Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rethinking Bullying VIII

Sword to the Eye

When Polyphemus was fast asleep, the wise Odysseus knew that the effects of the wine would soon wear off, and he and his men would again find themselves in mortal danger. Realizing this, the king knew that drastic measures needed to be taken. He heated his sword in the fire pit until the blade was red hot. Then, while his men restrained the Cyclops, Odysseus thrust the glowing blade deep into the epicenter of the monster’s hideous strength, his single eye. Blinded and in agony, the Cyclops rolled the enormous stone away from the mouth of the cave to call for help, allowing the Greek soldiers to escape.

The behavior of a bully can lead a victim to feel powerlessness. This feeling can have a deteriorating effect on the heart, leading to despair and hopelessness. The Old Testament story of David and Goliath describes the Philistine giant Goliath taunting the armies of Israel for days on end. The Israelite soldiers and even their king Saul felt more and more defeated and fearful the longer this was allowed to continue. Fear and despair, this is what we are fighting against. Encourage the victim to be assertive in bullying situations, just as the young David stepped in to face his huge opponent.

What does assertiveness look like? It depends upon the student who is being bullied. If a student is being bullied in a school cafeteria every time he passes by a certain lunch table, he may be tempted to tiptoe quickly and quietly past the table while looking down at the ground so as to not draw unwanted attention. A protective response like this may seem natural, but over time it wears away a person’s sense of worth and serves to make the person feel even more powerless. It is a good exercise to identify one’s fears. An adult leader in circumstances such as these would want to help this student to identify his fears and put words to them.

Keep in mind that this usually can only happen within the framework of a previously established relationship and sense of trust between adult and student. Putting words to our fears has the same effect as shining a light in a darkened room. It is a grounding technique, one that allows the student to take her fears from being something amorphous (which enables fears to last and linger far longer than they otherwise could) to something that is concrete and definable.

Let’s say that this young lady walks meekly past a threatening situation because she is afraid that another student, or students, will say something disparaging toward her if she is noticed. In this case, assertiveness for her might be allowing herself to be noticed. She should speak up and walk proudly, with her head held high. She ought to make eye contact with those who have been harassing her. If a bully bothers her, she should loudly and firmly tell the person to stop what they are doing. Bullies rarely like to have their actions broadcast to everyone else. She may not feel that self-confident, but feelings follow actions.

Metaphorically, the Cyclops cave represents a prison of fear, and the sword of Odysseus symbolizes assertiveness, which is the key to being released from the cave. For the Israelites, freedom from Goliath’s intimidation and fear came at the hands of a young boy armed with only a sling and a stone. In Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the people of Lake Town were liberated from the terror of the dragon Smaug through the courage of Bard and the swiftness of his Black Arrow. Act the way you want to feel until you actually feel that way. Don’t let the bullies win!

This next assertion will probably ruffle some feathers, but some feathers need to be ruffled. There may be some circumstances where a young person may need to physically defend himself against a bully. This is especially true for adolescent boys. I think back to my tenth-grade boys’ gym class. Mr. Auberon, our teacher, introduced us to a number of different athletic activities such as baseball, basketball, archery, golf, tennis, and volleyball. One day he announced that he would be breaking the class up into pairs so that we could learn some wrestling moves. I remember some of the students in the class grumbling rather audibly when Mr. Auberon made the announcement, but even more I remember his reply to their protests. He said, “You never know what kind of situation you might find yourself in someday, and a man needs to know that he can take care of himself.” This is truer than many in our society want to believe. Like it or not, boys (and men) need to know that they are able to handle themselves if the going gets rough.

A student who is being bullied will want to identify his fears and be assertive, but he will also want to know that he can defend himself if he is physically assaulted. An adult leader in this case may want to encourage some form of self-defense training, martial arts, or perhaps trying out for the wrestling team. It may even be as simple as an adult leader teaching the student a few wrestling moves or how to throw or dodge a punch.

There are probably some that are ready to close the browser window, thinking that this is a call to violence. However, it is anything but a physical call to arms. Instead, we want to teach someone—or arrange for someone to be taught—how to defend himself so that hopefully they will never have to do so.

Mr. Miyagi draws the truth out of his protégé Daniel LaRusso by asking, “Daniel-san, why do you study Karate?” Daniel replies, “So I can fight.” Miyagi looks deep into Daniel’s eyes and says, “Is that what you think?” “No,” Daniel replies, and then after a pause continues, “So I won’t have to fight!” Miyagi smiles.

The battle is not in the physical realm. It is a contest for the heart. This suggestion is no doubt an investment of time and energy, but it is an investment that will pay lifelong dividends.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Rethinking a Time Out

Violence in Iraq, global climate change, poverty, etc., can bring us down. It's relentless, but it isn't what is most true about our world. Take some time out of the chaos to view these photos...and remember that there is still much that is beautiful and good in this world.

The LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son - Deuteronomy 1:31

Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while a mighty wind is bearing me across the sky. - Ojibwa Indian Saying

If you feel like you are in the middle of a downpour in your life, watch this powerful Nooma video called Rain. But...only when you have a quiet moment.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rethinking Bullying VII

Work with Others

When Polyphemus was lured through conversation into drinking too much wine, the clever Odysseus came up with a plan to restrain the sleeping giant. This could not be accomplished without the aide of his comrades. The Greek sailors divided themselves on either side of Polyphemus and laid hold of his mighty ears so as to harness his massive head.
Another strategy that can be combined with the first is companionship. If a student is being bullied in a certain section of a school hallway, instead of going the long way around and being late for class, encourage him to walk with a few friends. The presence of friends can often dissuade the bully from harassing the intended victim. There is strength in numbers. Sadly, some students who are being bullied do not have friends they can count on to help in such situations. If you are able to accompany the student, do so . . . but from a distance. Your proximity sends a message to the perpetrator that bullying will not be tolerated. Work with other adults who may be able to go to locations where you cannot (i.e., the rest room, pool, athletic field, etc.). An adult presence greatly reduces bullying behavior.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Rethinking Bullying VI

Engage the Bully

After the grisly display of bloodshed and savagery carried out by the Cyclops, the Greek sailors were reduced to quivering, terrified children. Sensing that the Cyclops fed off not only the bodies of the men but also their fear, Odysseus began to plot and scheme. He drew the Cyclops into a conversation that distracted the monster, at least momentarily, from devouring other members of his crew. He learned that the name of this brooding menace was Polyphemus. He turned the discussion to the subject of wine, educating the one-eyed giant about the pleasures of the drink of the vine. The Cyclops was lured into drinking the wine and thus fell into a deep, inebriated sleep.

Now, we cannot drug bullies or trick them into drinking alcohol until they become unconscious. Rather, we ought to teach students who are being bullied how to use their minds in the moment. Encourage students to engage the bully in conversation if they feel that the situation is about to turn ugly. This tactic often distracts the bully from his original intent, of harming the victim. Further, this technique puts the locus of control back into the victim’s hands. Bullying is about control and domination.

When a victim is able to gain control of what could have been an out-of control situation, self-esteem increases. An adult can facilitate this strategy by offering to role-play the situation with the student. It also helps to have topics of conversation ready to use at a moment’s notice. There is no predetermined schedule for bullying activities, so fortune favors the prepared. Ask the student to brainstorm topics of conversation that might be of interest to the bully. Is he drawn to cars or dirt bikes? Does she like a certain type of music? Whatever the topic may be, conversation breeds familiarity and reduces fear. The bully becomes less of an enigmatic monster and is revealed to be merely human. Not only can this tactic help a victim of bullying regain control, but being able to converse intentionally with others is also an important life skill.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Rethinking "Lucky Number 7"

Luck never made a man wise. - Seneca, Letters to Lucilius

Go and wake up your luck. - Persian Saying

Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered. - William Shakespeare

Today is 7-7-07. Thousands have flocked to Las Vegas to either get married, play blackjack (3x7=21), or take their chances at the slot machines. Why is the number seven believed by many to be lucky? The origins of reverence for the number seven actually go back to ancient times, when astronomers thought there were a total of seven planets. They were called the seven "wanderers" because they seemed to wander with respect to the background stars. These included: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, the Moon, and the Sun.

The Bible poetically describes the creation of the world in seven days, with the seventh being a day of rest. It goes on to declare that the spirit of God is seven-fold. This is reflected in the design of the sacred menorah temple candle. Again and again, this number appears in Scripture as a key number. On July 7th, 1947, dispersed Jews began boarding a ship known as the Exodus to return to the soon to be created nation of Israel.

Seven is hence the number of perfection. Interestingly enough, this being 7-7-07, three is often reckoned as the number of God, the Holy Trinity. So...777 is the number of God, whereas 666 would be the number of imperfection (or man) declaring himself to be God.

Alexander the Great went on to officially name seven Wonders of the Ancient World and if you look closely at a rainbow, you will notice seven different colors. Rome was built on seven hills. From Buddhist teachings to Cherokee mythology, seven is given a special place in the numerical cosmos. No doubt, the number has a lot going for it!

The number seven has importance for me personally, as my first-born son was 7 lbs, 14 oz. (7+7+7). He was 21 inches long, again 7+7+7, and was born at 12:21 pm (21=7+7+7 and 12 reversed is 21). Coincidence...sure, maybe.

Today, many equate seven with luck or being lucky. In antiquity, the number seven was viewed as having more to divine Providence, rather than luck. So let me pose this question to my readers...

Do you believe that your life is guided by Providence, the hand of God (destiny)? Or, do you think that luck (random chance) is responsible for the events of your life?

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Rethinking Liberty

"There is no triumph without loss, no victory without sacrifice, no freedom without suffering." -- JRR Tolkien

“I prefer liberty with danger than peace with slavery” - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

“It has long been a grave question whether any government, not too strong for the liberties of its people, can be strong enough to maintain its existence in great emergencies” - Abraham Lincoln

“The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” - Thomas Jefferson

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” - Frederic Bastiat

“There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream.” - Archibald MacLeish

It's Independence Day...what in your life needs to be set free?

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