Celebrating A Year of Compassion #1000Speak

I took part in the first link up of #1000Speak on February 20th 2015. The intention for that day was to get a thousand bloggers together and spread compassion around the world.

The idea evolved, and there have been monthly prompts on compassion on the 20th of every month for a whole year, and today is the anniversary of the first link-up.

In today’s celebration of compassion, our prompt is to talk about how the year has been for us as a result of taking part!

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I haven’t taken part regularly. I’ve written six posts over the past year which you can check out here on Compassion in Jane Eyre and Victorian England, on Forgiveness, Anti-bullying, and Nature and Nurture. I’ve also popped in to visit other bloggers posting on the subject, and I’ve retweeted on Twitter and Facebook. I do feel a tiny part of the movement, although I haven’t been consistent enough in my posting or interaction to feel strongly part of a group. I’ll try to take part more often this year 🙂

It has made me aware of how we can discuss compassion from different viewpoints and encourage people to write about, read about, think about and discuss compassion.

As I’ve missed some of the prompts las year, today I’d like to write about a beautiful prompt I missed in October, on LOVE.

Schoolchildren embracing happy. Multi cultural racial classroom.

Schoolchildren embracing happy. Multi cultural racial classroom.

I was always told at school that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that, as Martin Luther King said, hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. I didn’t fully understand what it meant at the time. I think my Catholic upbringing might have confused me somewhat, with the ‘turn the other cheek’ philosophy, and I’m now sure that this is not the correct approach.

Turning the other cheek is a passive act, although it detracts some of the power from the aggressors, it does nothing to show them that their behaviour is unacceptable, because there is another better way to solve our problems.

If someone is being unjust or cruel, as in bullying or abuse, I am now convinced we should react actively, albeit peacefully, by telling the person we do not agree with their actions, or by showing them another way to approach the situation, and if all else fails, by making sure help is provided for those who need it.

In Martin Luther King’s case, peaceful protests, made it clear that segregation was wrong, and that it would no longer be tolerated. Turning the other cheek would have been the equivalent of accepting injustice submissively.

As a teacher, I have taken part in mediation programmes which enable students to express how they feel and negotiate peaceful ways to solve their problems. When mediation doesn’t work, and the aggressor refuses to reconsider and repair the situation, there are school rules and disciplinary measures which are enforced. I would not expect, or even allow, any child to turn the other cheek.

Similarly, when a colleague, is behaving unreasonably (and this happened recently), I suggest other ways to solve the conflict or approach the problem, which involve, listening, discussing, and negotiating solutions, which will improve the situation for all parties. What I’m not prepared to do is to ignore the situation.

We each have our own limited sphere of influence in the world, where we interact socially and professionally, and in mine, I’m not prepared to turn the other cheek, or allow anyone to turn the other cheek, because I believe #1000Speak is about speaking up because we believe in promoting compassion actively, and that means making sure compassion is discussed, and peaceful alternatives are put forward actively to make the world a better place for everyone.

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If you’d like to join in or take part, follow this link.

Building from Bullying. #1000Speak 20 March

A Peer Mediation Project

While I was a High School teacher, I witnessed a lot of bullying. Mainly seemingly minor incidents such as: name calling, hiding or stealing personal objects, excluding by ignoring, spreading cruel gossip, etc. More recently, cyber bullying also became popular, where the same actions were performed on social media.

Although teachers are often the first to identify these events, a great deal of bullying goes unnoticed by adults, including parents, because the bullies are devious, and they have many accomplices, or people who are prepared to turn a blind eye, and even take part in the torture by watching and enjoying.

I started a peer mediation project at my school, which I’d like to share with you today, because it helped with many cases, but first, I’d like to share a piece of flash fiction on this subject, which I believe illustrates the point dramatically.

****

Mary was Alone

Miss Smith wrote the five words on the blackboard: Mary was alone at home.
“Now let’s finish the story together,” she invited the students.

Mary trembled. It was happening again in broad daylight.

“Mary? Stop daydreaming. Could you give us the next line?” ordered the teacher.

