By Anne Collier
The use of kindness as a conscious, very effective grassroots solution to bullying is picking up steam. Where youth are concerned, sometimes the kindness is purely their idea, such as the kind intervention of two high school upperclassmen that sparked Canada’s Pink Shirt Day and students’ anti-bullying countermeasures in Iowa in 2012. Other times the impetus comes from teachers and school officials supporting student leaders. Here are three examples, two on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, of the latter….
- TBK in Florida. Short for “To Be Kind,” TBK started three years ago with the help of award-winning educator Adam Sherman, when he was teaching a Leadership class. In this blog post about it by professor, author and Cyberbullying Researh Center co-founder Sameer Hinduja, Sherman gives some background as well as some insight into why it’s hard sometimes for students to go from being bystanders to upstanders. But look at the creative way he and his students came up with “TBK,” as described by the students: “After a long class discussion, someone suggested using social media as a way to help solve the bullying problem rather than make it worse. We decided to use the already trending idea of “tbh” (to be honest), where users on Facebook can like someone’s status and then receive an honest statement from him or her. Using the same format, we changed the idea to “to be kind.” Users still take part by liking a post on someone’s page. Then the original poster is supposed to give a compliment or write words of kindness on the wall of whoever liked the status. To Be Kind, or TBK, is a simple idea: Treat others as you would wish to be treated. Every one of us possesses the ability to be kind. This simplicity is the answer to preventing bullying.” I so agree.
- #icanhelp in California. Started by high school Leadership teacher Matt Soeth and middle school phys ed teacher Kim Karr in northern California, #icanhelp is pretty self-explanatory – and viral. As Matt put it in an email, “Our mission is all about empowering and enabling students to respond and combat negativity in their lives and in social media. We have done well in California [and] we have a few places we have reached out to back east in South Carolina, Tennessee, and upstate New York. We will be in Canada [this] fall. Most of our workshops/trainings are through teachers we have gotten to know in our work as leadership advisors.” But they only sort of started this program. “Almost by accident,” Matt and Kim “stumbled across kids behaving positively and supporting other kids online. When we asked them why they stood up for other students we were told it was because of conversations in school about what to do when negative posts/comments are made,” Matt explained to me by email. So they play a supporting and bridging role – bridging the program over summer vacations, providing continuity as students graduate and helping to promote the program at other schools and among adult peers (Kim’s got 12 school assemblies lined up for the coming year already). You can find icanhelp – and help from them – on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Here’s an article about #icanhelp in the Huffington Post by Internet safety activist Sue Scheff.
- “Cybercivility” in Maryland. It was a superintendent of schools who rallied everybody in his district to think and act with more “cybercivility.” According to the Washington Post, Supt. Joshua Starr had been “zinged with offensive tweets as he and other district officials weighed whether to close schools for snow and icy weather” last winter. He told the Post this wasn’t particularly new, but he felt “the December batch hit a new low point. So he started a task force of students, parents, educators, law enforcement people and nonprofit and community leaders that started meeting last spring. I’ll be watching the Post for coverage of what comes out of this work.
- OneGoodThing(s) all over the world. We ConnectSafely folk started the OneGoodThing campaign last winter for Safer Internet Day (SID), a global awareness campaign started by the European Commission and Europe’s INSAFE Network more than a decade old and now celebrated in more than 100 countries (ConnectSafely, which I co-direct, was last year designated US coordinator of SID activities by INSAFE). The theme this past year was “Let’s Create a Better Internet Together.” We wanted to support that, of course, but take it a step further, make it a little less aspirational, since we all know people already making the Internet, not to mention the world, a better place using connected media. So we created OneGoodThing to showcase examples of good things big and small that people are doing – just like each act of kindness incited and supported by programs like the above. We hope you, too, will contribute to making kindness go viral by sharing one good thing you’ve witnessed or done yourself online – just click here and share away, with a little selfie video or a text or a tweet or a phone message, whatever works for you.
Why is all this so effective, as I mentioned above? Two reasons: 1) They engage people in something affects them personally, something directly related to their immediate social experience and everyday lives, and 2) they bear out the social norms research, which says that changing perception changes behavior – engaging people in an attitude, approach or activity that reflects the values of their social group, especially if presented in an infectious joyful way, makes them want to join in (see this). Or you could just say they’re collectively killing it … with kindness.
- This compassion activism is not new. Other examples are mentioned and linked to in my 2012 post: “‘Compassion mobs’ & other digital-age nonviolence stands”
- “Smart students’ countermeasures for social media safety”
- “Student bullying-prevention activist, leaders, mentors”
- You’ll find many more examples in Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral, a book for teens by the founders of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Profs. Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja.