|"Create Story" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.|
As a missionary kid in Taiwan, I attended a school for US Military dependents where there was no bullying. Jonathan M. Wainwright DOD School seemed to have no issues about race, income, gender or even artists and class clowns. There was no jockeying for power there, either. The lines were very clear. You were either an officer's kid at the top of the heap, an enlisted man's kid at the middle or bottom, or a civilian kid who was more or less exempt from the heap experience altogether. And my observation was there was no real discomfort for children in the heap or out of the heap.
So I had no idea what was waiting for me in the States when my parents left Taiwan for their furlough. I found myself in a junior high school in a fairly upper middle class suburb of Chicago, and suddenly WOW! There were so many amazing, somewhat silly cultural rules and regulations that I had no clue about. There was no handbook for newcomers, so it was a matter of being corrected by the school's dominant-culture-police, i.e. the bullies. Not a pleasant experience, I can tell you.
Reviewing the "Blue-Eyed Brown-Eyed" videos put it all in perspective. What we had was a dominant culture concerned about maintaining its power. To maintain this power the school population was divided between 'us' and 'them' or 'cool' and 'uncool'. In some sense the boundaries were thought to be a little flexible, in that if you could learn to dress, speak, and act like 'us' the implication was you might be allowed to join the 'cool' group. This dangling of a hope to join the 'cool' group was a truly powerful tyranny of peer pressure. So of course obedience was absolute, unless you were unable to follow the rules, for whatever reason. In that case you were pretty well doomed, treated like a Jane Elliott 'Blue-Eyed' workshop participant, and not just for the day.
Needless to say, after retuning to my beloved DOD school in Taiwan and my beloved roll as happy class nonconformist and artist, I became very interested in cultural rules and regulations, but found their arbitrary and capricious nature a bit too confining to take seriously ever again. I found joy in creative expression and in making people laugh. I felt better, happier, stronger when I was using my gifts or talents, so being a curious human the natural path for me was one that combine psychology and the creative processes.
After pursuing this path for many years it seems to me that if we want our culture to be strong and able to solve its woes (and there are plenty of woes) then we need everybody within the culture to feel strong and able to participate fully. In fact we might do a little better with more freedoms of expression and more inner satisfaction, rather that the dominant cultural group dictating to the rest of the culture how to live, be, dress, talk, and find satisfaction and joy. That feels like bullying.
That's why I think workshops that help bring people together to celebrate their resilience, strengths, and awesomeness might be useful in schools. If you gave teachers some fun narrative building skills they could recreate their own awesomeness workshops in the classroom and have as many varied and amazing narratives as there are children in the classroom! What could a teacher do with a room full of resilience narratives? What could a school do if it were full of students who had learned about their own awesomeness?
There are some interesting clips on Jane Elliott's work in the below YouTube video on Tyranny and in the comments section I will add links for more videos from the UK, US, Australia, and Canada. It's worth the effort to understand how bullying works and why we use it, if we want to think about creating bully-free environments.