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Bullying: Swimming in a culture of mean

By Nikki Rajala, The Visitor

Barbara Coloroso's strategies were developed through years of training in sociology and special education and field-tested as a classroom teacher, laboratory school instructor, university instructor, volunteer in Rwanda and mother of three grown children.

The Visitor recently interviewed Coloroso about bullying and her upcoming presentation.

Q. What is bullying?
Bullying is conscious, willful and deliberate, intended to harm. It can be verbal, physical or relational; it might only happen once or can continue over time. Bullies have utter contempt for their targets and get pleasure from another's pain. Bullies draw in henchmen, supporters, passive bullies and disengaged onlookers who don't take a stand. That can include adults who turn a blind eye and say, "that's the way kids are." In my day, hazing was the norm. We accepted it, like people accepted slavery, but we don't anymore.

Q. How has bullying changed?
We are swimming in a culture of mean. Much of what we call entertainment, America's Funniest Videosand reality shows, is watching others being hurt or humiliated. In political races, people are targeted, not the issues. High-status social bullies are new like girls being mean to a new girl because she's new, beautiful, brighter or just upsetting their social status. A mean girl bully demands, "if you want to be in my group, you won't eat lunch with her either." Unfortunately many adults believe high-status bullies are nice kids from nice families, and deny their meanness while blaming the target.

Q. What about cyberbullying?
Cyber tools have impacted bullying dramatically. Spreading a verbal taunt or ugly rumor took a long time in the past. But now it's instant, when kids videotape somebody being targeted and put it on YouTube. Bullies posting cruel entries on Facebook usually aren't held accountable and what they post stays in cyberspace forever.

Q. Is this happening in places besides the U.S.?
Bullying occurs all over the world, more where people live in a culture of fear. They perceive others as threats to their survival or way of life and make them into targets. After I was in Rwanda I wrote a book on genocide. I discovered it's a short walk from schoolyard bullying to hate crime, or criminal bullying, to genocide.

Q. How can churches, schools and parents empower youth?
We need to listen carefully to the person being bullied and let them know it's not their fault. Bullying needs to be reported. It's not easy to defend someone who's become a target. But there are ways to teach young people to be active witnesses, take responsibility and speak out against injustice, even in the cyberworld. Besides needing discipline, and offering restitution and reconciliation, bullies need friendship and empathy skills, constructive activities and opportunities to do good. If people wonder where bullying comes from, I ask: "how do you treat others, like a shopper or driver who moves slower than you? Different people who've moved into your neighborhood? Someone from another culture? You don't have to like them, but you do have to treat them respectfully."