How could she know the child was struggling with a recurring nightmare?

“Let’s give Mary some ideas to proceed with the story. Can I have a second line from someone else?”

Mathew put his hand up and spoke, “She saw him watching her from across the parking lot, opposite her bedroom window.”

“Sounds good. Does that help, Mary?”

She shook her head, thankful that her hair covered her tearful eyes.

“He took pictures of her as she undressed,” continued Mark.

“He shared them with his friends on Facebook,” volunteered Peter.

“Can you continue now, Mary?” asked Miss Smith.

“She’s a nervous wreck, because she can’t eat, sleep, or study.”

“Change that line for: ‘she enjoyed the attention she’d never had before’,” Luke smirked.

“How does the story end, Miss Smith?” Mary asked desperately.

“She tells her teacher, who helps her understand she’s a victim of bullying and needs help.”

“She better not, Miss. Teachers’ bedrooms have windows, too,” warned Shirley.

****

I wrote this in response to a photo prompt on today’s Flash! Friday Contest, check out the other entries here:

It is my opinion that children, including adolescents, cannot cope with bullies on their own. They need the help of understanding and experienced adults, especially teachers, and other students, too. I became interested in this topic after taking part in mediation training courses for teachers. Students at my school also took part in similar courses.

I realized we needed students in the school mediation project because students who are being bullied can be more easily identified by other students, and students can understand and relate to each other more easily and willingly than with an adult.

We established various stages:

Pre-Mediation

  • Building awareness, and making the mediators and project known to students. Mediators were allocated a room, a mail box, and information was given to the community.
  • Reception of information /cases. This could be done by means of an anonymous or identified written communication by a third party, or a personal request by someone who was experiencing it directly.

Both parties have to agree to take part in mediation.

This is the best part and the biggest drawback. You can’t force someone to take part in mediation, and I hate to admit it, but I believe that the worst cases can’t be solved by mediation, because the bully refuses to cooperate.Fortunately, once they agree to take part, 50% of the work is done.

We offered all parties involved absolute privacy in all proceedings and a reduced (or even no) reprimand if they agreed to take part and reached an agreement.

Stages to mediation:

  • Separate interviews. Peer mediators speak to each party separately about the events.
  • Joint discussion. Mediators guide a session where both parties speak in turns about (i) what has happened, (ii) how they feel about the events, and (iii) what they ask of each other.

Active listening is encouraged by asking each party to rephrase what the other has said, immediately after each intervention, to make sure they are listening and understanding each other’s feelings and motivations.

Surprisingly, we sometimes discovered that the victim was doing something, unknowingly, that the bully interpreted as an offence, or that the bully had got the wrong end of the stick. Amazingly many of the cases were, or had started as misunderstandings.

Closure. Finally, an agreement, which could be total or partial, was reached by both parties.

  • The worst scenario was that they agreed to ‘ignore’ or ‘keep away’ and not harm or provoke each other in any way.
  • The best scenario was a mutual understanding and a return to normal relations between both parts.

Post Mediation Stage

  • Students (mediators) follow-up informally to make sure the situation hasn’t worsened.
  • Students who insisted on bullying after mediation suffered harder disciplinary measures. This rarely occurred.

The only drawback is that this works with ‘reasonable’ children who suffer or indulge in ‘routine’ or simpler cases of bullying, however, more serious cases which often go beyond the school walls need much more specialized and coordinated action with families, psychologists, social workers, and even law enforcement.

I’m convinced that the vast majority of incidents of bullying in schools, which I have witnessed, are not of the complex type, and therefore can be improved with peer mediation projects.

Have you had any experience of similar projects at your schools?

Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge: Ways to Unplug a Bully’s Power

There’s often no easy way of stopping bullies, unless they decide to stop themselves.

Bullies have the advantage over those who are bullied. They usually exert their tyranny because they are in a situation of power over others, or they inspire fear in those around them.

We’ve all come across some of them at some point in our lives, usually at school, or at work. In fact bullies themselves have often come across other bullies who taught them how to play the macabre game.

