Answer the following questions. What is the opposite of “up?” What is the opposite of “left?” What is the opposite of “hot?” What is the opposite of “bullying?” Ah, that one is not so easy.
There is not one word that classifies as an antonym for bullying. There are many words, such as caring, encouraging, assisting, and polite, to name just a few. While bullying is aggressively and positively addressed in schools, it tends to be a “damage control” type of policy. There are clear steps to take once bullying occurs. But, the real problem is culturally determined, which we are not sufficiently addressing.
We are quick to criticize others, judge others, categorize people, complain, and get angry. We also tend to be competitive with others in an unhealthy way where someone has to lose or feel inadequate. It’s not only outright negativity that promotes a culture of bullying. Even the neutrality of saying nothing in the way of compliments, acts of kindness, and helping others contributes to both an adult and a youth bullying culture. Consider the two following vignettes.
When my daughter was 17 years old she needed to take her car in for servicing. She had never done so before so she asked me a lot of questions about what she needed to do. She seemed a bit nervous, having never done this before and she, as always, wanted to do it correctly. That evening, I asked her how it went and she told me that it was “great.” She told me how Bob, the service consultant was so nice to her, explained everything, brought her coffee while she waited, and made it a pleasant experience for her. The next day I called the dealership and asked to speak to Bob. Bob took my call and I introduced myself, explaining that he serviced my daughter’s car the previous day. He immediately, and sharply, asked, “What’s the problem?” I proceeded to tell him that I was just calling to thank him for helping my daughter out. He expected a complaint and, of course, immediately changed his tone once he realized the nature of my call.
This past August, I was in Madrid, Spain trying to find an address that was so obscure that my GPS was not locating it. A young woman was dismounting her parked motor scooter and as she was removing her helmet I asked her if she knew where the address was. She didn’t know but she told me she works nearby and was familiar with the neighborhood. Despite my protests that I was making her late for work, she proceeded to walk with me for about 10 minutes until we found the address.
It is very sad to me that Bob, the service consultant, was so accustomed to complaints that he was taken aback by my expression of appreciation. It is heartwarming that the young Spaniard went out of her way to help a stranger despite her need to get to work. This singular kind act left me with a positive impression of people from Madrid. Imagine if there were ten times more acts of kindness, compliments, and helpfulness to others compared to the number of criticisms and complaints? I propose that if we do the following on a frequent and regular basis, we can preempt bullying on a cultural level. Try to keep in mind the following suggestions:
- Schools, families, and workplaces could have “Acts of kindness” contests with prizes
- Inclusiveness should be modeled and actively taught/addressed in schools, families, and in the workplace
- Compliment, even when it is easy not to.
- Write letters to managers/bosses after receiving exceptional service or treatment
- Go out of your way to help a stranger or loved one
- Just say “hi” to someone when passing them on the street, in a hallway, or waiting on a line
- In general, go the extra mile for people, just like that young woman who literally did that when she helped me in Spain
Dr. Michael Osit is a Licensed Psychologist practicing in Warren, and author of The Train Keeps Leaving Without Me: A Guide to Happiness, Freedom, and Self Fulfillment (2016), and Generation Text: Raising Well Adjusted Kids In An Age Of Instant Everything (2008).