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Can Bullying Survive In the Presence of Empathy and Kindness?

By May 18, 2010 No Comments

Is empathy teachable? Is happiness contagious?

Two articles: USA Weekend and Time Magazine say yes to both.

That’s good news. It means hope for overwhelmed schools and frustrated parents but most of all, worthy kids.

As reported in USA Weekend:

When people benefit from kindness, they “pay it forward,” which creates greater cooperation that influences others in a social network, say researchers Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard University, and James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California-San Diego. Findings were published in March in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Christakis and Fowler also have found happiness, loneliness and obesity to be contagious.

Did you hear that? Loneliness is contagious. And that’s what bullying does.

But so is happiness. And that’s what we can build by “paying it forward.” Imagine the lives that can be changed by including the excluded.

This week’s Time Magazine article “How to Deprogram Bullies: Kindness 101” is also a must read.

“When kids are able to watch an interaction that’s empathic, empathy isn’t just being taught; it’s being demonstrated,” says Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA.

Here’s a tip: leadership programs where the primary focus is for older kids to teach younger ones about respect, kindness and expectations for good behavior. It works for a lot of reasons. Often, these are lessons that older kids have forgotten and by becoming the teacher, they have to step up their game. It’s also important to enlist the help of older kids because, quite honestly, sometimes younger kids listen to student mentors more than to adults. Younger kids in general seem to want to impress their “cool teachers.”

(Like anything, it’s not always perfect, though. Recently during a leadership session, a 7th grade boy was shocked when a pint-sized kid socked him. He yelled, “I’ve just been bullied! This is not supposed to happen!” Rome wasn’t built in a day.)

Leadership programs take commitment but not a lot of money. Try it. Demonstrating empathy is a good way to go.

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