I’m Right, You’re a #@!*

Angry argument

A few weeks ago I was watching a Youtube video by an American who purports to give financial and business advice. I was shocked when, at one point, he said something I considered to be blatantly racist towards the people of another country. I simply wrote in the comments section – “Wasn’t that a rather racist thing to say?”

I went to bed and thought no more about it.  In the morning I saw a notification that there was a comment in response to mine. When I opened it, I was informed – “This is the internet, get over it you @#!*.”

It can appear very easily today that, hastened by online ‘anything goes’ communication, we are losing our ability to hold conversations or discuss matters where we hold different points of view. We don’t know how to argue any more. It has become the habit all too often to take comments that are critical of a point of view or an action to be statements of direct attack on one’s person and therefore justification for insults and direct attacks on the person of the other, regardless of whether we even know anything about that person.

Particularly in my earlier years in leadership positions I well remember that I used to have a real issue at times. I would put in extensive hours of research on a topic, consult with experts and other leadership team members, apply long and deep thought and often write long and detailed plans of action and other documents. Then it would come time to present the materials as a plan for action in a particular new direction to staff, or school parents. I would also burn a lot of midnight oil turning those ideas and plans in to powerpoint presentations and speaking notes, planning how I could accurately convey all the facts and details to the target audience.

And then, I’d present! And then, I’d get a shock when the audience reaction and response wasn’t the one I’d wanted or convinced myself to expect. Having a lot personally invested in those thoughts and ideas I would sometimes feel angry, disappointed, let down, even betrayed. I would lament, sometimes to myself and sometimes to close others how these people, who hadn’t spent all the time and effort I had, who didn’t have all the facts marshalled the way I had, could be so foolish as to not be grateful and appreciative that I had put in all the hard work on their behalf. As far as I was concerned, my facts and evidence were irrefutable, well organised and well presented and so, if those people were rejecting there had to be something wrong with them deep down. I would be tempted to put it down to character flaws or ulterior motives. I questioned whether they were really sincere in their protestations of loyalty to the vision and mission of the organisation.

There was an inevitability that the end outcome of such an exchange was tense relations, loss of rapport and less trust in both directions. When relationships are damaged in this way, the next communication can only be harder still because it starts from a position of mistrust. The other thing that people come to realise about such exchanges is the enormous loss of energy, drive and enthusiasm, for which both are again inclined to blame the lack of reasonableness of the opponent. Hostility levels can continue to rise, or one or both parties withdraw whilst adamant they were always 100% in the right and that the other party is entirely to blame for any harm done to the relationships.

We can see parallels today in the arguments roiling around in India about recent law changes pushed through by a government emboldened by its majority after recent elections.  We also see similar with the arguments about Donald Trump in the US or Brexit in the UK. In each of these disagreements both sides put enormous energy in to marshalling facts, data, ‘evidence’ to put the case that they are 100% right, their opponents 100% wrong.  But, in all these disputes people are going further, with two disturbing factors;

1. Both sides in these polarised arguments take their sides according to the party that they already support. In other words, if I align with a party on the right in my country’s politics, then I agree and push the agenda of every policy or argument from my peers on the right, without exception. it has become anathema almost to say that whilst I align with ‘this side’ I cannot agree with X, or am uncomfortable with Y without certain safeguards etc.
Instead it’s  – I’m on this side and therefore I think X, Y and Z and will argue for them until my last breath. Further I will belittle and condemn anyone foolish enough to align themselves with any other position or to listen to any ‘facts that might question my/ our perspective. People like us think things like this, support people like us and condemn people like them!
This is made worse by another factor online, namely that the algorithms being used by search companies etc mean that to keep me ‘hooked’ (to keep the promises to the advertisers) I will be fed a diet largely consisting of the viewpoints and perspectives that reinforce my belief in X, Y and Z. This convinces me that I am ‘one of the smart ones’ and further cements my view that all those who disagree are either willfully obstructing the truth or ignorant in the extreme.

