Term 1 | Week 10
At the heart of any quality organisation lies their values, the principles or standards that guide one's thoughts and actions. Our values act as our sign-posts in life and it is by referring to them that we are able to determine how we respond appropriately to different and at times challenging situations. Our values are demonstrated through the respect we show to each other; by our acceptance and appreciation that we are all different; the way we include others; by the courage we show when we stand up for what is right – where we don’t stay silent when someone is being harassed or being bullied; and by the commitment you all show as a group to ‘call out’ unpleasant or nasty behaviour for what it is. These are all actions that will make our school a safe and caring environment – one of which you all can be very proud.
Today I wish to reflect upon the ugly and cowardly social behaviour of bullying and explore what we can do to eradicate it from our School.
Bullying occurs all too often, not just here at KWS – and you will encounter it in broader society. You all know, I am sure what is meant by bullying: it involves the intentional, repetitive or persistent hurting of one person by another, and is characterised by a relationship based on an imbalance of power. Social equals don’t bully one another – the motivation of the bully is to dominate and the effect of bullying is to belittle, humiliate or demean the victim.
People get picked on for all sorts of reasons, none of them valid. Mainly it is about being different: of different ethnicity, nationality, culture, sexuality or being physically different, for being disabled, for having different belief systems or through jealousy – the focus of the bullying can be almost infinitely varied, and so too the form the bullying may take. It can be physical, verbal, indirect (spreading nasty stories about someone or excluding people from social groups) or cyberbullying (via social media, text, email or video). Some ways of bullying may be new, but the instinct to bully, is as old as humanity itself – and it certainly isn’t limited to school contexts.
Wherever it happens, and whatever form it takes, it is wrong – inexcusably wrong.
Almost all bullying occurs in a social environment, not in isolation. Bullying is almost never simply a matter of the bully and the victim. Often, especially if bullying is sustained for any length of time, there are witnesses. If you witness bullying behaviour, you have to make a choice. One way or the other, you are part of it and cannot remain outside of it. I’m sure you have heard the term ‘innocent bystander’.
What do we mean by a bystander in a bullying situation? Well, we simply mean a person who does not become actively involved in a situation where a victim requires help. What I want to say to you is very simple: When it comes to bullying, there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. If we are to have a School culture which is hostile to bullying, and we must have that, then there can be no room for bystanders.
This may sound naïve. I am sure that many of us have been bystanders at some time or other – and there are some perfectly understandable reasons for this to have happened in a school setting. Perhaps you know that what is happening is wrong, but you are scared of the consequences if you do speak up and call the unkind behaviour for what it is. Perhaps there is concern for your safety. Will you then be the next target and will your life be made miserable?
Perhaps you worry that your intervention might even make things worse for the victim. All that is understandable but it doesn’t make it OK.
If you stand by and watch someone being picked on, or witness one person being deliberately excluded from a social group, you are engaging in the spectacle and giving approval to the bully to humiliate and harass their victim. Even if you don’t become actively involved, you encourage the perpetrators who will feel driven on by the audience. Bystanding, therefore, is not passive. ‘Doing nothing’ has a real impact on events, and may cause harm. The alternative to being a bystander is to be a bullying ‘up-stander’: someone who stands up to bullying, whenever they encounter it.
This takes real moral courage. This means more than refraining from bullying yourself. It means exhibiting behaviour which shows you do not tolerate or accept bullying by others. Comfort the victim, take their side, try to stop the bullying. Show your disapproval to the bullying – tell the bully to stop if it is safe to do so.
But you don’t always need to tackle it single handed. Get support from others. Tell an adult or an older student, a prefect or house leader, or a senior pupil you know and trust. Comfort the victim and encourage them to tell someone. Remember bullying occurs in a social context. Intentionally or unintentionally, almost all within a social group will have a role to play, whether as active participants, or as bystanders, or up-standers.
Bullying can be found in all areas of society, in schools, but also in the work place you will come across it in many areas throughout your lives.
Wherever and whenever you encounter bullying, you will have to choose whether to do something about it. Ultimately, the pressure of the peer group is a powerful influencer of social behaviour and if enough of you have the courage to stand up against bullying behaviour you will stamp it out at KWS.
We will support you, because this is something very important to us. But this really can be the ultimate form of pupil power. Because if you and your peers decide that bullying is not acceptable, and if you are willing consistently to act on that, then it cannot flourish. Without that willingness, this is not a community any of us can be proud of.
It is up to you. Be courageous. Stand together and let’s have a community that is inclusive, where everyone feels welcome and valued and where all are respected for who they are.
If you can do this we will be a fine School.