This post is part of a series. Begin with Part 1 HERE.
Recently I have been thinking, mulling over, and questioning the idea of bullying. In particular, bullying occurring or not during acting classes and performances.
First, it comes to mind that “bullying” was not something heard when I was growing up in the sixties and seventies. Like ADHD and stressed out children (the first time I heard a five year-old student in New York say he was stressed out in 1991, I was shocked), “bullying” and “stressed out” children hadn’t become a household/school/societal meme yet. Kids weren’t stressed out. Period. Only adults were stressed out, and not very commonly at that time. And when people were mean they were called mean, or it was said that “boys will be boys”, or certain kids were considered a “trouble maker”, or simply, “he’s a bully” (it wasn’t ever said about girls). What brought us to this idea of bullying that we’ve institutionalized today?
Stopbullying.gov states that “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance”. What I find interesting about this definition is that it underlines the behavior with a “power imbalance”. The power balance they speak to is “physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity”. Hmmm? My first question is why are those “power imbalances”? How is it that a person who has more strength has an advantage of power? Lest we forget, David defeated Goliath, the measly army of General Washington defeated the British empire, many “Cinderella” teams have trounced the big dogs, and there are countless examples that dispute this idea.
What makes a popular kid more powerful than one not so popular? Kids with brains and with knowledge know how to undo a popular kids so-called power. Just like a smart fighter can beat up on a specimen of greater strength. And embarrassing information? Since when is that a power builder? I would guess it only became a power builder, like the other examples, when some perceived authority said it was. Perhaps these ideas were bullied into existence?
Thing is, once these kinds of “problems” present themselves (or are presented) they then need solutions. Then we consult with the perceived experts and they tell us what needs to be done. Then we build industries around these issues that never go away, never shrink, and only grow bigger and more institutionalized. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a government institution say “we’re done, did our job, and time to stop now”?
I also question if bullying occurs more now that when I was growing up? If not, then why the microscopic treatment and lens to magnify the issue? If so, what happened? Why do kids bully now more than when I was growing up? It used to be said that teasing and mean behavior will give a kid “thick skin”. What does a kid get today?
My mother used to say, for better or worse, “work it out yourselves” when my siblings and I were in conflict. It taught the six of us children to negotiate, to listen to each other, to solve our own problems, and to discover who we are. Who was the weaker and who was the stronger, who was more clever, who was more deceptive, etc. We did not abdicate our ability to solve our own problems to an authority. We honed that skill. What do kids get today?
It used to be that being a “rat” was a terrible label to endure. To be a “tattletale” was a despicable and weak position to put oneself in. Like the military, kids were expected to be loyal to other kids. God forbid a kid would tattletale to an adult! What do kids get today? Especially as the government encourages us at every turn to “see something, say something”.
My questions are intended to provoke thinking. They are not answer oriented. They are process oriented, they are to be continual, not figured out, not solved, not unquestionable, certainly not dogmatic. Deep questioning requires strength of mind, laser like focus ability, open hearted exploration, and the ability to let go of old thinking in a quest to discover deeper ideas and aspects of reality.
In acting, we portray fictional characters. We can play “good guys” and we can play “bad guys”. There is no judgement, it is acting. One is not preferable. Often times the bad guy is more fun to portray because he/she is a more dynamic character. Bad guys and bullys are in plays, musicals, fairy tales, films, TV shows, operas, etc. It is natural to explore the bad guy characteristics while acting.
In a recent performance I heard some feedback about some mean behavior in some of the improv scenes some of my young acting students performed. It was called mean, nasty, and bullying. What was interesting was that adults felt these perceptions while kids not so much. Kids seemed to understand that these things occur, no big deal, and it doesn’t mean much, especially because they know each other and know a real bully from a perceived one. The kids know each other from class and work with each other and learn to negotiate the terrain.
But adults, and parents in particular, have a different vantage point to perceive from. Naturally they want to protect children, especially their own. They can be more sensitive because of that. And that sensitivity can be wholesome or hyper. Kids need adults to look out for them, care about and for them, and to support them unconditionally. Hence, there is a natural divide on perceptions of a child and an adult. What may not mean much to a kid may mean a whole lot to an adult. Sometimes this is useful and profound, sometimes it is an interference and totally unnecessary. Boy do we have to be watchful of our adult reactions. Often, parents create issues where there really isn’t one, all with good intentions.
I have learned to keep my mouth shut when I want to criticize my child’s behavior. Too often bringing it up and interjecting my authority does more harm than good. Trusting my child to know himself and to redeem himself, and to discover for himself the useful/non-useful, good/bad, hurtful/loving, behavior he exhibits, is paramount to his development. Of course, there are other times when intervention is actually beneficial.
My conclusion in all this thinking thus far? Bullying is not a black and white issue, it is complex, like most things in life, and needs deep thinking over following the sound bite, the slogan, and the other ways we are impelled to simplistic thinking rather than true critical thinking which gets to the heart of matters.
Cool thing was, when I broached this topic with the student who was accused of being a bully, she felt sad and remorseful. She had not considered that her behavior could be perceived that way. She took it upon herself to apologize to her scene partner. Class goes on without a hitch as the kids sort through growing up today.
Continue with Part 5 HERE