Bullying requires Resilience not Legislation

Nick Gillespie’s article in the Wall st Journal unpacks bullying trends in the USA to reveal that, contrary to the appearance provided by media and lobby group reporting, the trend is down. Here is some of what he wrote:

According to the US National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold. The most common bullying behaviors reported include being “made fun of, called names, or insulted” (reported by about 19% of victims in 2009) and being made the “subject of rumors” (16%). Nine percent of victims reported being “pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on,” and 6% reported being “threatened with harm.” Though it may not be surprising that bullying mostly happens during the school day, it is stunning to learn that the most common locations for bullying are inside classrooms, in hallways and stairwells, and on playgrounds—areas ostensibly patrolled by teachers and administrators.

The immensely powerful and highly acclaimed documentary “Bully,” opens in selected theaters this weekend. The film follows the harrowing experiences of a handful of victims of harassment, including two who killed themselves in desperation. It is, above all, a damning indictment of ineffectual and indifferent school officials. No viewer can watch the abuse endured by kids such as Alex, a 13-year-old social misfit in Sioux City, Iowa, or Kelby, a 14-year-old lesbian in small-town Oklahoma, without feeling angry and motivated to change youth culture and the school officials who turn a blind eye. Our problem isn’t a world where bullies are allowed to run rampant; it’s a world where kids are convinced that they are powerless victims.

Yet, although the solution, in hearing the complaint of the child, and the authority and skill of parents and teachers, is  immediately available, there is a tendency from some quarters to want to bring legislation to bear. Because the nature of bullying is largely an immoral use of communication, legislation has the potential of causing the far greater damage to democratic society by hindering freedom of speech. The world cannot be free if it continually adds layer upon layer of legislation towards protection children from every discomfort. Rather the world would do better to be fully engaged in the discussion about a common morality.  In this world, we take responsibility to engage each other in this discussion. We engage with bullies and parents and friends of bullies. We engage with victims of bullying until they recognise that they are not victims, that there is a bigger game afoot, one in which they can learn to play a special role toward the building of an extraordinary human society. If we begin to understand that the solution to bullying is not the legal constraint of bullies but the building of great resilience in the victim, then we can be assured that lives will be saved, and bullies will be reformed. We need to get over our reluctance to engage with community, keeping each other at arms length through political action.