A few evenings ago, parents were invited to our son’s school which goes up to Grade 8 for a presentation on Bullying.  Dr. Tina Daniel, Asst Professor of Psychology at Carleton University engaged in researching children’s relationships, violence and bullying facilitated the session.   She and her research colleagues had already spent the day in school first making a presentation at the assembly, then a workshop with teachers and classroom sessions with children themselves.

In her presentation she showed footage of an actual playground incident where a girl aged 12 was being bullied by another bunch of girls.  As she deconstructed the scene, there was a child seated on the ground and about five girls hovering around her and it appeared innocent enough, but a closer look revealed her being taunted and teased, as she had her head down crying.   It appeared that this pack of girls had a leader who was directing all this.

Dr. Daniel stated that bullying does not have to be violent, in fact covert forms of bullying such as teasing, ignoring, ostracizing can be even more harmful as they can be mentally agonizing for children, affect their self esteem and confidence.  She also said that a lot of bullying happens between girls and between boys separately.  Surprisingly, her research shows that girls also bully boys, rather than the other way around.

She provided the teachers, students and now the parents ways to understand, recognize and prevent bullying when it happens.  When there is an environment that is conducive to it, the stronger children who have a sense of confidence, and maybe even born with some aggression in their genes, tend to pick on those who are quieter and more timid.  For the bully, these actions tend to enhance their power and the ego.  She told us that even watching someone get bullied is a form of endorsement for the bully and the least one could do is to walk away from it, if he or she cannot intervene and stop it.   She urged parents and teachers to be constantly aware and vigilant and to deal with incidents immediately.

Dr. Daniel’s philosophy of dealing with the offenders was also appreciative.  She said, the perpetrators are not “bad kids”, just that they are not aware of the consequences of their actions, as often the victims suffer in silence.  She suggested that teachers and parents engage in a dialogue with them in a positive appreciative manner and ensure that the behaviour of the bully changes.

Also, if bullying is looked upon as “uncool” and there is peer pressure against it, it may stop.

She highlighted the importance of addressing the issue with the perpetrators, as a 4 year old bully will continue this behaviour and eventually may end up in extreme cases committing violent crimes.  Evidence shows that many violent adults also bullied when they were young.

This is a good lesson for Sri Lanka, as bullying is rampant is schools and with the current example of a political leadership that perpetuates the bully culture of violence.

The recent public firefight which left many people dead and hurt reinforces this behaviour in schools as, if political leaders can do it in public with impunity, what is there to stop the children.

Maybe Duminda Silva was a bully as a child, maybe by nature he has violent tendencies, but it is only in a conducive environment he metes out his aggression.  If he knew there were consequences for his violent action, he may behave differently, but the impunity he has been provided sadly by the current system of governance allows him to be destructive.

…..but we all know the saying, one who lives by the sword, dies by the sword….a saying not heeded by the powers that be.  It is a sad reflection of the current state of a nation founded on the most compassionate of teachings of the Buddha.

Sri Lanka’s leaders, be it from the political, judicial, education or business allowing these acts to go unabated endorses this culture to perpetuate itself into the future.

That is why I am impressed with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board taking the initiative to create a humane, positive, appreciative, safe and a peaceful environment from a very young age.  This is especially a challenge as Ottawa, like many other cities in Canada is multicultural where over 100 nationalities share the school system.  Yet, it is investing heavily in the future of Canada.  It recognizes that prosperity can come and be sustained only in an environment of harmony and respectful relationships, where people’s dignities are protected.

Dr. Daniel’s work with the school board is a part of a larger philosophy and initiative called Lead the Way, as creating a respectful environment free of violence is crucial to foster creativity and openness required for prosperity.

The school board administering 147 schools in the Ottawa district has a vision founded on three principles of inclusion and engagement.   They are stated in their website as follows;

  • Each individual has unique capacities and ideas that need to be recognized. It is one of the driving forces behind our leadership initiative. It is our responsibility to reach out, to value, and tap into each of these capacities.
  • By harnessing these individual capacities, our organization will be enriched and invigorated and,
  • The intended result is to achieve a culture of engagement where people feel valued and supported in an environment that embraces and systematically promotes ongoing learning fostered through internal and external dialogue.

They recognized that being bullied is definitely not being valued and supported as a child.

We have some simple lessons to learn from this for Sri Lanka.  Let us begin with the child as the adults seem a lost cause.  Teach them the basics of respect for self and others.  Protecting another’s dignity is to keep one’s own dignity intact.