As I sit down to write this, I'm already imagining the controversy this post is going to generate. But before I go too far down the path, let me say that this is not an anti-bullying bashing party. It's an attempt to explain what is fatally wrong with our attempts to end the bullying epidemic in our schools and communities.
I believe the "anti-" approach is wrong.
In many of my presentations that I give across the country to parents, educators and administrators, I use a quote that Mother Teresa once said about our attempts to end global conflict and a request that she appear at an event. She responded by saying
"I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there." - Mother Teresa
I use this quote a lot because it seems we have the same problem with "anti-bullying." We're calling attention to the wrong thing, and, very much too late in the game.
If you know much about brain functioning, you may have heard that our human brains have difficulty computing negatives. It's as though the brain has to do a double-take and "reprocess" the information when it encounters something like "don't" or "can't." The study of neurolinguistics is finding some very interesting results that seem to back this up. An article I recently came across may suggest that using the words "don't" when trying to change negative behavior may be actually unwittingly supporting that negative behavior.
I'll try to summarize this but you can read the full article here. One example the author uses is the effect of telling yourself, when in a stressful situation, "Don't panic." If you hear a fire alarm in a crowded gymnasium and repeatedly tell yourself "Don't panic, don't panic" you may find yourself breaking into a run in spite of your best intentions. This effect is referred to as "negation."
Now, imagine you are a young child in the same situation. Children are believed to be more susceptible to negation's effects, so the "don't" message that we are trying to teach them. Tell a toddler, "Don't touch" invariably causes that child to want to reach out even more strongly.
I can personally vouch for my brain's "don't" disconnect. Any of you play golf? Ok, in that case, here's a real-life scenario for you and tell me if this hasn't happened to you: (more…)
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