When Barbara Coloroso speaks, teachers listen. The author and bullying expert — with nearly 40 years of speaking about parenting, teaching, discipline and bullying, drawing on her own experiences as teacher, professor and parent — addressed about 700 teachers from across the province Friday at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s for a full-day seminar on how to respond to and stop bullying.
Drawing on a recent book during a break in her workshop, Coloroso told The Telegram there are three people involved in any bullying incident: the bully, the bullied and the “not so innocent” bystanders.
“We as educators and parents and community people have to help raise young people to be the fourth character, that witness-resister-defender, that kid willing to go sit next to the new girl when all the other girls want to exclude her. The young boy in the locker room who has the courage to say, ‘Leave him alone’ when another kid’s being picked on,” she said.
Her seminar focused on discerning the difference between conflict — which Coloroso described as “normal, natural and necessary” — and bullying, adding that it’s a mistake for parents and educators to consider bullying as a conflict, which assigns equal responsibility to the bully and the victim.
“Bullying is not about a conflict, it’s about utter contempt for another human being,” she said.
“And once someone has contempt for another human being, they can be absolutely mean and cruel and feel no shame or compassion. What we call “nice kids” are often our high-status social bullies, who get away with it, being mean and cruel, because we as adults don’t see it, and we can’t believe that kid did it when indeed they had taken the new girl or the kid who was different in any other way and put them outside their circle of caring.”
Coloroso said it’s difficult to say whether she’s seen things improve in her team as an anti-bullying activist.
“It isn’t just a matter of things getting better,” she said.
“I’m 64. In my day, hazing, which is a form of bullying, was seen as the norm — not normal, but the norm. Really cruel stuff done to initiate people. We had a lot of that. However, kids (today) are very aware that you don’t do that. But we have social media today, which give kids a way to be meaner, faster and crueller.”
Still, said Coloroso, people today are more aware of the devastation bullying can cause in a community.
“It’s a compounded thing. We’ve got more awareness, we’ve got a big push in our homes, our schools and our communities to say no to it and to raise that witness, resister and defender, but we also have acting against us not just violence in our media and violence in our homes, in our schools and in our way of doing business in government sometimes, but we also have humour that is much more cruel.
Bill Cosby said it so beautifully: ‘I do miss the days when comedy wasn’t mean, when it wasn’t at the expense of another human being.’ Which is what bullying is about.”