2. Having presented their ‘facts’ in great and careful detail, when their opponents offer any alternative facts there’s a lack of listening, an unwillingness to contemplate that the ‘other side’ could have anything worth saying. Further, when they don’t accept ‘our facts’, not only do we alienate ourselves from them, but resort to name calling, personal level insults and assumptions that they are unreasonable, blinkered and

Such complexities and subtleties of human relations are never perfected in an entire lifetime. Nevertheless, it is vitally important that people are committed to learn and to put in the effort to strive to be better, in order to further better human relations at both the personal and the larger scale. I fear that we are at risk of argument fatigue and the changes brought by the relative anonymity and safety of distance and ease provided by the internet may see humanity go backwards in its development of these skills.

For children growing up today there are massive risks. When we were young we spent far more of our time playing, often in  fairly large groups, with a lot of independence. Disagreements were an inevitable part of that play, but we independently learned how to work through issues, negotiate over differences of opinion and to separate feelings and emotions at times so as to understand circumstances.

Today’s children live far more isolated lives. When they do interact it’s within the environments of computer games and social networking – and as I’ve already said these domains tend not to observe the same standards or expectations. In the real world, when you’ve insulted someone, called them vulgar names or inflicted pain and hurt by needling them at points of sensitivity, you still have to look them in the eye and also look other peers in the eye who will have seen and heard your actions (and will share judgements about you). Online, a level of callousness and ‘out of the world’ sense can mean that bad behaviour, being unfair or nasty carries little by way of real world consequences.

In such circumstances, we have to fear further deterioration in people’s abilities to disagree, let alone considering the ability to handle cognitive dissonance. This is the discomfort that may be experienced by a person who holds two opposing views in mind at the same time. On this, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald is famously quoted as saying, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” By this definition, there are evidently few first rate intelligences around today, and there will be even less in the future.

In these circumstances there is a genuine need to ensure that thinking and communication skills form a significant part of the learning process in schools. ‘Facts’ are readily and easily available. The ability to marshal an argument that makes sense, to argue it effectively with others and to engage with their responses involve a set of skills that are well worth developing.

Further, even as adults, we have to acknowledge that these are areas in which we can never get too good. There is always scope for improvement. I outlined earlier the issues and challenges I had as an, at times, obsessive leader. I recognise now that it made me less of a leader than i could have been. I know I will still have times when my vision for something, backed by my own passion for it and the fact that I’ve invested the time and effort to become passionate is not uniformally welcomed by others, needs to be sold and cannot simply be bulldozered. and that even despite the fact that, today, there are signs that people living in an unsettled and uncertain world may welcome having leaders who bully them down a particular course of action. Leaders with the ‘courage (thick-skinned-ness) to be unpopular, to bully and pressurise seem to be in vogue. I want to believe that this is just a phase the world is going through and that ultimately it will still always value, respect and want more to be lead by those who seek to carry others with them rather than exert bullying force and power.

If you believe that man-made impact on global warming is a bogus sham created by interested parties, or that the earth is actually flat nothing is achieved if I simply come to you and tell you that you’re wrong. Even if I follow up with a vast array of scientific evidence (facts) to put my argument and refute yours, there will still be nothing achieved. In fact, worse, we’ve seen lots of evidence that this will simply cause your belief to become even more entrenched and you are very likely to double down on your beliefs and the perception that those who seek to persuade you otherwise are bad in some way.

So, we come to the question – how can we argue, disagree and communicate more effectively, so that we arrive at ways forward that are more humane, sensitive and actually effective? So that we don’t sacrifice long term relationships in order to achieve short term wins. What are the elements of effective discourse to be built in to the education process and school learning so that young people can master these skills and make them a natural part of their character?

Here are a couple of useful starting points I would like to share – ones that struck me as particularly useful and appropriate.

The first is a link from Psychology Today that looks at why we shouldn’t try to shut down argument, that it serves a valuable purpose if we will just keep it in perspective, avoid getting emotionally overloaded by it and approach it as a vital part of the long term process of making our personal relationships stronger and more effective:

Psychology Today – The proper way to Argue

The second is a longer read, but well worthwhile. It comes from Eric Barker, the writer of the ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’ blog and the book of the same name that came out last year. The book is superb and I would thoroughly recommend it – one of my best reads of 2019. Eric’s method is to draw significant amounts of research together from credible sources to address a challenge at which, if we can get better, we can have more success in life.

