Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Unmaking of a Bully

My friend adopted internationally.  Hearing the process that led up to that first meeting is exhausting in and of itself.  The interviews, the waiting, the accumulation of documents and dough, the waiting, the disappointments, the waiting, and then finally the 20 hour flight to the very foreign country.  It's like climbing Mount Everest.  And in the same way, the highest of heights is receiving that little one, yet the steps following are just as arduous, requiring just as much care and attention. 


In international adoption, attachment is huge.  Years become literally devoted to creating secure attachment.  The family tries not to go anywhere or have any guests for months.  The child is worn, cobeded, rocked, held, sung to. Limits are put on who can visit, who can feed, who can hold.  The caregivers become physically and emotionally fastened to the child.  And the child learns that when she has a need, the parent will be there to fill it.  Healthy attachment allows the child to trust, to form healthy relationships, and leads to the capacity to care for others.  Without healthy attachment, normal social, emotional, and psychological development can be stunted.  This opens the door to attachment disorder having negative effects on mood, behaviour and relationships.

Gordon Neufeld: "What makes a bully"

Gordon Neufeld who sees the world through attachment eyes addresses bullying in like fashion.  In an hour long session (seen above) called "What Makes a Bully", Neufeld tries to make sense of the bully from the inside out.  He uses a model that explains bullying in regards to instinct and emotion--a model that covers bullying in the vast variety of arenas it can take place.  He first names four prevailing attempts to understand bullying:

4 Prevailing Explanations
- Power thesis - bullying is from an inherent drive for power
- Learned behaviour thesis - bullying is learned and can be unlearned
- Empathy failure thesis - bullies have not been taught to care
- Entitlement thesis - bullies are spoiled

Finding flaw in all these theories, Neufeld looks at bullying with a different lens, the lens of attachment.  His theory: bullying is Alpha instincts gone awry.  He calls it the "Alpha Askew Thesis".  Put very simply (you'll have to watch the video to get the full picture), inherent in humans is the drive to be cared for (dependence) and to care for others (dominance).  Our caring for others includes an alpha instinct (to take control) coupled with a caring instinct (use that control to care for another) .  Individuals can be wounded in a way that devoids the caring instinct from the alpha instinct leaving a deep seated instinct to dominate those seen as weak..

For Neufeld, it is instinctual.  It is deep.  And it stems from an aberration of a healthy attachment reflex where we should be caring for the weak, not exploiting them.  Building them up, not pushing them down.  Fulfilling needs, not creating them.

As a teacher, I am always looking for insight into this phenomenon, a phenomenon that doesn't make any sense to the core of my being.  Bullying.  It's like a different language.  Most of us have to jump outside ourselves to make any sense of it.  We've been teaching against it like crazy.  Not a kid in BC would be unable to tell you four types of bullying.  They love reciting them.  And even with all the "what would you do" scenarios, pink shirt days, and cyber etiquette lessons, it seems as if we haven't made much of a dent.

So if we, even if only for a moment, can agree with Neufeld's idea, what does that mean for teachers?  What would we need to do? What would we need to change?  According to this theory, how can we unmake the bully?  Here are thoughts in waging the war on two fronts:

Relationship work
Every year we "adopt" a new crowd into our care as teachers.  Could our choices in what we do be guided with the attachment choices of the international adoptor?  I am not recommending strapping on the Ergo Carrier and taking our students for a ride.  But should "attachment activities" be the main endeavour in the first weeks of school?  Could students spend focused time with one teacher?  Could activities of trust and reliance be the forefront?

Alpha Instinct work
Then throughout the year, the activities we choose could evoke a caring component that can couple with the alpha component.  Programs such as Roots of Empathy (bringing a baby into class) , buddy reading, singing at the seniors home, and pen (blog) pals could all be strategically carried out.  We could plan our projects with this in mind: never should there be dominance without helping others.  And we could hit this home over and over and over again.

As always, I'm just spit-balling.  But seeing a framework for understanding bullying that tries to explain it in such far reaching and all encompassing terms leads to self-reflection.  And with a phenomenon that is so pervasive and that impacts so many, thought leaders need to spend time working this out and calling for change.  Either way, the question becomes: does what I do make bullies or unmake them?

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