What Unites Us: Why Anti-Bullying Efforts Often Miss the Mark

Anti-Bullying Legislation Often Fails

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. This week’s is specifically about proposed anti-bullying legislation in Ontario, but it’s a common issue throughout North America, so see what you think.

It’s now 2012, which means that we’re supposed to move forwards, not backwards. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the Ontario legislature’s new anti-bullying legislation.

Instead of treating everyone as equals, this legislation is fighting old battles, and runs the danger of reinforcing old hatreds.

Before I explain why, let me take a detour to Winnipeg, another provincial capital, which is currently embroiled in a brouhaha over a $100 million new Human Rights Museum. Millions of dollars of government money has flowed into the project, but unfortunately, instead of producing peace and harmony, it’s produced squabbling. One of the things hampering the project is that people can’t agree on what human rights abuses should be highlighted. All the groups who have endured genocide are volleying to have their particular tragedies front and centre. Instead of fostering a sense of shared humanity, it’s fomenting more ethnic grievances.

Often what sounds well-meaning, then, ends up doing more damage.

I would put “hate crime” laws and much anti-bullying legislation, like this proposed “Accepting Schools Act”, in that category. Any legislation that identifies certain groups as more worthy of protection than others is fundamentally flawed. Why not crack down on all violence and intimidation, and not just violence against certain classes of people?

Highlight certain groups as more needing of protection, and anti-bullying legislation inadvertently creates a race to see who can be the next protected class.

You pit special interest group against special interest group, and you propagate this idea that we are primarily members of certain groups, not sharers of a common humanity. It’s silly, it’s counterproductive, and it’s wrong.

It also really doesn’t work. Running the whole gamut from bullying to genocide, the common thread is thinking of the victim as someone “other”—as distinct from me, and therefore not deserving of respect. Why would we entrench that view in the name of defeating it?

Why would we not instead fight against it by promoting what unites us, rather than what divides us?

We are all human. Everyone, regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation, deserves respect. Should that not be our main message?

In fact, the underlying methodology of much anti-bullying efforts is strange. The Accepting Schools Act gives more leverage to schools to expel bullies, which is wonderful. But modern anti-bullying efforts, of which this is a part, also fundamentally operate in terms of group identities, which is what has caused the problem in the first place. Specifically, the act is concerned with bullying of LGBT students. By teaching and educating kids about the LGBT lifestyle, it’s supposed to stop kids from bullying them. But let’s take this to its logical conclusion. This philosophy believes, then, that bullying stems from a lack of education and understanding about each group. If we educate students about the marginalized group—in this case LGBT students—kids will then treat their members better. But what about natives? Or the Roma? Or Jews? By this line of thinking, the only way to stop bullying against those groups is to similarly teach everybody about them.

That’s an impossible task. We can never educate kids about each and every marginalized group.

The far better solution is to teach kids what unites us, not what divides us. It’s time to stop thinking in terms of groups. It’s not groups that deserve respect; it’s people—all people. No one deserves to be ostracized, or ridiculed, or attacked, for any reason whatsoever. Let’s work to preserve human dignity, rather than entrenching what divides us.

If people can’t agree on that, then I question their motives.

Is this really about ending bullying, or is it about demanding acceptance and special status for their own group?

If it’s the latter, then it’s fundamentally anti-human rights, not pro-human rights. After all, that’s what human rights are: “Human” rights; not LGBT rights, or Christian rights, or white rights, or native rights. We are all people. End of story.

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  1. So, SO true!!

  2. Mark McFaul says:

    Great thoughts and you need to send this to all the MPP’s and school trustees. As one who has been in several schools the past 4 yrs teaching character education to grade 7&8 students as part of the anti-bullying campaign, you are spot on Shelia. Not only is it the LGBT students or minority students deserve to be protected. But I have seen bullying towards the disabled, the over weight kid, the kid the doesn’t have as much and the list goes, what about them.
    So like you said do we develop clubs for each of these groups… NO!! We teach our children to see the value in one another. We teach them to love one another and respect each other, as fellow humans, class mates and neighbors.
    I am very tired of the groups and the labels that have been developed. We are all on this planet lets learn to value and love one another!
    Keep up the great work Shelia.
    PS I have seen some great changes in the classrooms that have been taught to value one another so I know it works.