There is no trouble-free solution, so sometimes action is needed. I’m not suggesting this action has to be violent, but sometimes we need to stand up to the bullies and say, ‘No’, or teach them a quiet, but clear lesson with actions they may not like.

Although I never recommend provoking bullies, sometimes standing up for ourselves is a feasible alternative, as the following extract from The Help illustrates.

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I read The Help by Kathryn Stockett, some years ago, but it is a book that is not easily forgotten.

It is the moving story of three women speaking out against racial discrimination in the Us in the 1960s.

Aibileen is a dutiful albeit bitter black maid. Her friend Minny is her outspoken friend. Skeeter is a well off white girl who is socially conscious and has just graduated college. The three of them write a book about what it was like to be a black maid in a small town in the South, at that time. It is alternately sad, and funny, and shocking, and cruel, and full of hope, too.

There is an unforgettable extract in which Minny tells Miss Celia, her current employer, about the secret ingredient in the chocolate cake she used to cook for her previous employer, Miss Walter’s daughter, the cruel and spiteful, Miss Hilly.

“And that’s how come I did it.”
Miss Celia blinks at me. “What, Minny?”
“I tell her to eat my shit.”
Miss Celia sits there, still looking dazed.
“Then I go home. I mix up that chocolate custard pie. I puts sugar in it and Baker’s chocolate and the real vanilla my cousin bring me from Mexico.
“I tote it over to Miss Walters’s house, where I know Miss Hilly be setting round, waiting for the home to come and get her mama, so she can sell that house. Go through her silver. Collect her due.
“Soon as I put that pie down on the countertop, Miss Hilly smiles, thinking it’s a peace-offering, like that’s my way a showing her I’m real sorry bout what I said. And then I watch her. I watch her eat it myself. Two big pieces. She stuff it in her mouth like she ain’t ever eaten nothing so good. Then she say, ‘I knew you’d change your mind, Minny. I knew I’d get my way in the end.’ And she laugh, kind a prissy, like it was all real funny to her.
“That’s when Miss Walters, she say she getting a mite hungry too and ask for a piece a that pie. I tell her, ‘No ma’am. That one’s special for Miss Hilly.’
“Miss Hilly say, ‘Mama can have some if she wants. Just a little piece, though. What do you put in here, Minny, that makes it taste so good?’
“I say ‘That good vanilla from Mexico’ and then I go head. I tell her what else I put in that pie for her.”
Miss Celia’s still as a stone staring at me, but I can’t meet her eyes now.
“Miss Walters, her mouth fall open. Nobody in that kitchen said anything for so long, I could a made it out the door fore they knew I’s gone. But then Miss Walters start laughing. Laugh so hard she almost fall out the chair. Say, ‘Well, Hilly, that’s what you get, I guess. And I wouldn’t go tattling on Minny either or you’ll be known all over town as the lady who ate two slices of Minny’s shit.’ ”

*****

Here’s my take on stopping bullies in their tracks which I wrote for Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge!

“What’s this?”
“It’s apple pie. Don’t you like it?”
“I like the chocolate cake your mum makes,” she shouted gobbling it up. “Bring some tomorrow, or I’ll kick you again till your legs turn purple.”
“She’s working double shifts this week, so she hasn’t got any time to cook.”
“Make it yourself.”
“I’m not allowed to cook when mum’s not at home.”
“Find a way if you know what’s good for you,” she warned.
The following day, I watched her swallow greedily and whispered, “I won’t tell anyone whose shit you just ate if you stop bullying me. Deal?”

I do apologise if I’ve offended anyone, but I couldn’t resist writing this 99-word flash, shamelessly inspired by the previous scene in The Help.

 

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If you’d like to read some of the other entries for this week’s carrot ranch stories on showing the bully mentality countered with a different, unexpected or kind action. We’ve all thought of ways to unplug a bully’s power, and show characters with strength and dignity and even humor, here are our stories.

If you’d like to take part in the next upcoming #1000Speak for compassion blog events — “Building from Bullies.” After a successful launch of compassionate blogging on February 20, bloggers are asked to write about the anti-bullying theme on March 20.
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