Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Shake it Off, Shake it Off...

photo courtesy of
With a title like that, you should be picturing my 3 year old grandson dancing in the shower to Taylor Swift.  He loves that song, and has embodied much of the spirit of the lyrics in the way he deals with adversity.  When he was slightly more than two, I observed him becoming frustrated with a top heavy plastic sailboat in his new water table that would not stay upright.  As he became increasingly frustrated, I prepared for the inevitable screaming and tears.

They never came.

Instead, he stepped back from the water table and announced loudly, "Walk AWAAAAY, WALK awaaaay" and sequestered himself in the corner of the yard for a bit of a time out, as far away as he could from the offending sailboat.

I don't know how she accomplished it with a two year old, but my daughter in law had taught a skill that many, much older than Carter, need.

Shake it Off, Shake it Off.

This morning I awoke to this Facebook status, posted by one of my seniors:

"The death of Leelah Alcorn is absolutely tragic and if you're in a similar situation know that I'm here to talk and will do what I can even if you don't know me well."

As I have been the nurse on duty with my recently-discharged mother, I was out of the loop on the tragic death of this young person, and had to Google -- at first concerned that Leelah was a student at my high school.  At first, I have to admit that I was relieved to discover that was not the case, and then shamed myself for not realizing that there are similar stories in every town, where someone is feeling desperately bad about themselves for reasons contributed by others, choosing death as an escape.

Bullying is real, and it isn't new.  Certainly the many attempts by institutions, governments, and municipalities to create rules, policies or laws to reduce or eliminate everything from schoolyard bullying to hate crimes, has added more scrutiny to the poor behavior of the bullies.  Danish existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard, wrote about bullies in his diary in 1837, with insights that still apply today.

"There is a form of envy of which I frequently have seen examples, in which an individual tries to obtain something by bullying. If, for instance, I enter a place where many are gathered, it often happens that one or another right away takes up arms against me by beginning to laugh; presumably he feels that he is being a tool of public opinion. But lo and behold, if I then make a casual remark to him, that same person becomes infinitely pliable and obliging. "

Kierkegaard's application of reverse psychology may have been perceived by his critics as the brilliant manipulation he intended, but hindsight -- nee historical perspective, allows us to do so.

(If you've never read Brainpickings, I'd strongly encourage you to sign up for their weekly email, or visit their website.  There are hundreds of articles and literary references that offer historical perspective to contemporary issues that society feels are new.)

Bullying is, was, and will always be.  Social media makes it easier -- or at least that's what this generation thinks.  Rather than establishing rules and laws that are difficult to enforce, why are we not looking to change the perception?  As I reflected upon this, I realized that my post of yesterday regarding positive comments and psychology to increase student engagement and achievement is actually an attempt at reversing the perceptions of bullying.

Who do you think reminded me of this?  Why, Benjamin Franklin.  Yup, the bald guy with the saved pennies, bifocals, and a heck of a history in Philadelphia and beyond.

"Be wary of the roles you play and the acts you put on, because you tend to fulfill the labels you accept. Above all, remember the more harm you cause, the more hate you feel. The more kindness you express, the more you come to love those you help. "

Could the words of Kierkegaard, or Franklin, or Lloyd have saved Leelah Alcorn?  I'd like to think so.  At the very least, these three individuals have raised an awareness.  It's up to the rest of us to continue the conversation, stop talking, and change the world.

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