May 28, 2013

Anti-Bullying Isn’t the Answer. ~ Rhonda Travis

Campaigns and rallies are not enough.

As a mother having raised three teenagers some years ago, I still remember how many steps along that road were strewn with psychological landmines. In terms of acknowledging the impact of the behavior teens have on each other, the heartless comments (sometimes deliberate and sometimes innocent), will easily shatter the most sensitive egos and often not leave even the strongest unscathed. The normal “stuff” of growing up, we often believe as parents, especially since so many events elicit memories of similar occurrences as we each navigate these tender years. In particular, adolescent and teenage girls have always been notoriously vicious, bringing to mind the term “cat-fights.”

In our household, the strategy that we mostly adhered to was one of openness so that all views and feelings could be aired without judgment. Looking back however, how could a mother possibly not be guilty of taking sides? “You’re so wonderful—you know that anything someone says to the contrary is simply not true” would be my offering to attempt to take the sting out. How much these words helped, and whether they changed any outcomes along the way, I doubt. Awareness was always limited to what was divulged, but those most painful moments would likely have been buried away for safekeeping and out of the “family” eye.

Regarding the tragic circumstances that lead to the death of Rehtaeh Parsons, certainly such loving parental words would ring hollow. Against the infinite might of today’s tools of cyber-communication, the message of a loving parent to boost the esteem and defenses of a vulnerable teenager, (even vulnerable by age demographic alone) would be largely moot. It would seem quite reasonable then that any teenager without having the benefit of unconditional parental love and support would be further destabilized, perhaps to the ultimate brink.

With due regard to the idealist intentions of systemic awareness campaigns, I have witnessed the effects of numerous events as “Pink T-shirt Days,” “International Day Against Bullying,” etc., have resulted in almost complete burn out of attention by that generation most affected.

The response I encountered was typically that of rolling eyes and such comments “as if that will make a difference.” I have personally experienced “zero tolerance” in schoolyard bullying as being only negligibly effective for the following reason. Years ago when a child of mine was going through difficult times, it was my child who wore the hat of the schoolyard bully from time to time. Any penalty given by way of suspension was outwardly worn like a badge of honor due to this child’s personal wounded or misguided sense of self.

Human psychology is a complicated matter.

We all, children and adults alike, work ferociously to protect our vulnerabilities and will do almost anything not to have them exposed. Often this is what causes the bullies to “attack.” Outward directed behavior acts as a means to protect one’s own fragile sense of identity. Rarely would this individual have the capacity to engage in adequate self-reflection to recognize those murky waters running deep below the surface are the driving energy that determines behavior on a day-to-day (let alone minute-to-minute) basis. All the knee-jerk and shortsighted solutions we are quick to conceive of in the wake of a pain-staking tragedy do little to resolving all the psychological scarring that lies at the root.

In this regard, the externalized measures of either penalties or awareness seem trivial if not entirely misguided and complicit in or at least distracting from the central issue. The systems we use today, and cling to with a sense of moral indignation, do nothing to provide insight into how to prevent the loss of such a beautiful and intelligent life as we just witnessed in the Rehtaeh Parsons tragedy. For this terrible social plague to have caused this one girl’s precious life to have been eclipsed by slipping beneath the radar is I believe a cosmic tragedy, and still we know there are many more of these cases than we even dare to acknowledge.

The very real, slow and steady solution ultimately requires the implementation of an educational and self-awareness system to be conceived and dispensed to children at the earliest age of understanding.

This progressive program of engaging in self-study should be encouraged and facilitated throughout the formative years through to maturation. In this way, progressive levels of complexity and development can be introduced, so that each individual gains access to the tools of self-insight and enlightenment. Ultimately, each of us has within the potential to be a light on to the world.

Children can learn to identify with their own cognitive ability (i.e. thought processes) in terms of their unique and full potential. How this area of development, particularly in our “enlightened Western culture” could be viewed as less important than learning mathematics and English literature is not only naïve, but more importantly, not in alignment with protecting our human survival.

The needs for self-love and self-esteem are universal.

The parts of our brain that respond to the presence or absence of these signals are scientifically consistent and measurable. These neurological centers act upon other brain centers in ways that affect and reflect action and behavior. The existing scientific and verifiable evidence confirms that all neurological development begins along a specific course and will ultimately be affected by many things. Each variable, whether it be genetics, culture, environment or gender, will all have an impact on development.

This should be considered carefully and respectfully in order to assist each individual to come to understand that there is an element of choice involved at every intersection as we move forward on our life journey. The accessibility of recognizing those choices is adversely affected by the entrenching of established patterns of repeated behavior. We often feel there is no choice based on how “stuck” we are in our familiar pattern of behavior or thought.

The good news however, is that even in the latent potential of our brain’s grey matter, we retain the possibility of change.

Science is increasingly inclined to validate the reality of neuroplasticity with recent and ongoing studies. Yes, it sounds complicated, but only because it is complicated. How trivializing to feel that our children are not up to learning to utilize those mental tools that will most effectively help them navigate the ongoing ebb and flow of their fluid journey through life. How naïve to think that we as adults will protect them simply by implementing “anti-bullying” measures that provide for them at best a false sense of security.

“We live in the best of times; we live in the worst of times.” Both are true. And with cyber-technology beginning to mimic quantum physics, it is all happening simultaneously. How quickly we begin to adapt our underdeveloped evolutionary coping tools will determine which aspect of this pronouncement resonates most strongly. The one thing I believe is certain—change in the way we safeguard our future through our children must begin now. Guns, nuclear weapons and anti-bullying rhetoric are not going to save our children or bring forth a more peaceful and compassionate world for them to live in.

Rhonda Travis lives out her daily yoga practice (i.e. life) in Toronto, Canada.  As the mother of three grown children, she has been both student and teacher to an endless series of transformative experiences. The belief that learning can only be integrated by viewing these central relationships through the mirror of one’s own soul is the impetus for ongoing self-reflection. Practicing for over a decade as a sport injuries physiotherapist eventually morphed into becoming a certified personal trainer with a special interest in teaching body awareness as a tool to improve self-empowerment.  A growing personal practice of yoga eventually led to certification as yoga teacher last year. An expanding interest and awareness of our psycho/physiological inter-connection, studying yoga philosophy and Yin Yoga, Rhonda is presently engaged in earning her professional status as Yoga Therapist.  Recently, writing has opened up a new frontier from which Rhonda endeavors to share her insights in hope of living her dharma.

Two favorite mottoes that encapsulate Rhonda’s life view are…

 “To teach is to be a student and to truly learn one must teach.”
 “To save a single soul is to save an entire world.”

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Editor: Wendy Keslick/Kate Bartolotta





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