Friday, 16 November 2012

Perhaps we can end bullying by "educating the hearts of children"


Bullying, we know, is not just a word used in a newspaper headline.  Nor is it something that just happens to someone else we’ve read about.  At some point in our lives we’ve all been there, on one side or the other of it: a schoolyard taunt that took teasing a step too far, a wisecrack intended to cause a laugh around the water cooler that instead brought tears, or the feeling that you’ve been completely forsaken by people you thought were your friends because for no reason that makes sense they’ve ganged up against you.  The moment may pass, or it may not.  What lingers is the aftertaste of shame, and the feeling that we can and should be better people.  Bullying, in other words, is about all of us.

When bullying becomes a public issue, and it certainly has in British Columbia for the past few weeks, the public asks what can be done to “stop” it.  One of the most poignant statements I remember hearing in the immediate aftermath of the tragic death of Amanda Todd was that there ought to be a law against bullying.  Well, it’s the way we are these days, I guess.  That we think we can stop a problem by asking someone else  to make or enforce more or better rules.

But surely if we really want to “stop” bullying, we’re all of us just going to have learn how to treat each other (and ourselves) with dignity and respect.  I said “learn” because there’s more to this than just hand-wringing and wanting to be a better person.  There are things we can do to help us develop the attributes and skills of compassion and resilience that are needed to flourish in a world filled with other people, and in doing so, to prevent bullying.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has a phrase for this.  He calls it “heart-mind” learning.  At the Vancouver Peace Summit in 2009, he asked those in attendance this question: “How can we educate the hearts of children?”  It’s not a religious or a political question.  It’s a question for all of us. Finding the answer to that question lies at the core of the work of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, established in Vancouver in 2005.

What the Dalai Lama calls “heart-mind” learning is called social and emotional learning by education researchers.  Increasingly, those researchers are discovering that there are education practices that can help children build resilience and socially responsible skills and attitudes that nurture the development of empathy, confidence, compassion, trust, acceptance of differences, and respect.  All of which helps prevent harmful behaviours such as bullying.

It’s not just about learning to be nice.  What is perhaps even more important is that this research is proving that social and emotional learning improves academic outcomes in school children.  The largest ever meta-analysis involving 213 school-based programs and 270,000 kindergarten to Grade 12 students showed that programs to educate the heart improved student academic performance by at least 10 percentile points on achievement tests.  The power of that research is causing public education officials here in B.C. and around the world to incorporate social and emotional learning into formal curriculum goals.

The Dalai Lama Center works to advance efforts in BC to provide all children and youth with environments - in schools, families and communities - that enable and foster heart-mind learning.  The work is organized through four streams of programs and activities:  to educate, convene, research and advise.  I could say that is what “we” do because recently I had the opportunity to join the distinguished group of people who are the DLC’s board of trustees.

This work matters to me because, having spent much of my working life as a lawyer and politician trying to repair or patch together what has been broken by our failure to treat ourselves and each other with real respect and compassion, the DLC work is about, if you will, getting it right in the first place.  The ounce of prevention that will reduce the need for the pound of cure.

I could go on at length about the DLC’s work but the fact is that this information is only a click away: dalailamacenter.org.

It’s important work.  It’s a bold endeavour.  As Dr. Daniel Siegel, author of the bestseller Mindsight has said, “You can make the argument that the future of the planet depends on raising compassionate children.”  But it’s not something happening somewhere else or to someone else.  It’s right here in our own backyard.  Earlier this week, Premier Christy Clark referred to the work of the Dalai Lama Center in her wonderful speech at the ERASE bullying conference.

I encourage you to have a look at the DLC’s website.  It’s one of those “you, too, can make a difference” opportunities.  Because while the Dalai Lama endowed the centre with a mission, it has no financial endowment beyond the contributions of donors.  We are a small organization with mighty ambitions.  We would be most grateful for your support.  And maybe with this work, and all the other work we need to do, we can truly make a difference in they way we treat each other.

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