I’m having a bad dream.
“Loser! Liar!” References to parts of the male anatomy follow.
Voices overlap, interrupt, mock and insult each other. As in many dreams, I can’t quite place where I am. At the elementary school where I work? The language fits, but the voices are not children’s voices. Soon the loudest, crudest, and most insistent voice overpowers the rest. That kid needs recess support, I think. The cat jumps on me and I’m awake.
Ah. I’ve fallen asleep watching the Republican presidential debate.
The top three Republican candidates make middle school bullies look like elder statesmen. They make Jersey Shore look intelligent. They make the Three Stooges look suave. We’re in Opposite World, where being socially unacceptable is socially acceptable; saying every nasty, hateful thing that pops into one’s head is “telling it like it is,” not “being a jerk.”
While I don’t think Donald Trump is nearly as awesome as he thinks he is, he is clearly the winner in this department. He gets tons of airplay because of his entertainment value. You have to watch because he’s so monstrously unpredictable. Is there nothing this guy won’t say? It's like word-vomit. But what he, his opponents, his supporters, and the media all either don’t understand (doubtful) or just don't care about (probable) is the fact that Donald Trump is the most terrible role model imaginable. He is making my job as a school counselor much, much harder.
Mature adults (and I admit I don’t always qualify) believe it’s our mission to teach the children in our care to be kind and responsible citizens. There are many social skills involved and a certain amount of brain development required, so we spend a lot of time in public school teaching and modeling what a respectful community looks like.
When we don't treat each other with common decency, the community falls apart. It becomes the opposite of "great." Therefore I offer to Mr. Trump and his opponents our basic elementary school rules for being part of a respectful community. Gentlemen, my students as young as Kindergarten can understand and follow these rules most of the time so I promise you: you can do it.
1. Use a one-inch voice. When you yell, it makes other people have uncomfortable thoughts and feelings about you. They feel stressed and stop hearing your words. I know it sounds weird, but the more calmly and quietly you speak, the more others will listen.
2. Don’t step on other people’s words. Interrupting is rude. It annoys others. Wait until it is your turn to speak. No one can hear you anyway when more than one person is talking at once.
3. Keep it in your thought bubble. No one can read your mind. That means you can’t get in trouble for what you think. You can, however, get into a world of trouble for what you say out loud. Think whatever you want, no matter how mean or rude or socially unacceptable it is, but don’t say it. We call this having a filter.
4. You don’t have to like everyone, but you do have to be respectful towards them. Let’s be honest: no one is friends with everybody. That’s okay. But it’s not okay to be mean to people you’re not friendly with. We want every person in our school/ country to feel safe, welcome, and comfortable.
5. Be a bucket-filler. Bucket-fillers are people who make others feel good by being kind and thoughtful. Bucket-dippers say mean things and act selfishly. No one likes to be around a bucket-dipper.
6. You can’t threaten anyone. Ever. That means ever.
7. Be responsible. Being responsible means telling the truth even when it’s hard, admitting when you make a mistake, and apologizing if you’ve wronged someone. Good citizens are responsible. I tell students that it’s “grown-up” to behave this way, even though that’s apparently now a lie. Ironic.
8. Follow the Golden Rule. You probably learned about the Golden Rule when you were younger. It says, “Treat others the way you’d like them to treat you.” If you don’t like it when people call you names or say your ideas are stupid or say you don’t belong here and should crawl back under the rock you came from, then you shouldn’t say it to them. This is doubly true for people you don’t like, who are weaker than you, or who you disagree with. Why would we need a rule that tells us to treat only our friends nicely? Answer: we wouldn’t. Captain Obvious is not the author of the Golden Rule.
In our school we have what’s called a “growth mindset.” That means we believe that anyone can get better at anything---even things that seem impossible---with practice and determination. Like any little-used muscle, your respect muscle will grow stronger with use.
Please do us all a favor and start exercising it. Little pitchers have big ears.
I’d like to recommend a book that has changed the way I look at the issue of bullying and aggression at my school. Turn on the news, listen to discussions among parents and school staff, or think of how often kids say to you, “He’s bullying me!” It seems that we’re in the middle of a bullying epidemic, doesn’t it?
It may seem that way, but we’re not.
In her book Bully Nation, Susan Eva Porter totally dismantles the widely-accepted notion that kids are under siege from bullies 24/7. While she provides a number of good reasons why we have that impression, one is so obvious that I can’t believe it never occurred to me: the definition of bullying has expanded hugely in the last ten years or so.