We need to teach children the right way to combat confrontation

Standing up for yourself is the best way to look after yourself 

Noah Blaff details how anti-bullying measures currently taken in schools aren’t entirely effective.
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Westerners like to believe that we’ve evolved to a state that renders confrontation obsolete.

This is apparent through the sayings we feed our children. When young people bully others using either their words or their fists, we tell their victims to “be the bigger person,” and that “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” The list of clichés goes on and on.

This pacifist philosophy has unfortunately trained our children to remain victims, leaving them ill-equipped to manage the relentless onslaught of bullying and confrontation more broadly in their lives.

Canadian society has taught our children that the way to handle bullying isn’t to stand up for yourself, but rather, to be submissive and rely on adults to resolve the issue.

The children are told they’re stronger than their insecure aggressors for not having stooped to their level. However, they likely don’t feel strong. Instead, victims feel powerless when they’re reliant on others, afraid of overstepping their boundaries and defending themselves. This relates as much to verbal bullying as to physical disputes.

Confrontation is a necessary part of human life. In any team, conflict will occur. While working, employees can expect disagreements to arise between their superiors, coworkers, and subordinates. When they need confrontational skills the most and the stakes are highest, workers are left without the means to intervene.

These precedents eventually affect the 40 per cent of Canadian workers who experience bullying on a weekly basis.

We’re too used to retreating from intimidating situations, always being apologetic and scurrying off with our tails tucked neatly between hind legs. Bullies thrive on these reactions. They want nothing more than to see someone relinquish control through fear and withdrawal.

By teaching children that confrontational reciprocity is wrong, we give bullies free rein to trample over their less adept peers. This way, adolescents have become like sponges, absorbing and internalizing the poison spewed their way without any means of response.

I remember having a student begin a physical altercation with me in elementary school. Though I asked him to stop, the abuse continued. My primal instincts surfaced, and I responded with physical force. The fight was short-lived: it was broken up by a supervising teacher who brought us both to the principal’s office.

The verdict was laughable—both of us were suspended from school for two days.

School systems need to do a better job at dealing with incidents like the one I faced.

One effective route to combat bullying is educating bystanders. The anti-bullying posters with pacifist clichés plastered across them tell onlookers that they’re just as guilty as bullies for watching fights happen without doing anything.

While bystanders do have a role to play, it would be much easier for them to step in to help resolve conflicts when victims try to address the confrontation on their own initially. How might that happen when defending oneself puts the victim on par with the aggressor?

This faulty logic implies it’s never okay to fight back, either physically or by countering insults. But that isn’t entirely true. John isn’t equal in blame to Dan for defending himself against Dan in a fight on the schoolground. Jack isn’t a bad kid for just insulting Bill, who’s been spreading rumors the entire year.

Once again, the appropriate course of action by current standards is a hyper-dose of inferiority for victims, administered daily, Monday through Friday. Their only suggested courses of action involve telling adults, not standing up for themselves, and internalizing their problems rather than confronting them. 

This is ridiculous. The real high road is taken when the captain of the wrestling team has the means to pummel someone harassing him but doesn’t. In this example, he has the ability, but chooses not to because he can. Taking the high road doesn’t simply mean resisting fighting back in all scenarios, especially when you’re truly being victimized.

The current philosophy is dangerous, given that nearly half of Canadian parents have had children experience bullying. Of all the tools that education has given them to glide through life, children’s confrontational toolboxes remain empty.

Measures have been implemented in Ontario to combat the increase in bullying. Anti-bullying legislation, such as Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Actwhich proposes a holistic approach to impeding the spread of bullying—remains unproven in its effectiveness. The lack of public research surrounding the bill’s impact leaves a wide gap for interpretation. Public school teachers I’ve spoken with, however, have told me that classroom bullying has continued to increase at a steady rate.

No matter how many counsellors, public service announcements, and cheesy posters are used, the bullying problem won’t be solved, because they’re not addressing the problem right. Kids need to be taught from a young age, when attacks are simplest, that they can rightfully defend themselves.

Bullying cases are highly nuanced, and the right path forward depends on the situation. A good idea is being put to test in Sydney, Australia, where ethics is being taught to kids from a young age. Children roleplay conflict resolution with peers and gain much-needed perspective on the harmful impact their words can have on others.

Replacing logic with trite, unsubstantial sayings, however, is one way to reinforce bullying from a young age.

Confrontation has become so harrowing to most people that they won’t speak up for themselves even when they’re clearly in the right. As children, we’re not even taught how to properly deal with simple attacks by ourselves. As adults, we lack the tools to deal with more severe situations.

Regardless of the situation, we shouldn’t make victims feel as if there’s nothing they can do but laugh off bullying and hope their situations get better.

It’s time to shatter this flawed logic that’s pushed from classroom to classroom. When someone is being hurtful and rude, or when they try to use you as a rung to climb social ladders or relieve their insecurities, stand up for yourself.

Don’t be afraid of confrontation. Instead, get used to it, because it’s not going anywhere.

Noah Blaff is a fourth-year Commerce student.

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