In this particular article he addresses the question of how one might persuade another to change their viewpoint or opinion on something. He starts with the most fundamental point – you’re going to have little or no scope to change a person’s mind by restraining, forcing, bullying, hectoring or belittling the other person. You cannot begin to have any chance of convincing anyone of anything until there is rapport and a feeling on the part of the other that you do not wish them ill or intend harm to them. He advocates kindness.

I have a sneaking suspicion that, all too often, these days when people engage in aggressive arguments, especially online, they know right from the start that they will not change the point of view of the other. Rather, they actually intend that by sanctimoniously professing their viewpoint and belittling those of the other, they will feel better about themselves. This is a small victory of little consequence and comes with a heavy price in terms of the loss of civility, decency and effective human engagement. When lawyers in court refer to the opposing lawyer as “my learned friend,” it highlights that they are setting out to journey together towards a shared, common, understood truth (win-win) rather than in an adversarial, gladiatorial battle to the death (win-lose) .

Barker’s article goes on with some level of detail, to outline a number of the key ways that rapport can be established and that one can attempt to persuade another to change a viewpoint (in fact, to create an environment where they persuade themselves that there is some reason to doubt their earlier beliefs).

Barking Up The Wrong Tree Blog – Eric Barker – This Is How to Change Someone’s Mind
(Click on the link above to open the blog post in a separate window or tab. While you’re there I would thoroughly recommend you sign up for Eric’s regular email notification of new blog posts (about once a week) to read more)

For a final thought, I turn to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey didn’t invent these 7 habits, rather he distilled them from long term wisdom about what works – what is effective. Firstly, we can take habit 2 – begin with the end in mind. Unless your intention is really to alienate others and cause them to hold beliefs with which you can’t agree more firmly than before, you need a change of strategy. if you always do what you always did, then you’ll always get what you always got. Just winding people up for the sake of it online really does make you nothing more than a keyboard warrior and you shouldn’t be surprised when people ignore you. If you have other objectives, you need to get clear about what they are.

Then, we can turn to habit 5 – seek first to understand, and then to be understood. You’re not the only perfectly reasonable, sane, intelligent person on earth. Just because it may not be obvious to you, there is a reason why the other person thinks or believes what they do. And, as Barker highlights, those beliefs are frequently wrapped up with self image, identity and values. If and when you have an understanding of why they hold the beliefs they do, then you might be able to begin to introduce alternative viewpoints to them.

As I said earlier, I’m still working on these things and know I’ll never be perfect. You cannot be too good. However, as a person who wants to make a positive contribution in the world I know I must continue to refine and develop my skills. The effort is worthwhile, however long the journey. There will be better and worse days, but that’s all part of the road towards mastery.


Hurting the Ones You Love


Putting others down to raise ourselves up is, in my view, one of the most invidious forms of bullying. But, we’ve got a problem that needs to be called out – young people’s environment today is full of it.  It’s doing enormous harm and hurt, but nobody’s supposed to say anything about it.

As far as I can tell a big part of it has come out of American culture alongside cultural icons like WWE wrestling. In this pseudo sport, athletes (sic) who are supposedly friends turn on each other, cause each other physical pain and injury and this is all supposed to be terribly entertaining and fun.

It’s part of a major theme of American entertainment culture sold to young people over the last 25 years or so that, I believe deliberately bends and distorts friendship, loyalty and other positive aspects of human relations. And then people wonder why, in parallel we have a generation of young people who’ve grown up more needy, more flaky and vulnerable, more lonely and lacking in human closeness than any before.

There are some particularly sickening aspects of this phenomenon. One of the very worst is “the roast”. When I was growing up i was always taught that good comedy laughs with people, and not at them – that laughing at people was not clever, kind or reflecting positively on the perpetrator. However, the roast manipulates these norms and principles horribly. They take place usually on TV. A specific person is treated as the Guest of Honour (but there’s no honour in this) and is subjected to a barrage of jokes made at them, at their expense and this is intended to entertain the event’s wider audience. We even now have a President of America who was the subject of one such MTV channel roasts (he’s also paraded as part of a stupid, purile storyline in WWE (because that’s what friends do to each other).

