When I was in school, there was a common rhyme we used to say: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt me.”
As adults, we realize how wrong that was. Words are powerful: they have the power to lift people up, shower them with love, help during hard times, and create an atmosphere and culture in which people can thrive. They also have the power to tear people down, show hate and create a vitriolic atmosphere. In my 46 years, I rarely see people who, as a habit, use both. I have also discovered that it is a learned behavior. Our kids copy what we do, who we are and what we say.
We have wonderful service organizations in our community and people who care deeply. I am fortunate to be a member of Kiwanis and Rotary. Both are always looking for ways to lift people up, and each has its positive ways of opening the meetings. For example, the Rotarians recite a mantra at the start of each meeting.
This mantra was established in 1942 and is a four-way test for ethical behavior:
• Is it the truth?
• Is it fair to all concerned?
• Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
• Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Lucky for us, the Rotarians and Kiwanians have service organizations in our schools that teach these things. They are developing our community and world leaders of tomorrow in conjunction with our schools.
This test is the opposite of “bully” behavior. Bullying behavior can be recognized when three things are present: 1. a mismatch of power; 2. continuous and ongoing; 3. abuse that is divided into four areas of emotional, verbal, physical, and/or cyber. When all three are present we know that is bullying.
We are constantly fighting this type of behavior in our schools. We work hard to address it when it is happening. We’re not perfect, but it is always on the forefront of our minds. The truth is that bullying was worse “back in the day.” The difference is that we were quoted the “sticks-and-stones” rhyme and were given no real tools to deal with it. It wasn’t in the media and we figured that was just the way life was. I am so thankful that we have come so far since then. We still have a ways to go.
Thanks to the past 10-15 years, we have a whole new kind of bullying to deal with: cyber bullying. We work hard to fight this in our schools, but I see it almost daily from the adults in our society. Bullying or bully behavior has become too easy. All you have to do is hide behind a keyboard and let it rip. We have adults who have become very good at it on social media yet we rarely call it what it is: bullying. Often, there is a mismatch of power, it is continuous and it is abusive. I’m betting many of you who are on different social media platforms can pick it out. We can do better.
I have chosen to only spend time with people who will lift others up. They are jewels! If all of us would be those who lift others up, speak the truth with kindness and make our actions and words beneficial, imagine the message that would send to our kids. I am so excited for our community because I am seeing it start to happen. More people are deciding to be a positive part of our community. Those who choose to bully or continually demonstrate bully behavior are being recognized and ignored at an increasing rate.
Thank you to the vast majority of our community who are living examples of the “Golden Rule.” You are taking the first step in doing and saying the right thing continually! The quicker we eliminate bullying behavior and words, the greater our community and schools will become. “Sticks and stones may break our bones but words, they pierce to the heart — good or bad.”
Steve Woolf is the Superintendent for the Woodland Park School District. Go to wpsdk12.org to watch “Woolf Weekly,” a message from Mr. Woolf to our community.