  3. I, too, think you’re right! The current “solution” only makes things worse. But I fear that it’s not going to improve, no matter what we try to do on the school or societal level, because the problem really comes from inside, and the place to treat it is the home.

    Parents aren’t parenting enough. Far too many kids are being raised by their peers. And when you have a peer-oriented society you get the classic “Lord of the Flies” scenario.

    Kids need solid, mature adults who are CONNECTED with them (gee – like parents!) to train them in the way they should go – be it respecting others, because we all bear the image of God, or any other character trait, attitude, or behavior.

    Just my .02,


  4. Denise Porter says:

    I have found that so much “anti-bullying” information is simply talk and no ACTION. Big “zero tolerance” signs pasted up in the local school but despite these signs to the contrary, they really turned a blind eye to the bullying incidents and said they couldn’t do much etc. I ended up pulling my son out of that institution and sent him to Christian school an hour away. Yes, there was still some bullying problems (at least initially) — but they dealt with it promptly — and when one of the other boys in his class ruined my boys lunch kit on the school bus, all of the parents were called. David (the culprit) was made to apologize face to face and give some of his paper money to replace my son’s lunch kit. Now — they are good friends and over the Christmas break, my son was missing his “friends!!” (He boards at my parent’s house during the four day school week) … So wonderful to see a solution to bullying and that the administration of the second school were willing to “take the bull by the horns” and call a spade a spade and make the child admit he’d crossed the line.

    • So true, Denise! I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that a Christian school is a private school, and if you pulled your kid out, they’d lose money. I find that private schools are more responsive to this sort of thing because they know they have to be. We need to figure out a way for public schools to pay if bullying goes unchecked!

      • van Rooinek says:

        a Christian school is a private school, and if you pulled your kid out, they’d lose money. I find that private schools are more responsive to this sort of thing because they know they have to be

        In California, when you pull your kid out of public school, the school loses funding. Rather amazingly, the Calif pub school system, is very accomodating to homeschoolers, even to the extent of creating their own homeschool extension program… why? Because if the kid is part of the public school homeschool extension, s/he is “back in the system” and they get their funding back!

        in my area, they’ve actually CLOSED schools for want of students, and the talk is that it’s because homeschooling is growing insanely fast. Enrollment statewide is DOWN from several years ago, despite a growing population. So they badly want you back in the system, even if they have to make a homeschool program to do it.

        BTW all my bullying happened at private schools. They can be quite uncaring too.

        • You know, now that I think about it, I think that’s true in our school district, too. I remember hearing something that each student brings in $7500 to the school, or something. But perhaps the difference is that a private school could actually close if the enrollment is low enough, but a public school tends to get more bailouts and funding anyway (though that is not always the case).

          But you’re right–bullying can happen anywhere!

  5. I think all the bullying hype is just another way to get gay agenda into the schools.
    Sexy Christian Wife recently posted…Throwing Away All the Candy Makes You MeanMy Profile

  6. I agree. Kids need to learn that others are worthy of being respected as they are created in the image of God. Whatever their race, creed, nationality, or what-have you.

    Now to show off some of my ignorance, what is “LGBT”?
    Rachael recently posted…Have diapers, will travelMy Profile

  7. An on target post. Too many want to put people into groups. Some want to be categorized into a group. I don’t see how it matters that you are bullied for being in one group or another. If parents first and then schools later taught children about the inate dignity of every human being there would probably be less bullying.

    Unfortunately, the popular culture, specifically television, loves to marginalize people by putting them into groups. The most marginalized group is, of course, parents. The undermining of parental authority, especially fathers, goes a long way toward creating children who become adults with no respect for anyone other than their small group of friends.

