and friends of the children who, in the coming weeks, will do the same thing that these boys did. And they will if we do not prevent it from happening. I look at my sons and imagine the horror I'd feel if something like this happened to us. The idea hurts me so deeply that I cannot even express it. It hurts me so much that I am willing to take an idea and throw it out into the world.
We cannot look to school administrators to solve this. Administrations appear to be addressing bullying as a matter of clerical record, and they do not seem to be seeking to identify individuals in pain, or to focus on environments that inspire it. They may never be able to, in fact.
All of us who care must understand what is happening. In the book Hold On to Your Kids, Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Mate, M.D., describe the relationship between parents and young children thus: "The attachment brain assigns the child to a dependent mode while the adult takes a dominant role." Once the child grows toward adolescence and is in a peer-driven environment, those attachments transfer. Neufeld and Mate write:
When the subjects are children and children, the outcome can become disastrous. Some children seek dominance without assuming any responsibility for those who submit to them, while other children become submissive to those who cannot nurture them. ... Children (or adults) become bullies when striving for dominance is not coupled with the instinctual sense of responsibility for those lower on the pecking order. The needs of others are demeaned rather than served, vulnerability is not safeguarded but exploited, weakness evokes mocking instead of helping and in place of concern, handicaps trigger ridicule.
When this dysfunctional dependence situation is placed in a world that supports homophobia and misogyny and overvalues athletic prowess and trendiness, the bully is now armed and dangerous.
We need to realize that there has to be another level of defense beyond school administrations, which clearly can't or won't do enough. We need to address the pathology that has victims looking for validation from peers who are not equipped to provide it, and bullies feeling empowered by exploiting it.
So here is my proposal. I am calling for the formation of groups of "Rainbow Berets" within schools. These would be concerned peer groups that would stand up to the circumstances that inspire bullying. They would be visible in their schools and would serve as safe confidants for those being bullied and help educate those who engage in bullying. These groups would advocate for their peers to seek to nurture each other and change the paradigm.
My son Jesse seeks out older kids, whom he sees as "cool." "Cool" often translates as aloof, "bad-ass," untouchable. The mantra for the Rainbow Berets has to be "cruel does not equal cool."
If you are reading this, care about the bullying issue, and are a parent, teacher, school administrator, or student, then this is your moment for action. I am asking you to take this up and make this a reality; otherwise, your compassion will turn to sorrow as yet another child kills himself or herself in your community. I am begging you to get active. Here is how:
- "Like" the Rainbow Berets Facebook page.
- Post a brief autobiography, and tell the world why you care. Then share that post with anyone in your school or community who might join your efforts. Encourage them to "like" the Facebook page and state their intent to join in the comments section of your post.
- Meet with your group, get educated on bullying, and pick a "uniform" that will identify you as peer helpers. Rainbow berets are just suggestions. You can literally make and don them, or you can come up with some kind of badge.
- Meet with your school administrators, let them know of your intent, and get their permission.
- With their help, promote the existence of your group around your school. Find ways to let people know that they can approach you confidentially and let you know their feelings and problems.
- Under no circumstances should your group retaliate or commit any aggression toward identified bullies. At most, you would approach an alleged bully and inform them that their actions are causing harm. Do this as a team, not as an individual. Find out the motivation behind the bullying and try to help. Often the "bully" is also a victim in another situation.
- If the alleged bully is unwavering and boastful of their aggressions, do not threaten or coerce them. Do report the situation, however. One of the biggest issues that bullied kids have is being in a "he said/he said" situation that administrations can't take action on. If your team can unearth the truth and report it, your witness to admissions of intent will give the administration something they can work with.
- Help match those feeling bullied with nurturing people. Ultimately, they need to feel self-empowered, but in the meantime they need peers who will help build up their self-esteem, not tear it down.
- Post about your experiences on the Rainbow Berets Facebook page. Post helpful materials and resources. Post about what worked and positive resolutions you've found. This will inspire other Rainbow Berets in other schools, other cities, other states, and even other countries.
- Appreciate yourself as a hero. If you do this, if you take action, you will see people around you feel better about themselves. Other Rainbow Berets in your group will realize the benefits of finding out what they can accomplish through caring about others, and those who have been bullied will find ways to cope. What you need to know is that without your efforts, some of these people would have taken tragic actions, and though you will not know this for sure, you actually saved lives.
Will this work? That is really up to you. This will work if the people who care take action. It will not work if well-intentioned people allow apathy or fear to disable them. So please step up, and at the very least, share this. Sometimes, with the help of a friend, we can change our whole perspective on the world we live in. And that is the point.
As a parent myself, I am going to walk the talk. I am taking this plan to the principal of my son's school and will ask him to present it to the parents' association. I hope you do something similar. Please.