Thursday 15 November 2012


By Marie Lardino
B.Ed. M.Ed.
Director/ Founder
Voice Integrative School
Toronto, Canada

       "To deny people their human rights is to deny their very humanity" Nelson Mandela

Poster: Lena Cote, 2013
Voice Integrative School student.

    From professional and personal perspectives, bullying constitutes a pattern of mean-spirited behaviour meant to ‘deliberately’ hurt a person or group. Bullying victimizes. It shames, defames and tries to render another person helpless and hopeless. Bullies deflect, project and deny their actions to the end. They blame their targets. Bullying has a tendency to escalate, and doesn't stop despite the target's requests that it should.

    Once the pattern associated with bullying is defined, then this behaviour, whether passive or aggressive, covert or overt, and if it involves intimidation, exclusion, defamation, lies, scapegoating, manipulation, and/or threats, can only be dealt with once we seek to empower the victims of bullying with the self-assurance that their problem is real and justifiably felt.  Most important, we need to stop sugar coating what is... abuse. That said, the bully-proof environment is one where there is a clear and concise definition of what the behaviour entails – its tactics, and the manner in which these tactics affect a person or group.  Everyone needs to be equipped with this knowledge.  From personal and professional experience, the answer lies in education – not as an add-on, but as an intrinsic part of school culture. It must be that the school community, through rejection and disassociation with the bully, feels empowered enough to make him/her accountable for his/her abusive actions.

     To create a culture of respect and mutual acceptance in schools, discussions and debates about bullying issues (whether found on social media and/or in interpersonal situations) must be ongoing and deliberate. Intentional teachable moments through the use of relevant examples found on the internet and in various contexts, are a must. Accountability must be viewed as a need, and this need must find its rightful place in the culture of that school.  Respect and compassion toward others need to be a given. Responsible self-assertiveness must be celebrated. Deliberate ill-intention must be condemned. Learning opportunities dealing with human rights should stand strong in the curriculum. Diversity must be embraced. The negative impact that “anonymity” has had on social media, should be of huge importance in any school program.  In general, each school could function through a 'shared' value system insistent on each person's self-worth and his/her right to feel safe. This foundation needs to be understood and practiced from an ‘inside out’ approach by every member of the community. And it needs to insist on the idea of boycott, disengagement and rejection of behaviours that have the potential to create havoc to one's identity and character. Simply put, in school settings, beyond the more commonly applied consequences, the most powerful consequences are 'natural consequences'.

       Within the context of any learning environment, once each student discovers the tools to advocate for ‘self 'and others, and when the importance of this sets in, an anti-bullying collective has no choice but to take hold.  This transformation is forced through communal educational approaches. However, beyond the ongoing responsibility to foster a safe and 'bully beware/aware' school community, if a bully persists with his/her actions, then administrators and teachers must step in with unwavering external consequences. As a school administrator, I feel strongly that the majority's right to feel safe is more important than the rights of a single, deliberately ill-intended individual. My opinion on this matter is unyielding!  When we are called to action, we act; regardless of deflection, intimidation, cyber-defamation, lies, denial, temper tantrums, and/or the aftermath that may ensue from the bully or his/her support system. 

     What I can say for sure is that permanent change is found in knowing that each of us deserves to feel safe. This knowledge should not be questioned, ignored, justified, dismissed or denied by the bully, the target(s) of bullying, nor by the group at large. There is no bully on earth that stands a chance in a culture infused with this knowledge.

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