    As adults in general and parents specifically, we must go the extra mile to show our children and others that even when there are very serious disagreements everyone is to be treated with dignity. This really should be absolute. Black or white, rich or poor, criminals, the person who takes your order at McDonald’s or washes your car. Everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and with the dingnity which comes from being created in the image of God.

  8. I’m really sick of all this anti-bullying fad. I mean, I am against bullying for sure, but every disagreement between two kids on a playground is not bullying.

    On the same note about making certain groups “other than”, what about this labeling kids as a bully? Think of it. A kindergartener acts out, maybe because they are stressed by the change to their routine or stress or whatever(let’s face it, going to school is a pretty big deal), so they start acting out. By today’s standards, rather than just recognizing that small children do not always react rationally to situations, that child will be labelled a bully. When you tell a child that young(and his/her peers) that the child is a bully, that’s it folks. That label sticks and that child fulfills his/her role.

    Also, I really dislike some of this hate crime stuff. If two people of the same race go to a bar and get into a fight over a girl, it’s chalked up to a drunken brawl. but if two people of a different race, particularly if one of them is white, get into a fight at a bar over a girl, it’s suddenly a hate crime. What gives?

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  9. van Rooinek says:

    As a victim of severe bullying through most of grade school (tall skinny science nerd, you can guess the rest), I have very strong reactions to this. Oh, and I was bullied for being “gay” even though I’m NOT gay. You’d think, perhaps that I’d support this law, but I don’t.

    …modern anti-bullying efforts… fundamentally operate in terms of group identities, which is what has caused the problem in the first place.

    DING DING DING… The group being, the “popular” crowd, the football team, whatever. However these group identifications and their sinful sequelae will never be addressed. and their traditional targets will not be protected. It will only be the PC protected pet classes.

    the act is concerned with bullying of LGBT students…..This philosophy believes, then, that bullying stems from a lack of education and understanding about each group.

    What if that philosophy is…. gasp…. .not true? What if educating students about homosexuality, only makes them hate it more? Most people find sodomy instinctively disgusting, after all. And some racial groups, in some places, (sad to say), really do act consistently with their worst stereoypes, so teaching kids to reject stereotyping, in defiance of what they can see with their own eyes, can backfire badly.

    What, I wonder, will happen to a guy like me in the new pro-gay regime? The system will protect, indeed idolize, actual gays, whether they are bullied or not — and kids like me who are picked on based on a FALSE accusation of homosexuality, will NOT be protected. Guaranteed. Likewise, I’m confident that a boy bullied by a pack of mean girls, a straight bullied by a gang of gays, a white bullied by a pack of nonwhites, a gentile bullied by a gang of Jews (actually happened to someone I know well, at a majority-Jewish private school), will NOT be protected. Only the PC pets will be protected.

    In fact, I’l make a prediction: The PC pets will become the WORST BULLIES EVER under this new law. They will use their pet status as a shield from all criticism, and will bully non-pet groups (nerds, whites, christians, heterosexuals, conservatives, whatever) relentlessly — and falsely accuse the victims of bullying THEM – so convincingly, in fact, that the victims will be the ones punished and expelled! (Karl Marx said, accuse your enemy of what you are doing!)

    Is this really about ending bullying, or is it about demanding acceptance and special status for their own group?

    Speaking as an actual former bullying victim,I find the answer rather obvious. NOTHING WILL CHANGE for real victims, this is about elevating the status of PC pets. (Saul Alinsky, I think, said: the issue is never the issue, the revolution is the issue.) The authorities do not care, and never will care, about genuine victims.

    What worked for me 30 years ago, was, Spend a summer vacation lifting weight like a manaic, and come September, start hitting back. Today, of course, that would get you expelled.

    Yeah, my kids are homeschooled. And they take karate. Care to guess why?

    • Thanks so much for that comment. I’m glad what I said resonated with you. I agree entirely with your analysis; I can’t always say everything I want in just a 600 word column, but I think you’re spot on!

      • van Rooinek says:

        I really could have made that post a lot shorter.

        (1) Most bullying is something that the cool group does to isolated uncool individuals.

