Labels hurt. Restorativeness includes kindness to those that bully.
I stay away from the word “bully”. I put in “bully behavior”. Labels hurt people. It’s hard to be called a name, its hard to be you, when a strong label has been applied. My path to my views was influenced by a few things.
I would not recommend doing this. I kept a Circle without knowing who the offender and victim were. I was asked to help a teacher, new to Circlekeeping deal with some issues. I was happy to show up, and demonstrate the process. I would teach others to do more preparation, especially if the students had not been doing community building Circles. Since the teacher was already doing Circles, and was wanting to grow his skills, I agreed to come in around the harm of upper level grade school boys and bully behavior. This teacher had also taken the two-day training with me, so we had a great rapport and were able to have things set up prior to the Circle.
We met in the corner of the library. The tall principal joined us on the floor, so did a guidance office staff. I brought along my deer antler talking piece, the boys thought that one was pretty cool. The Circle centered around “friendship” being a good friend, times someone wasn’t that good to you. We used “friend” instead of “bully”, the classroom work was supporting being a good friend. When a question was framed about being hurt, I was shocked and sad by the stories related. Mom’s boyfriend throws beer cans at me, the high schoolers make fun of me from their cars. The kids showed empathy for each other. You could have heard a pin drop when that tall, authority figure shared a story about being excluded as a kid. When we left that Circle, I had to check with the teacher. The kids I thought were the victims, were in fact the ones doing the bully behavior.
That reinforced to me – responses to REAL or PERCEIVED harm include: revenge, retaliation and restoration. What is the harm the child is experiencing, that brings our harmful behavior.
Another Circle for 3rd grade boys, the last question asked by the victim to the offender “I just want to know why you did it”. The answer “because in 1st grade, you got me in trouble on the bus”. I extended our Circle a little longer to bring that in!
I don’t know anyone that raises kids with the goal “be the biggest, meanest, bully on the playground today!” In my experience parents are extremely shamed when told their kid did the bullying.
Research shows the effects of bully behavior can be negative for the bully. This story in Time, tells about a writer who went back to meet his bully. It’s powerful, showing that the bully went on to continue to hurt people, to the point of murder. It’s technically not Restorative Justice (not the specific process), it does include victim and offender, and a dialogue. I want to connect with the author John Guenther, (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org). He acknowledged at one point or another we have all engaged in bully behavior. I think it’s key to not forget, we could all work at being better citizens, playground to retirement home.
Programs to address bully behavior must be comprehensive and focus on the culture and climate. I appreciate all the work at bully-prevention and I continue to work on values-promotion.
Anything to reduce harm, must address the harm that caused it. The only thing that mends harm is values. If you’ve been in a training session with me, remember my slides that show the medicine wheel. Hurt is to our physical selves, and harm is to our mental, emotional, spiritual selves.
Nancy Riestenberg shared this Safe Healthy Learners e-newsletter, some resources are Minnesota based, many are available.
Please note SCVRJP, takes contracts, I am available to train your school on Circles and Restorative Pracitices. I also provide presentations and workshops on topics related to all things Circle and Restorative Justice. If you would like to check a reference on my work, you can ask Nancy.