Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bullying...A Writing Prompt for our Wednesday Writing Workout

Breaking News:

April's poem, "When Mom Plays Just for Me" appears on Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt's homepage

Howdy Campers!

Remember to enter our current giveaway of Alexis O'Neill's book, The Kite That Bridged Two Nations ~

Welcome to another edition of TeachingAuthors'...

Okay...raise your hand if you've never been bullied.

Yeah, me, too.

Mary Ann kicked off our discussion on bullying for National Bullying Month (who knew?) with a deeply affecting post, I Wonder What Happened to Todd: A Bully's Tale.

Bullies I've known remind me of turtles: mostly they stay in their civilized shells, and then, without warning, they stretch their heads out and snap off someone's finger.

I had to chair a meeting of a non-profit organization this weekend to decide what we were going to do about a member who is a bully.

I'll call our guy Bluto.  Bluto, like the turtle, was usually friendly--he'd come early to set-up chairs, help collect dues, etc.  Every once in a while, though, he'd explode at someone shy, someone weak, someone Not Important.  In the latest incident, the atmosphere in our meeting was so toxic, people felt afraid for their safety.  Things had clearly gone too far.

Attending a meeting to figure out how to handle Bluto was not on the top of my list of fun things to do on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Ahead of this would have been eating a porcupine, finding out my father was a single-celled alga, and staying in bed all day.  

Staying in bed all day--
a great alternative to being a grown-up...

In preparation for this meeting, I spoke at length with an expert on disruptive behavior.  I learned:
1) Bullies pick on people who are weaker than they are.
2) You need to stand up to a bully.
3) Be empathetic.
4) Create clear boundaries.

I can always use a good script.  She gave me words to use (or not):

We need you to take a time out from our organization for six months. This is the natural consequence of your actions. We hope you understand. This is also hard for us.  We're saddened. We hope you will use the next six months to work on this.  At the end of six months, if you chose to come back (and we hope you do) we hope you'll have taken the opportunity to work on this.  We'll meet with you and talk with you before you come back to a meeting.  We hope you do work it out.  People are afraid of you and you need to look at that. If you cannot, boy, we're sure going to miss you.  This is a great loss for us. (Hug him.)

At the end of six months, here's what's expected: Civility. You can't yell. You can't create a threat. You need to listen.

Interestingly enough, during the meeting on what to do about Bluto, Mary Kate shot out an angry comment. At that moment I realized that I'm as afraid of Mary Kate as I am of Bluto.  I remembered what I had learned from the expert, took a deep breath and said, "Could you not speak so angrily to me?"

Mary Kate's response was dramatic.  She looked at me in surprise--almost as if I had awakened her from a dream.  She apologized. During the rest of the meeting she was kinder to all of us than she'd ever been.

Amazing how that works.  And that sense that I awakened a bully from a dream?  That's sometimes how I feel when I eat too much...suddenly I wake up and say, "Whoa!  I think we're finished with lunch!"

I wouldn't be surprised if bullying behavior was an addiction, like smoking, drinking, overeating, compulsive spending, hoarding, etc.  Hmm.

So, today's Wednesday Writing Workout focuses on 2013 National Bullying Month's theme, The end of bullying begins with me.

Here's your writing workout:
1) Who is a bully?  Choose Bluto (of the Popeye fame),someone who once bullied you, or someone who intimidates you today.

2) Pretend that bully is in front of you now.  Jot down how you feel or how you felt as a child facing that bully.  Include details of the place, smells, physical sensations (has your stomach turned to acid? Are your palms sweaty?).  Include weather, background noises you hear or can't hear because you're so frightened, what gives you courage or how you ate a box of cookies later to blot out the fear.

4) Now: make a boundary.  Write what you wish you could have said to the bully.  Scribble to your heart's content. Be annoyed.  Be angry.  Be clear.  Tell that bully to BACK OFF!

5) That's your raw material.  Now go ahead and write the bully story or poem you really, really really need to write.

P.S: I'm pleased that one of my poems appears in the terrific book, THE BULLY, THE BULLIED, THE BYSTANDER, THE BRAVE edited by David Booth and Larry Swartz (Rubicon Publishing)

Thank you for stopping by today! 

Remember to go to this blog post for the Book Giveaway details for The Kite That Bridged Two Nations.  And g'luck!Alexis, by the way, is also the author of a wonderful picture book about a bully, The Recess Queen.
~ posted by April Halprin Wayland who is no longer afraid of Tom P, from second grade.


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks for sharing your story of an adult bully, April, and for this great writing workout.
Congrats regarding your poem appearing on the Children's Poet Laureate site AND another in the anti-bullying collection. You are one BUSY TA!

Author Amok said...

This is a great post, April. (Hi, Carmela!) There's been so much focus on bullying in schools, but more attention needs to be paid to the ways adults bully.