The idea is that somehow, personal and brutal humour is the modern equivalent of jousting and the strong person can ‘suck it up’, taking criticism and insult with a smile on their face. This is like friends putting on velvet gloves before punching each other in the face.

Another media manifestation is the Punk’d style of hidden camera shows where practical jokes are played on people by their friends. The more the trick entails a betrayal of friendship and trust, apparently the more entertaining it is. If the person being punk’d shows themselves to be human, hurt, ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated so much the better. I’ve often wondered what the conversations are like that happen just after these humiliations. In most countries it must be necessary for the person to sign something that permits the TV company to broadcast the incident. In all honesty, if I was on the receiving end I wouldn’t sign. No amount of waffle about 15 minutes of fame, popularity etc. would win me over. They would have been wasting their time and expense. But, sadly, the pressure is obviously applied so cleverly that many people are lured by their 15 minutes of fame, just as Andy Warhol predicted 50 years ago.

My belief has always been that friendship is a relationship that is especially important for children and young people growing up today – one that provides something different to relationships within the family. It’s a relationship in which it should be safe for youngsters to explore their views on the world, with someone who has their best interests at heart, where there is strong trust, caring and loyalty. It should be a relationship that children feel can be relied upon, to fall back on for advice, help and support in dealing with life’s challenges and uncertainties.

Instead, I fear that all that all too often what we’re getting is relationships that appear to be supportive and protective, but are in fact the environments within which young people’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses are most abused. Around nine years ago i was so alarmed by what I was seeing that I took the support and guidance of our school clinical psychologist and counselors to write an article to address myself to parents and particularly to students aged around 9 – 12. What we were seeing was an almost incessant needling and digging by children in to each other’s vulnerabilities. Children who claimed to be friends were engaged in almost continuous insults and innuendo about whatever were their greatest weaknesses or vulnerabilities. One child might be carrying some excess weight, another had a mother who didn’t buy him/ her the top designer label clothes, another had parents who were separating, yet another had given an unfortunately wrong and thoughtless answer to a class question in Maths. Whatever makes you most vulnerable is most likely to be known by your friends. However, when friendship starts to consist of parading each others’ vulnerabilities in public for ridicule and belittling there has to be something very wrong.

We had concluded from research and interviews with children, parents and teachers that often this was a deflection method to protect themselves from feeling vulnerable. In other words – I tear you down in order to feel good (or at least a little less bad) about myself. The best analogy might be a playground seesaw. in order to raise me up, you must be pushed down – as though there was only so much self esteem to go around.

Just like the victim in a roast, the child being ridiculed was supposed to show resilience, hide all evidence that the comments and criticisms hurt and, if really ‘playing the game’ to come back with equal vigour in the battle. This may have been the face children were showing each other. However, teachers, parents and school councilors were seeing the evidence of the harm and damage done as children were repeatedly being betrayed by those they trusted, or feeling guilt because they had betrayed their friends (or both!) This was not victimless fun, but a massive erosion of self worth and self esteem.

In the most extreme of cases, I’ve had a group of 16 year old boys admit to me that amongs their friend group they had instituted ‘safe words’ – words that individuals could speak with an unwritten rule that when spoken, then this meant enough was enough. These young people were hurting each other so much and with such disregard for each other’s health and wellbeing – all while convincing themselves and others that they were friends. The safe words came in to play when an individual couldn’t take the emotional battering any more, when they were likely to act violently towards their friend or themselves or take some other drastic action.

This is tragic in the extreme and a gross distortion of anything that can be called friendship. This wasn’t a little harmless leg pulling amongst people who cared for each other. This was risk taking on a gross scale, mirroring the worst of TV and media habits where people appear to bate each other, probe the festering wounds of each others weaknesses, vulnerabilities and shortcomings in ways that make them look big, clever, witty and popular. The one who is ready to risk their friendships most is the coolest?!

What an awful state to have reached, and what terrible prices are being paid in the alienation, loneliness and low self esteem of our young people today. What can be done about it? Well, for starters, those who believe in a healthier, more wholesome and uplifting/ empowering model for friendship need to model this for young people.

