“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Mohandas Gandhi
by Brooks Gibbs
We cannot continue to rely on schools to stop bullying. We cannot rely on observers and bystanders in our kids’ lives to stop bullying. We cannot rely on the government to shield our children from harm. It’s time to stop teaching bullied kids that their only option is to cry for help, run for shelter, and wait for the day when a governing system will make their world a safer place.
It’s time to stop playing defense.
Tattle-tale systems, school codes, and legislation increase the fuel for fear, anger and hatred within our schools. The systems we have created to protect the bullied help to perpetuate bullying cycles. Similarly, the very things adults do to try to make kids stop bullying each other actually encourage young people to bully even more. Yes, policies might look good on paper or earn local politicians points at the polls, but we’ve seen the final results in statistics and news reports.
We have created an Emotional Welfare State where targets of bullying develop crippling victim complexes with a long list of entitlement attitudes. Our policies, procedures, and lectures teach students to believe that no one has the right to think or say anything negative about them— and if they do, the government and authorities are required to intervene on their behalf and “rescue” them from emotional distress.
Our nation’s zeal for justice drives out love. Bullies become the bullied—condemned, ostracized and driven to the outskirts of our schools. And in the meantime, our children continue to be bullied.
Farewell to the Emotional Welfare State
The good news is that we have the power to change the world we live in. We don’t have to rely on others but can create our own pathways to peace; this is the message I’ve been teaching across the nation for the past decade. My philosophy can be described as an “upside-down” approach compared to the failed efforts of the anti-bullying movement. And my approach is based on the best thinking of the ages: it’s drawn from Gandhi’s advice to train students to “be the change that you want to see in the world.” This approach is about empowering victims rather than enabling them. It produces emotional maturing rather than teaching helplessness. It respects the humanity of bullies rather than demonizing them.
But surprisingly, while the solution is simple, it isn’t new. I’ve found historical solutions to end bullying that have been proven to work for centuries. It’s been taught for generations by everyone from Aristotle to Jesus to Grandma, and it’s transformed the civilized world wherever it’s been applied. This principle dismantles the Emotional Welfare State, stops bullies in their tracks and provides almost immediate results that help victims now.
The Golden Rule: Love Your Enemies
This simple solution to bullying is encapsulated in The Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The principle requires our being nice to people even when they're mean to us. Even bullies. While its truth is simple, the Golden Rule requires responses that are far from superficial choices about treating people nicely so we’ll be treated kindly in return.
People sometimes tell me that they fear that The Golden Rule can’t protect their child. Parents are and should be concerned about the safety of their children, and I understand their fears. I was a bullied kid, and I have children myself. But I also happen to believe that, as dangerous or risky as it may first appear, my approach is actually the safest response young people can learn, and it will protect them far more than other responses being taught.
Granted, at first glance The Golden Rules appears to be a passive solution to aggression and intimidation. But the reason I can wholeheartedly recommend that we learn to love our bullies and that educators and parents across the nation have embraced this philosophy is that choice is far from passive—it virtually disarms bullies—and it works. Listen carefully to the words of Abraham Lincoln: “Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?”
For too long we have resorted to reactionary, government-mandated solutions that have yielded minimal results. The time has come to revisit time-tested lessons we’ve forgotten. We can learn from the experiences and teachings of generations of world leaders Aristotle, Jesus, Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., The Dalai Lama, and many others who have stood against hatred throughout the ages, and in so doing, have changed the world.
The above mentioned leaders are just a few of the historic figures famous for their radically subversive messages of love and forgiveness when confronted by their enemies. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We stand in a unique place in history; we can learn from those who’ve gone before us how to take action and see immediate results.
While we may not be asked to change the course of world history, we are being asked to change the face of our children’s world.
You may be thinking, “Get real, Brooks. Look at the headlines! Look at the epidemic of violence and suicide in our American junior high and high schools. Sure, peace on earth sounds good, but what good is The Golden Rule going to do for kids who want to kill themselves because of bullying?”
History Proves that Loving Enemies Works
But a quick review of history demonstrates that Aristotle, Jesus, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and the Dalai Lama knew what they were talking about. They spoke of peace and love and forgiveness as responses to hatred, violence and opposition. Peace and love may sound like weak and ineffective responses to taunting and cruel behavior. But stop and think for a moment about the circumstances these world leaders faced as they shared their message. Abraham Lincoln was in the midst of a bloody civil war that was tearing the nation apart. Mother Teresa spent her life in the filthiest of the world’s slums, physically caring for people suffering from detestable diseases. The responses of these courageous heroes were far from weak. Their subversive message of love changed the hearts of men and women and sparked worldwide revolution.
Gandhi once said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” He was right. Think about our natural response when we are hurt by someone else. Anger, right?
When we let ourselves get angry, when we see ourselves as victims and allow ourselves to believe we’re justified in our anger towards others, we become bullies. Hate begins with fear and insecurity—feelings victims are intimately familiar with. Fear reveals itself first through defensiveness, then discrimination and finally through intentional assault. We act out. Someone else becomes victimized. And so the cycle continues.
As the Dalai Lama said when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in 1989: “I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another.”
Hurting people hurt people. When we respond to bullies with hate and fear, we cause them more hurt and give them “cause” to bully others. Moreover, when we push them aside, we become bullies ourselves. Only as we demonstrate forgiveness and love can we break that cycle.
We must invite bullies back into society, rather than asking “the system” to deal with them. Both history and current statistics demonstrate that alienating bullies will only push them further away, casting them into educational darkness and reinforcing their belief that they can’t peaceably coexist with other students. If we want to make lasting inroads on the problem of bullying and truly protect our students, we must turn to proven ancient wisdom that teaches us to love our enemies.
Oscar Wilde wrote, “Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them so much.” I’m not suggesting that we love and forgive others as a means of annoying them, but think about the wisdom of Wilde’s advice. When we’ve hurt someone intentionally and they forgive us, we are or should be seriously humbled. Experiencing forgiveness can cause us to feel bad about what we’ve done and make us want to be better people. The same thing happens when we’re angry at someone or pick a fight and they respond with kindness—it takes the fight out of us.
The Realities of “What If?”
So, what if walking out the Golden Rule is really the answer?
What if Dylan and Eric, the bullied students responsible for the massacre at Columbine High School, had chosen to respond to their bullies in love? These young men saw themselves as the targets of bullies within their school. What if they’d chosen kindness, rather than retribution? Logic tells us lives would have been saved and Columbine High School would be a dramatically different place today. If only students had known how to respond with love . . .
Because we share the power of hindsight, we do share the unique opportunity to examine the What if? question in regard to the Columbine massacre. On April 20, 1999, Dylan and Eric became the bullies they hated so much. They saw themselves as victims; un-forgiveness fueled their desire for revenge. They took the fear and hatred thrown at them, harnessed it, and lashed out in violence and anger, not only against their bullies, but inevitably at themselves. They became bullies in the most extreme sense of the word.
When Dylan and Eric turned the tables and retaliated against their bullies, those former “bullies” (and everyone in Dylan and Eric’s path) became the bullied. And so a cycle of retaliation and vengeance was born.
However, one over-riding truth stands out regarding the Columbine tragedy: many victims refused to respond with the hatred and anger shown by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. In the aftermath of the school shooting, I watched courageous Columbine students who chose love and forgiveness, in spite of their tragic circumstances. Their powerful examples prove that in the face of horrific tragedy and suffering, we can demonstrate love and become a force for change in our world.
People Desire Peace
The story of the Columbine tragedy strikes a chord in us. Why? We are human, and in our hearts, we desire peace. We recognize the power of dignity and long for it. We long for reconciliation.
Love has the power to transform enemies into friends. Turning the other cheek is a strategy for winning and the solution to bullying.
As parents and influencers of the next generation, we’re shaping tomorrow’s politicians, teachers and leaders. We can choose to motivate lives with hate and fear or with love and forgiveness. When we respond to bullies with hate and fear, we teach our children to live reactively and to create defense systems based on destroying others.
When I speak at a school, my goal is to leave behind a wake of transformed students committed to looking out for peers formerly known as “bullies.” These young men and women with changed attitudes come to look at their bullies in a new way: “I’m gonna love you, no matter what you call me, and I’m not going to let you get away.” A school that fosters this environment consistently turns bullies into buddies.
We must often be the first to express unconditional love and forgiveness. The Golden Rule demands that we love others before we receive love ourselves. While we cannot expect or require others to be fair to us, we can require ourselves to be beacons of humanity and the first to offer love, grace, and forgiveness in the face of opposition. We can offer our bullies the opportunity to respond to grace and peace, rather than to hatred and vengeance.
Within the best of us, thereis some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.
I've seen the power of living The Golden Rule. I’ve experienced the joy of seeing an enemy become a friend.
And, believe it or not, you can, too.
Brooks Gibbs is a best-selling author and speaker whose anti-bullying strategies have reached more than one million students and counting. His teachings have been developed in partnership with School Psychologist Izzy Kalman. For a free reports on how to build resilient kids, visit Brooks online at www.BrooksGibbs.com.