In the first of this series, Cyberbullying: The H1N1 of Technology — Causation, a Professional Perspective from BehavioralHealthCentral.com, we examined several causal factors of cyberbullying. Although the issue is extremely complex, three social norms were explored as being strong contributors to the rampant spread of this technological virus:
1. The anonymity of technology. Because of the lack of human connection afforded to us by the various technological devices, we have become detached from one another and desensitized to the disastrous effects our words or actions have on one another.
2. The moral vacuum created by technology. Because of society’s obligation to weigh the rights versus the responsibilities that accompany our technological
advances, we often times find ourselves frantically trying to put a legal bandage on the injuries or attempting to contain the consequences created by that very
3. The empowered persona behind the technology. Because of the ease of accessibility to influence, infiltrate, and impose one’s belief system and behavior onto
a vast audience, a new identity has formed and developed which is entitled, inflated, and narcissistic. Ironically, it is a powerful voice that is consistently reinforced by the very audience it seeks to offend.
Although there is excellent research being done on this topic and there are now many organizations, websites, and legal channels from which to challenge the viral wave of abuse circulating through our social networking devices, until we are willing to vaccinate ourselves with new behaviors, we will find ourselves chasing after a bandit that is far beyond our capture. In order to boost our immune systems, we must cleanse ourselves of the beliefs and assumptions which have sustained harmful social norms, and we must infuse ourselves with doses of interpersonal antidotes which will support healthier ways of human interaction.
Let’s examine three implications for intervention.
• The vaccine of being present.
• The vaccine of being available.
• The vaccine of being similar.
The vaccine of being present
As we become more and more dependent on our social networking devices for fulfilling our relational needs, we disconnect and detach from human interaction. This anonymity serves us well to some degree. However, the more we interact with a device, the more self-focused we become and we are further conditioned to respond to what we are feeling, not another human being. Thus, when we consistently remove ourselves from face to face contact, we lose the ability to be present for one another. When we are present for another being, we can experience the feelings and emotions of another, and we develop empathy for him/her. When we are able to empathize with another human being, we strengthen our personal connection to that individual and we lessen or weaken the capacity to detach from him/her. In other words, being present helps us to inoculate ourselves against being indifferent.
How then, do we move from a norm which fuels and feeds anonymity to one that nourishes human connection?
• We start by talking about being indifferent.
Whether it is in a classroom, workplace, home or any kind of socially appropriate setting, we must set time aside to talk about the disconnect that is taking place among individuals in our society. We must examine why it is occurring, and we absolutely must uncover what we stand to gain in reversing this trend.
• We start by introducing or reintroducing being present into our lives.
We must set aside periods of time within our schedules, programs, or curriculums to practice being present for one another. Communication exercises that include active listening, empathic reflective listening, and role playing need to be implemented. Participants need to put away all technology for designated periods of time and participate in consistent planned activities which allow them to experience person to person contact and the wonder of connecting with another individual. Spending time processing the benefits and effects of these exercises is an important post activity.
• We begin by not accepting that the only dominant way to communicate with others is through technology.
We, as parents, teachers, leaders, facilitators, and organizers, must model effective communication strategies and tools that do not include technology and/or that condone its dependence. Organizational structures such as staff meetings, group discussions, classroom activities, or workshops or trainings must include practices such as small group process, one on one exchanges, and pairing – sharing exercises. Providing ongoing opportunities to engage in face to face contact will increase its chances of taking hold.
• We begin by making time to experience the art of being present.
We, those of us in any kind of leadership or guidance position, must make it a priority to schedule specific periods of time for non-technological social or professional activities. We must be the ones to demonstrate the value of making time for one another by creating an environment which facilitates its implementation. Daily or weekly syllabi, schedules, or meetings must include designated notification of such activities and of their required attendance. In order to make being present a valued social norm, we must expect it from ourselves; we must not accept anything less.