More needs to be done to counteract the negative messages of the media and entertainment. We need to put more emphasis on social and emotional learning, the development of emotional intelligence, empathy and caring. Above all, we need to convey the messages to children about how they have choices about whether to build another up or pull them down, the implications of both and the understanding that self esteem is not a zero sum game. If my friend’s self esteem is emboldened today, then he or she is more likely and available to boost mine tomorrow when i need it, going in to a difficult conversation with an adult, a sports event or an exam.

Less emphasis on anti-bullying campaigns and more focus on building strong, resilient emotionally intelligent children who place as much importance on holding up their friends and peers as on boosting themselves up. It’s not always an easy world in which to grow up and our children need all the help they can get. In the words of the theme tune of long running and ever popular comedy, ‘Friends’;
“I’ll be there for you
When the rain starts to pour
I’ll be there for you
Like I’ve been there before
I’ll be there for you
‘Cause you’re there for me too”



Please Vote For Me – Or Else

This documentary, made 12 years ago, but still packed with relevance today is fascinating on so many levels, but also quite scary in terms of the underlying messages. The starting premise is a simple one – a class of 8 year olds who would in the past have had a class monitor imposed upon them by their teacher are to engage in an exercise in democracy to elect their own class monitor.

If you wish to watch the whole film (and it is well worth watching) I recommend you do so before reading any further – major spoiler alerts to follow!

Firstly, this has to be seen in the context of a country where perceptions of democracy and power, and how power is gained, used and retained, are very different to those portrayed in a western context (and therefore part of my upbringing and education). This is an environment where leadership equals power and the question becomes whether that power to control and direct is wielded benevolently or with with bad intent.

These are just children, but influenced and often guided by the adults in their lives their actions mimic the very worst, exploitative, crooked and dishonest machinations of politicians in the adult world. Whether it’s buying the votes, focusing on demeaning and belittling your opponent or plain dishonesty they will take any actions necessary to gain power.

One of the things that stands out for me is the passivity of the teacher. She seems frequently to be fully aware of how brutish, cruel, dishonest and wrong some of the actions are, but seems more than happy to stand passively by and observe. It’s almost as though she wants that these children will finish the process concluding that this democracy thing is hurtful, brutish and bad and be turned against it.

Early in the film the children are heard singing a lyric – “we are the successors of communism,” and we have to remember that this was seen as a time of new beginning, freedoms and liberty for the Chinese people, but many were surely unsure how long it would last, or what they were to do with these new-found freedoms. The power of being class monitor is equated clearly and simply with the right to be a legitimized bully, lauding it over others and making them act in accordance with your wishes. physical force to control others in the classroom or the home is legitimised.

At times it’s not easy to see the emotional pains that these children inflict on each other.  The reality is they are very young and some of this is hard to deal with. The presence of the cameras seems to do little to abate what seems to amount to bullying by anyone’s standards. There are clear signs of the pressures to perform and the levels of stress experienced by these children at such a young age. The weight of parental expectations in all their actions lays heavily upon their tiny shoulders.

There are some things that don’t change from one culture to another. the girl is encouraged to be pretty, demure and her emotional vulnerability is accepted. The boys are expected to take much more physical, aggressive and forceful steps and not to show their emotions (though at this age they’re not so good at hiding) – “Dry your tears, you’re big boys.”.

And the end result? Status quo and a level of comfort with the known. The boy Luo Lei who has been class monitor for the last two years is re-elected. These children may be young, but already they come across as bowed down by the responsibilities that self-determination place upon them. This boy may be a bully, a tyrant who rules roughly and with force, but the idea of choice and responsibility sits uncomfortably. with most of them. His winning margin is considerable and even as the votes are still being counted, his classmates begin to curry favour with him in the hope that he will remember they were ‘always on his side.’

The pain and trauma is clear – enough to put any self-respecting child off ideas of independence, self-determination and responsibility. Much easier to let others control life and take the big decisions.

Discipline and Punishment

There are certain beliefs that are so ingrained in our society that few ever question them. One is that adults, being bigger and older, have the right to ‘control’ children. In times gone by this came through sayings like – ‘children should be seen and not heard’. It’s in the nature of power that those with it control and dictate compliance to those who have none or less of it.

Next – through sayings like ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ we see the workings of the belief that the ‘discipline’ required in a child will only come about through control, coercion and even ultimately the use of punishment – whether that be physical or mental. In this day and age it is, to my mind, rather extraordinary that there are states in the US where the right to physically chastise/ punish/ assault (!) children is still given to teachers in schools. I believe the more enlightened places are the European countries where it’s made very clear that physical punishment of a child by anyone (including parents) is illegal.

There are all sorts of reasons why use of physical force against children should no longer be accepted in society. These include the fact that brutalized children are more likely to be violent to their peers, such use of violence is more about lack of anger control on the part of the adult than punishing the child. But, the biggest reason is that all the evidence tells us very strongly that it just plain doesn’t work. Where it may produce ‘acceptable behaviour’ as compliance, all evidence suggests that when the fear of the punishment isn’t there the behaviour is no more likely to be replicated.

I’m well aware that there are cultural elements to the attitudes on this, but what we have to understand is that as more evidence is built about psychology, and especially child psychology, the more willing people must be to challenge cultural orthodoxies. There are cultures within which the belief is that whether children or adults people need to be pressured to do right and that positive behaviour only happens in the face of potential punishment. These are the people who applaud the rigid and forceful laws and policing in places like Singapore. I personally subscribe to a belief that with the right moral compass and positive habits people will do right because it is right without the need for fear or coercion.

Discipline is a big issue in schools. Where there is weak discipline too many children are acting in ways that can prevent others from having a fair opportunity to learn as they want and need. In the worst cases it can make school a dangerous place when poor discipline manifests in peer to peer violence or bullying. Many seek to maintain discipline through fear of punishments, through control and also by organising learning activities in such a way that students are regimented, docile and passive – making it easier to control discipline. However, we know that this is not the best way to learn. We also know that it doesn’t lead to the best learning of self discipline, but instead can lead to a sullen, pseudo-compliance and fake obedience – we do what you demand while you’re watching us, but you can’t be watching us all the time.

Here are two interesting articles. Whilst both are written from the perspective of parents and discipline in the home, there’s much that is relevant for teachers and schools when thinking about how to maintain positive, healthy climates around discipline. The first comes from a parenting website, the second from The Atlantic.

Creative Child – The Messages Behind Discipline

The Atlantic – No Spanking, No Time Outs, No Problems

The common message coming through both articles is accentuating and praising the behaviour we want to see, rather than seeking to punish the behaviour we don’t want. Ultimately, I believe that we have to have both a short and long term perspective. When there is behaviour that is inappropriate, it needs to be dealt with/ redirected in the short term. However, we also need to have in mind the far more significant long term desire to have our children grow up to be self-directed and self disciplined – in other words, to do right and to behave in ways that are fair, reasonable and in both their own and others’ best interests by choice and free will – not because of bullying conditioning, fear or punishment.

The latter article is not only interesting in its own right. It’s a measure of how emotive these issues are and how much emotional baggage is attached related to people’s own childhood and upbringing that the comments section has so many responses and many of them express strong emotions. This is even the case from grown adults who were victims of cruel and bullying punishment and discipline as children. Their emotions are clear from their comments and some clearly have carried scars and mental harm long in to adulthood.

Whether we are parents or educators responsibility for a child is a massive and weighty responsibility that we must take very seriously. Our words and actions towards the child will have a significant impact on the adult they will be later. In these circumstances, we must always be reflective, candid and careful to make ourselves well informed, to hold ourselves accountable and to take our duty very seriously. We’re not perfect. We will have days we get it right and days we make mistakes. However, our children deserve that we are always striving to be better, to guide them better to the right behaviours in ways that nourish, enrich and equip them. And, as I’ve said on many occasions the least starting point is – do no harm.

NDTV – No Kidding

Well well, I just found this – didn’t know it was still out there on the internet.

It’s an episode of NDTV’s ‘No Kidding’ hosted by Seema Chandra, called “How to Handle Bullies” in which i was interviewed. Watching it again after 6 years I found myself saddened that in so many ways the same debates are still going on and not too much has really changed.

