06/06/2014 04:50 pm ET Updated Sep 19, 2014

Mafia and Bullying: A Common Mindset

After 26 years in Italy, where mafia culture invades everyday life, I felt the need to write about it. " Paolo's Dream " is the book published last September, in Italy. It's aimed at teens, and it connects two unlikely (or likely) social scourges: mafia and bullying. Students in schools describe the thread joining bullying and mafia with these words: violence, threats, isolation, conspiracy, silent bystanders and fear. As a victim of bullying 30 years ago, I am still trying to come to grips with the physical and emotional scars left like slivers in my soul. I had to find some solace and draw some positive activity to diffuse my pain. I found it when I felt the need to put a stop to it and treat it, no more and no less, like the brutal violence of organized crime. I joined various organizations in the effort to bring about awareness, for bullying is a torment that drives many victims to suicide.

If young people deny their consent, even the almighty and mysterious mafia will vanish like a nightmare.

These words belong to an Italian anti - mafia magistrate, Paolo Borsellino, who was killed along with five police officers in a mafia carnage on the afternoon of July 19th 1992 in Palermo, Sicily. Two months earlier a friend and colleague of Borsellino, judge Giovanni Falcone, had been assassinated in yet another ambush. In the explosion that killed Borsellino an important piece of evidence went missing, a red diary ( agenda rossa ) that belonged to the judge, in which he noted details and thoughts about the people he met and the inquiries he was working on at the time.

Today, a decisive trial is taking place in Palermo to establish responsibilities among those who engaged in a negotiation which took place between mafia and State in 1992 /1993. A treaty that was to put an end to underworld bombings and bloodshed in exchange for lighter and less harsh incarceration conditions for mafiosi. Such a transaction is believed to have been crucial in determining judge Borsellinos' execution. It seems likely that the judge had come to know of the negotiation and had opposed it , placing himself as an obstacle in its' resolution. After twenty two years not much has changed in Italy. Just like Borsellino, those magistrates who are now committed to uncovering the truth about the treaty that took place, risk their lives. From prison, the old but still powerful mafia boss Toto` Riina has repeatedly sent death threats to judge Nino Di Matteo, who is in charge of the delicate trial taking place in Palermo.

Most Italians will say that negotiations between the mafia, corrupt politicians and representatives of the State have always taken place, as if this were normal, as if it were a necessary process to re -establish time and time again some kind of political balance, a needful circumstance for the Italian economy and the Italian people to be able to survive. It is in this common belief that the mafia becomes something more than power and violence embalmed in a code of silence. It transpires into a mindset powerful enough to spread throughout society. Organized crime thrives in poor social and economic environments where young girls and boys are easily influenced and attracted to a mentality that encourages ruthlessness and intimidation to establish forms of power and hierarchies among groups. In the face of a deep moral, cultural, political and economic crisis Italy has recently seen the increase of other occurrences that directly involve children and adolescents in school age: bullying, cyber bullying and related suicides. Over the past months two teenage girls have taken their lives and a fifteen year old boy was brutally beat up by five peers. His injuries were severe enough to require hospitalization.

Just as in the case of the criminal arbitration that took place between the mafia and the State Italians (but not only) say that bullying has always existed, it's part of growing up, it makes kids stronger. When it doesn't kill them, we are sadly forced to add.

There is no doubt that protecting the victims must be the priority. The question is how?
Studies show that children and youth who bully others are more likely than their peers to: exhibit delinquent behaviors, dislike or drop out of school, drink alcohol and smoke, hold beliefs supportive of violence, think of or attempt suicide and also bring weapons to school. Reaching out to children who bully means helping the victims and, on a larger scale, society as a whole. Taking a common stand against the phenomenon and avoiding labels by referring to young ones as bullies can and will help save lives.

Mafia and bullying are not only linked by the issues that characterize them. They also share the solution we need to resolve these plagues. A solution that may appear obvious but that is falling short in Democratic nations around the globe; a strong educational system capable of leading future generations to awareness, empathy, solidarity and unity.

Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. Thank you Nelson Mandela.