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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Beyond Bullying: : Peacebuilding to Create Compassionate Schools and Communities

Aug 03, 2014 03:35AM ● By Lisa Worth Huber

The room at Southern Connecticut State University is packed with educators, community leaders, government officials and active citizens. Some work in the toughest neighborhoods in Connecticut while others work in more affluent towns in the state. The commonality of all participants in this Kingian Nonviolence Certification Training, led by the Connecticut Center for Nonviolence (ctNonviolence.org), is their shared commitment to Connecticut’s youth and to each child’s future. The stories of bullying incidents range from severe street and gun violence to online bullying, suicide, and to subtle but soul damaging acts of silencing and exclusion. The question everyone continues to ask is: “How do we heal these issues and create more compassionate and cohesive schools, neighborhoods and communities?” The answer evolves and deepens over the weeks of training. We must educate our youth about peacebuilding skills, the methods of nonviolence, restorative justice, and the values and behaviors that create and nurture compassionate communities. 

What constitutes a Compassionate Community?

In compassionate communities, peacebuilding flourishes and reconciliation is a way of life. It is where we find healing and good will, interconnectedness and cohesion. The Charter for Compassion has established a Compassionate Cities initiative in which Danbury is a participant. To learn more, visit CharterforCompassion.org/City-Campaigns.

One of the challenges schools and communities face around issues of bullying is the tendency to address the symptoms rather than the root causes of these problems. We need to:

• Educate children and teens to identify all forms of bullying behavior.

• Model moral courage by standing up for what is just and kind.

• Create a system of communication in schools whereby students can anonymously report their concerns without the fear of retaliation from perpetrators.

• Establish safety measures within homes, schools and communities to protect everyone from all forms of bullying and violent acts.

Essential to the success of transforming bullying behaviors is the encouragement and development of each student to shift their behavior from a passive bystander to one of an active peacebuilder. This requires training of teachers and staff in methods that create and maintain peaceful and compassionate classrooms and schools. Skills such as mediation, restorative justice, dialogue and empathic listening are vital to effectively address bullying or any other forms of disruption or violence. These lifetime skills will enhance all aspects of students’ lives now and throughout adulthood.

Excellent outsourced programs do exist to help educate on bullying and build peacebuilding skills:

• The Connecticut Center for Nonviolence’s ThinKING Youth Nonviolent Leadership

• Roots of Empathy

• Challenge Day

• The Anti-Defamation Leagues’ Names Can Really Hurt Us

• Facing History and Ourselves’ Bullying: A Case in Ostracism and Bully

• Teaching Tolerance’s Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History

• Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center’s Unity Day

Peace: Wholeness Created by Right Relationships

When we speak of peace, what do we mean? An excellent definition used at the National Peace Academy (NationalPeaceAcademy.us) is articulated in its Earth Charter; “Peace is the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part” (EarthCharterinAction.org). By encouraging youth to learn and develop skills in right relationships with themselves, others and their communities, we begin to assist them in becoming more confident in handling challenges that often derail them, and sometimes lead them down destructive paths.

Following are some questions parents can answer to begin to establish peacebuilding behaviors with their children. First, let’s explore the idea of right behavior with oneself. Do children get enough exercise and eat healthy food? Despite the academic pressures and after-school activities, do they have time for recreation and play? Is there established time away from their online devices? Do they have access to nature? Does the family sit down to share meals together at least three nights a week? During that mealtime, do conversations include everyone at the table? Are questions asked that require children and teens to share more about their day and thoughts than how they did on their test?

It’s important during these family conversations to wait patiently for answers and demonstrate attentive listening. Establishing these rituals will help provide opportunities for our children to feel heard, centered, and to become more self-reflective. The added benefit is that these rituals will also refresh and deepen our family connections.
How might parents support their children’s development of right relationships with others? Some peacebuilding ideas would be to establish a plan to perform an act of kindness for someone anonymously once a week. Provide time to brainstorm together and write up a list of possible actions. The key is to make this an ongoing event, not something done once. The aim is to develop and sustain caring relationships with others, thereby cultivating empathy through experience.

• Create a poster for a classmate’s school locker who’s been having a hard time recently. Perhaps the poster highlights their wonderful qualities.

• Volunteer once a week at the local senior center, animal shelter or a community food bank.

• Do something helpful for an elderly neighbor.

Establishing right relationships with other cultures is an essential skill in a world becoming more interconnected. For those living in multi-cultural communities, this means extending oneself to one’s neighbors – learn about their special holidays, religious practices, food, language, music and favorite stories. You can invite them to join you in your celebrations. Our lives are enriched and expanded the more we understand and interact with people from other cultures and races.

Living in right relationship with other life and Earth is intertwined with our focus on sustainability and the consciousness with which we bring to local food, recycling, global warming and our carbon footprint. How do we make these issues of vital concern to the youth who are inheriting a world with serious ecological challenges? The more we can educate and encourage them to actively participate in finding solutions to our local environmental concerns, the better prepared they will be to live effectively and efficiently on a warmer planet with fewer resources.

Research shows that the more involved youth are in identifying and addressing problems and finding solutions to issues from school bullying to global warming, the greater their investment is in treating themselves, each other and the Earth with care. When they recognize the positive changes they can make, they take on larger responsibilities and hone their leadership skills. They realize that they are a part of an interconnected world where their actions for the greater good have a positive impact on themselves, their families and friends, their schools, their communities and the world.

Lisa Worth Huber, Ph.D. is a Connecticut based peace educator, facilitator, storyteller and writer with a focus on narrative and the creative arts as tools to develop empathy, create compassionate communities and give voice to the silenced. She works with diverse populations designing, developing and teaching nonviolence and peacebuilding programs. Email her at [email protected]