        (2) This new program doesn’t seem like it will eliminate bullying, but rather, just redefine who’s cool, making “gays” etc, cool, whites uncool, whatever.

        (3) As someone who was hopelessly uncool by both the new and the old standards, this policy would not change anything for me. I’d still have to lift weights and hit back.

      • van Rooinek says:

        A post vanished somehow… Let me try again.

        My original post could have been a lot shorter. Summarizing….

        (1) Most bullying is done by a cool group against an uncool individual.

        (2) This new program doesn’t seem like it will stop bullying; it seems more aimed at redefining who’s cool. Ie, gays are now cool, whites are not, etc.

        (3) As one who was hopelessly uncool under both standards, this would have changed nothing for me. The only option would still be, lift weights and hit back.

  10. I am an Ontario resident, a mom of four, and an older sibling to a brother who endured harsh bullying because of an obvious disability. I have been following the news of this legislation closely and I feel that you have provided the most eloquently expressed criticism to date.

    I would like to share an article with your readers written by Judith Snow, who is a long-time advocate of inclusion and community building. The beautiful, true story she shares reveals a lot about humanity, giftedness, and the undiscovered wonder of the “other”. It is the story of Peter, a young man who doesn’t use words to communicate, an “outsider”, whose inherent giftedness leads to the building of a great community and growth for the so-called “insiders”.


    I think the wisdom we can learn from “others” is overlooked so easily in our society. It reminds me that God’s Kingdom is an upside-down kingdom:

    1 Corinthians 1:26-29 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.

    Thanks for your article. I hope it reaches a lot of hearts.

  11. Its so difficult to tackle something like this and I have no idea why it happens or how to focus on it, I saw quite a lot of bullying at school and could never understand it then. I do think that the people who partake in it have something wrong with them. Hopefully one day it will be addressed.

  12. Bullying is tragic, and I am glad that this is a topic that is getting attention. It seemed to me growing up that the worst bullying happened to those who were socially awkward, and not necessarily someone who was part of a “group” like a type of ethnicity or sexual orientation. But also, part of me thinks that we make fun of what we don’t understand or what is different. Through education, it might be possible to show the shared humanity of different groups. I think it really depends on how the classroom content is handled. But I agree that it is not fair to focus on anti-bullying efforts for specific groups of people when bullying can happen to anyone in any type of group, and to the person being bullied, it all hurts just as much.

  13. My thought about Hate Crime legislation is that I’m pretty sure all crime against someone means you hate them. There really isn’t an I Love You Crime! Or even a Like Crime.

  14. I was bullied a fair bit growing up, and what made the difference for me was when an adult stepped in at that moment and defended me. No laws, no political protection, but adults being adults and mature enough to shut the bullying down. It almost feels like adults just aren’t willing to step up and being the grown-ups in the schools, play yard, or where ever.

    Thanks for the great posts, Sheila.
    Rachael recently posted…Taking the plungeMy Profile

  15. Sheila I am so glad you took a stand. I agree with you regarding this issue. My personal opinion is that lack of respect is the root. If we all just respect each other because we should and be capable to see that others are going to have different beliefs and opinions and we don’t need to sue them or punish them for that, there wouldn’t be a need for Human Rights Tribunials or Anti Bullying Laws.

    I grew up bullied by the cool group, just because. There was no rhyme or reason. I have watched my daughter being bullied and am able to teach her to respect those people even more. We don’t know what they are going through. Not everyone is going to like everyone all the time, but we need to get along.

  16. Saw this great article in the local paper this weekend.
    As a Catholic school board trustee I appreciate your column and will be sharing it with my colleagues.
    This exactly the message we have been sending to the Provincial government, the more voices that spread this the better.
    Thank You

    • Thanks, Brian. I appreciate it! If you could forward it to your MPP, too, that would be great. I’ve already written to Todd Smith (not sure if you’re in the same riding that I am), but the more voices, the better!

  17. You put words to an angst that I have felt for some time. Thank you for your compassion, passion, and clear thinking!

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