Let’s Make Kind the New Cool

Let’s Make Kind the New Cool

Here at Core Therapy, our team is passionate about supporting individuals to thrive. We see first-hand the negative impact of bullying experiences. The rise of anxiety, depression, isolation, suicidal ideation and completion as a direct result of bullying is extremely concerning in our community. It is our intention at Core Therapy to create a positive community based cultural change in bullying towards creating a culture of compassion and kindness.

The Neuroscience of Bullying

Neuroscientists now know that the human brain continues to grow and change long after the first years of life. Being bullied by one’s peers leads to reduced connectivity in the brain, in addition to impairing the growth of new neurons. High levels of Cortisol (neurological stress chemical) can damage and destroy neurons, especially in the hippocampal region. The hippocampus is the part of your brain responsible for consolidating information – transferring it from short term memory to long term memory. Damaging neurons in the hippocampus can lead to memory issues making school and learning more difficult.

Research has shown that bullying can impair neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons). These neurological scars have been found to closely resemble those presented in children who are physically and sexually abused in early childhood. The psychological symptoms and impacts; as well as the internal physiological damage evident as a result of bullying indicate that bullying is not a rite of passage for our young people – it is a serious form of childhood trauma.

How can Community Kindness and Compassion Build Connection and Belonging to Prevent Bullying?

Community and Belonging

To create meaningful social change we need to build loyalty, strengthen identity and live out shared interests and values in our community. Community is a group of individuals who share a mutual concern for one another’s welfare. When we see that others are concerned about our own welfare, we’ll invest more in building community with them, and we’ll feel more connected. Tribes are people who share certain values even if they’re in different places or aren’t connected yet. These values may show up in shared interests, activities, or life choices. Tribes want to be connected. They want to be around people who understand them. The tribe can come together in our community to create this positive social change.

Experiencing belonging – knowing where and with whom you belong – is integral to human existence. We belong first to a family, a cultural group, a neighbourhood and a wider community. Belonging acknowledges our interdependence with others and the basis of relationships in defining identities. In childhood, and throughout life, relationships are crucial to a sense of belonging.

Whatever your experience has been in the community, it’s not the end of the story. Communities can grow and change. A thriving community is a place where each person experiences belonging by feeling safe, cared for and respected; and supported to develop who they are.

Community Kindness and Compassion Creating Connection

Compassion is mostly defined as “feeling with another, being sensitive to the suffering of self and others with a deep commitment to try and prevent it or relieve it. True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.” Of course, developing this kind of compassion is not easy! We should begin by removing the greatest hindrances to compassion: anger and hatred. As we all know, these are extremely powerful emotions and they can overwhelm our entire mind. Nevertheless, they can be controlled. If, however, they are not, these negative emotions will plague us – with no extra effort on their part! – and impede our quest for compassion.

Compassion doesn’t mean accepting the bullying behavior. It does mean accepting the child who engages in it. A child who bullies also needs support for a culture change to happen. Those who bully are usually shamed and judged by others. That punitive kind of response deprives them of opportunities to understand themselves and to learn about their own needs. They need compassionate friends and adults who can help them understand why they are choosing this behavior, and what they can do instead.

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

Compassionate community approaches find ways to gain a deeper understanding of what causes bullying in the first place, and what can be done to restore trust once bullying has happened. Punishment does not restore trust. We are human beings and we are going to have a sense of compassion for this person that we harmed, once we have a chance to see how our actions made them feel.

Being kind and compassionate are core skills that shape connections and relationships between people, and help to create caring communities. These positive human qualities help us make and keep friends, understand others’ feelings and behaviours, respond to others’ feelings in an appropriate way, and be emotionally connected with the people around us.

Kindness starts with each one of us as individuals. Daily acts of kindness inspire people to become good citizens, but more importantly, to create a kinder, more loving, and accepting world. Endorphins are one of the four primary chemicals in the brain that are attributed to happiness, commonly known as the happy chemicals. The other three are dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. When your brain releases any one of these chemicals you feel good. Although each of these chemicals plays a different role in happiness, all are increased by random acts of kindness. Encourage random acts of kindness.

Kindness is considered to be the psychological opposite to bullying or victimization. Scientific studies suggest there are many physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental health benefits associated with kindness, many of which are caused by the happy chemicals. The boost in happiness from an act of kindness occurs not only in the giver and receiver of kindness, but everyone who witnesses it, resulting in ongoing positive ripple effects.

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” – Bob Kerrey

Compassionate Restorative Practices as a Community

All humans are hardwired to connect. Just as we need food, shelter and clothing, human beings also need strong and meaningful relationships to thrive. Compassionate restorative practices require a collaborative whole of community approach. The aim of compassionate restorative practices is to develop community and proactively manage conflict and tensions by repairing harm and building relationships. Human relationships are best and healthiest when there is free expression of affect or emotion – minimizing the negative and maximizing the positive.

A “circle” is a versatile restorative practice that can be used proactively, to develop relationships and build community. Circles give people an opportunity to speak and listen to one another in an atmosphere of safety, dignity and equality. It is our hope that together we can create these circles in our community setting to support compassionate restorative practices. Systematic use of compassionate restorative practices including communication of feelings, how behaviour is affecting others, reflections, problem solving and solutions has a cumulative impact and creates an environment that consistently fosters awareness, empathy and responsibility in a way that is likely to be far more effective in achieving a compassionate community environment than current reliance on punishment and exclusion. Schools, therapists, young people and parents cannot do this alone, this requires collaboration as a community.

Where to from here?

In our lives we are bombarded by images which glorify violence even as we are warned against it. We are provided with fewer and fewer avenues for loving connection with others. It is not cool to express affection, whether for teens in school or for all of us at work, for example. What can we do to increase the overall kindness of our culture? How can we provide children, whether bullied, witnesses, or current and former bullies, with avenues to explore their true human needs and develop strategies to meet them that are embedded in human relationships? We need to hear our young people’s voices, the voices of our educators, the voices of our parents and the voices of our community to create this change – together, let’s make kind the new cool.

Please join us for our community forum on 11th April 2018 from 7pm at the Busselton Youth Precinct, 1 Scout Road, Busselton to be part of this positive change in our community.

(Note: physical violence or assault is not bullying, it is a crime)

Rochelle Randles
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