The vaccine of being available
While we wait for the legislative and judicial processes to catch up with and attempt to contain the viral spread of cyber bulling and while more victims fall prey to the attacks of perpetual perpetrators, we have in our grasp another powerful vaccine. It is the vaccine of being available. In a society where the social norm often times favors rights over responsibilities, many have succumbed to the belief that it is not my problem, or there is really nothing I can do about it, or what can one person do anyway? And, although there are many individuals who would step up and intervene, not knowing what to do or what might be effective inhibits them from doing so.
Thus, how do we move from a norm that has conditioned us to release ourselves from the responsibility of being there for another human being who is in trouble or hurting to one that urges us to be available and to act intimately and personally on the behalf of another?
• We start by sharing our experiences.
We must set aside time to dialogue about our experiences of helping one another. We need to hear from those who have been rescued, supported, and encouraged and what they felt. We also need to hear from those who were willing to reach out to those in need and how that event impacted them. By sharing our experiences and how they connected us, we acknowledge our need for interdependence and we begin to validate the process openly.
• We start by adults modeling being available.
Adults, or any individual in a position of power, leadership, control or influence must make known that they are willing and able to be of assistance to any individual in need of help. Recent studies have shown that students prefer to turn to adults for help, but many feel they have no available advocate. Teachers, leaders, counselors, etc. need to make audiences aware of their willingness to have confidential person to person conversations, dialogues, or meetings. Posting office hours, contact information, or having an open door policy helps to remove inhibitions or barriers for those seeking help.
• We begin by learning to reach out and trust certain individuals.
In a society where it has become more and more difficult to trust one another, those of us in positions of trust must prove we are worthy of being trusted. For the most part, our reputations tend to speak for themselves but at other times, we must prove that we are an available ally. For those who have been or are being injured, they must be encouraged to speak up and disclose their experiences. When possible, we should be ready with referrals or recommendations for those seeking help. Mostly, we can live by example showing that we are a reliable refuge for anyone searching for a trusted confidante.
• We begin by demonstrating that there is value and importance in being counted on.
We need to let others know that we stand strong in our defense and protection of those who are bullied.
We must be steadfast in our commitment to fighting this virus on every front that we can. We must follow through with what we say we will do and when we will do it. In a time where loyalty is a foreign friend, we can become the companion who is counted on. Although it may be impossible to contain the cruelty of cyberbullying, we can counter it with a force of courageous compassion and potent infusions of advocacy and alliance. Speak up; speak out; and speak now.
The vaccine of being similar
For many years, we have been a culture that has moved towards a norm where there is more tolerance of one another and more acceptance of our differences, and we have learned to acknowledge the uniqueness and specialness of one another. In our best moments, we have celebrated the diversity of our nation and bettered ourselves because of it. Tragically, with the advancements of technology and the social wave of entitlement and self- inflated sense of voice, we have taken on personas that seek to divide instead of unite, and we have acted out in ways through social networking that creates a culture of public humiliation and degradation. It is only in extreme crises such as 911, or Katrina, or Haiti that we feel a short lived surge of unity and togetherness, allowing common threads of vulnerability and humanity to take hold of us and move us in unison toward a compassionate response. It is during these critical times that we open our minds and our hearts to the human truth that the vaccine which will inoculate us against the divisive brutality on the internet is within us. We recognize that although we are each different and unique, at our core we know the truth of being similar.
How, then, do we move from a norm that has facilitated the development a false persona of empowerment, entitlement, and endangerment to one of compassionate respect and regard for one another?
• We can start a dialogue which reinforces our sameness.
As we spend time sharing our injurious experiences with one another, we need to identify the commonalities of those experiences. While drawing upon the familiar themes of the human spirit – its fragility, its endurance and its resilience – we can create connections between and among us that have lain dormant. Drawing from specific personal examples, we must emphasize that all of humanity shares in the basic needs of respect, dignity, and regard. By allocating time and opportunity to experience these healing dialogues, we make room for the waves of togetherness to wash away the toxins of separation and singleness. We must not wait any longer; the cyber bullies are relentless in spreading apathy and ambivalence. Let our words combat complacency; let our actions fuel the curative energies which draw us together. Let us do this now.
• We can start by learning from examples where similarities pulled us together.