NDTV – No Kidding – How to Handle Bullies

There’s no question that we still have a very long way to go if we are to make our schools more empathic places where children’s first inclination is to support and back each other up, rather than to attack, undermine and put down.

Paulo Coelho – Facts on Bullying

Bestselling writer, Paulo Coelho shares some awful statistics on bullying. I agree with him that whilst the data relates to USA, it can be extrapolated with minor variations to every education system in the world;

Paulo Coelho Blog Post

To me, what is key to addressing these issues is that we must not be looking to simply paper over the issues or address symptoms, but rather must work to change the culture of schools and the environment within which children grow up so that the issues that create bullies and victims are addressed at the root.

Bullying – Is It Taken Seriously Enough?

This is a very interesting article that looks at the current state of the debate on bullying in the American education system. It’s interesting not only because of what it shows in terms of what’s happened there, but also for the reflections it provokes on our own responses to how we deal with the issue of bullying in Indian schools;

Huffington Post Education Article on Bullying

Do we also see overt or covert expectations that bullying is a ‘fact of life’, to be expected and impossible (or even undesirable(?)) to eliminate?

Bullying – Useful Resources

Here’s the link to a whole lot of articles and materials on countering bullying in schools from the ASCD ‘Whole Child’ site:

Whole Child Blog – Bullying Resources

Bullying – Module for Teachers

By luck I chanced upon this great resource – a teachers’ module from the American Psychological Association packed full of useful information on this vital topic. It also provides a number of links to further material:

APA Module for Teachers on Bullying

(There are also a number of other high quality teacher modules on various topics: APA Modules for Teachers)

Soft on Ragging and Bullying?

It seems quite easy these days for the morning papers to disturb us, usually over the state of civic infrastructure or the trials and tribulations associated with the commonwealth Games preparations. This morning, it’s a different, small story in the paper that has really troubled me:

“Delhi High Court has said that students accused of ragging should not be expelled for life from colleges as it will ruin their career and might turn them into anti-social elements. The court made the observation while directing DU and Kirori Mal College to re-admit two students.”

Let us not beat about the bush here. Ragging is bullying. Ragging is subjugating others, humiliating them and exerting power over them for sadistic pleasure and a form of interpersonal power politics. Furthermore, in pretty much every country of the world, any person over the age of 17 is held legally culpable as an adult for their actions. This is because they are deemed, in law, to have the brain and mind of an adult, capable of the ‘mens rea’ to commit a crime.

If a responsible person commits a crime, they must be punished and the message sent to all of society that their acts are not tolerated. Such woolly, weak acts by the judiciary can render academic institutes almost impossible to run – jungles where the bullies and power hungry can exert their will over others with impunity. I’ve seen the same kind of woolly judicial statements on exam cheating – which is why i believe it’s so prevalent here compared with where I grew up in UK. There, when growing up, I and all my peers knew that if caught cheating the punishments would be severe and uncompromising. Everybody knew that the implications were so unpalatable that they just didn’t do it.

Becoming an adult means one is responsible 100% for one’s own life and the choices made in it. If a young person is old enough to take decisions about engaging in risk behaviours such as smoking, drinking etc, or to get behind the wheel of a car, then one must also be old enough to be held completely accountable for one’s actions, especially when those actions are harmful to others or damage the society as a whole.

This idea of ‘ruining their career’ is frankly pathetic to me. If i do wrong and I am punished for it, i still have all the choices in the world about how I respond, how i make amends to society or even to my family. A young person can just as easily take this life lesson and use it to motivate and power themselves towards success and achievement as to use it as an excuse to become even more degenerate and anti-social.

To suggest that young people don’t have these choices and must be forgiven all sends a message to them that the choices they make don’t matter as they will be forgiven all bad decisions. We don’t need less accountability, we need more!

Did Aman Kachroo die for nothing? Did the suffering of all the other victims of ragging and bullying in the country count for nothing?

See the list of students in this Wikipedia article – young victims who never had the right to have a career because bullies are allowed to go unpunished. Judges should be supporting educational institutes to clean out the bad elements so that those who want to study, those who want a quality education can pursue their dreams without fear.

Wikipedia link

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