On May 24, I attended my first Doylestown Human Relations Commission meeting. I am so glad I went. The program “Step Up, So Others Won’t Get Stepped On!” was an anti-bullying forum with panelists from the NAACP, NOVA, The Peace Center, American School Counselor Association, and the Suicide Prevention hotline.
What I really enjoyed about the seminar is that the panelists provided actionable steps to prevent bullying. They described “catching kids doing something right.”
An “upstander” is someone that will sit with the lonely kid, or stand up for a kid when others are picking on them. It reminds me of the buddy bench at Doyle Elementary School, where you sit if you feel lonely, and then other kids can sit and befriend you. I also think it’s empowering because it is often easier to stand up for someone else than for yourself.
The panelists described some good practices to address bullying. When it happens, you need to be responsive. It is not a one-and-done, but a process. Community support and human interaction help a lot. One of the panelists pointed out that bullying prevention starts at home and that parents are the most important relationship a child has. People cheered. And it makes sense. I always tell my own kids, when someone is mean to them, to consider that the bully likely has something bad going on in their own life. Try to feel compassion for them.
It was hard to hear some of the stories. One of the panelists spoke about how their kids were called “dirty” based on the color of their skin. They also made a good point about PAYS (a student survey used to gauge their take on alcohol, tobacco, drugs and violence) and how while they may show a low percentage of bullying, the bullying may be concentrated amongst certain groups and thus be 100% for them. The panelists said school closures significantly and adversely affected youth mental health — there was a 30 percent increase in anxiety and 20 percent in depression – and these were just the adults. Who knows how bad it is for the kids?
What was clear is that most people want to help. It was also clear that many adults in the room and their children have been hurt. They have felt bullied for a variety of reasons, including race, sexuality, and politics. There was a pointed political question about how a person can run for office when they have themselves bullied others. It was an especially provocative question, as the point was made multiple times that bullies nearly always have power over their victims.
Many felt the need to be vindicated that the schools were not completely open for too long. I believe it is important to acknowledge all of these stories, to let each person “feel seen,” regardless of your own views or feelings. Because without that we cannot grow and move forward as a society. Even if you don’t agree with them, even if they have done you wrong, be the bigger person and acknowledge their feelings. This makes the world a better place.
I really loved what one mom said, about how she likes one kind of music, but her daughter enjoys a whole different genre. And the only reason she learned about it was because they had friends of a different background who exposed her to it. Which reminds me of that time my crazy friend took a bunch of us to a death metal concert, but that’s a different story….
The best comment of the night was an observation that everyone is overwhelmingly nice and helpful at the Wawa.
At first the participants thought the statement was about the workers, but the person clarified it was about the customers. “When you go in and out through the doors, everyone is always so gracious and willing to hold the door open for the next person.” One of the panelists pointed out that the lack of automated doors at Wawa was an intentional business decision, to in fact encourage this kind of positive behavior.
This makes me wonder as an engineer and problem-fixer, what similar hacks can we do to engender people to be nicer to each other?
One more highlight is that I got a chance to talk to people from the “other side” and I found the vast majority of them to be nice people, genuine and warm. I hope to see many of them at the next meeting.
Aarati Martino, of Doylestown Township, is running for Central Bucks School Board in Region 6.