In our dialogues, we not only need to claim past well-known examples of human togetherness (911, Katrina, Haiti), but we must acknowledge the everyday heroic deeds of one another. Within our own communities, organizations, schools, and homes, spending time affirming and validating the behaviors that exemplify unity rather than division are paramount. When we acknowledge the brave actions of those who stood between a bully and a victim, who prevented a private image from being launched on the internet, who stopped a vicious email from going viral, or who walked away from a potential harmful act, we negate the notion that it is his/her problem – it is not mine. When we learn how easy it is to become a victim, how bullies can turn against anyone in an instant, and how loyal friends disappear quickly when we need them, we become more aware that our belief in the statement it will never happen to me- I am different can easily be shattered. Sharing our common experiences allows us to connect with one another and to bond more deeply because we see ourselves in one another. We must share our personal stories; we must share them often. All of us must be willing to listen, to learn, and to value how similar we really are.
• We can begin by taking a thorough inventory of our attitudes and beliefs and by challenging ourselves to move from positions of singularity to those of plurality.
Having a conversation about compassionate respect and regard for one another is a critical beginning; however, it is up to each of us to take an honest inventory of our own attitudes and beliefs. Real change can take hold when we acknowledge our deficits and when we are willing to redefine ourselves through adopting new ways of being. Although this process can be very complex, we can start by examining our motives and asking ourselves if what we say and do is beneficial for others as well as for ourselves. Are we inclusive in our thinking and feeling, or do we tend to exclude others from our position or stance. Are we concerned only about ourselves or our group, or do consider others as well? Simply put, do we navigate from a position of being better than others and thus more entitled or do we view others as our equals? Each of us must self –assess; each of us must make changes in our attitudes and beliefs. Move slowly , but keep moving towards a spirit of compassion. Daily, check your words; check your behaviors – are they healing or hurting others? Keep growing; keep stretching; let the vaccine of being similar take over and pull you towards a spirit of one.
• We can begin by moving away from self-focused behaviors to other- focused actions.
Once we have identified our deficiencies in singular thinking and feeling and we have adopted more inclusive thought processes, we can begin implementing actions which move us away from self-focused behaviors. Moving against societal norms which encourage self-gratification at all costs will not be easy, but each time we serve another, stand strong in support of a victim, or rescue an injured individual, we will experience immeasurable fulfillment and joy. Challenging societal norms which value the voices of self-inflated and entitled anonymous identities will indeed be an enormous undertaking, but each word that is spoken in defense of injured soul or each voice that fights against the degradation of another human being will lessen the potency of the H1N1 of technology – cyberbullying. Begin a little at a time but start looking for opportunities to serve, to help, to speak up. Daily, reach out to someone, even in a small way. You may be the only hero that person ever sees. Don’t stop; keep giving and doing. We must be strong; we must not waver in our commitment to being other focused. We must make a conscious effort to infect humanity with a new virus – compassionate respect and regard for one another. Most importantly, we must start now.
Most importantly, we must start now.
In conclusion, while our legal and judicial systems are desperately attempting to curb and contain the ongoing destruction created in the wake of cyberbullying, we have at our disposal three effective vaccines: being present, being available, and being similar. We have these powerful antidotes within us; they cost nothing but our time and our attention. By drawing upon the inherent compassion of the human spirit, both individually and collectively, we not only bring healing to the hurting but we inoculate ourselves from contagious social norms largely responsible for the spread of the H1N1 virus of technology. As we slowly experience the transfusion of healthier interpersonal social norms infiltrate and cultivate our ways of being, we can replenish our spirits, we can reclaim our truths, and we can rebuild our lives – together.
About the Author: Holli Kenley holds a Masters Degree in Psychology and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California. While interning in a women’s shelter, Kenley first became interested in the treatment of abuse, trauma, addiction, grief/loss and betrayal. Kenley went on to work in a large faith-based counseling center before moving into private practice where she continued treating individuals, couples, and families with a range of issues and disorders. She is the author of two books: Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within (January 2010 – Loving Healing Press) and The PMS Puzzle (1993 – Joy Publishing). You can learn more about Kenley on her website – www.hollikenley.com – or write to her directly at holli@hollikenley. com for more information.