April 20. The past few days have been some of the most painful I have experienced in many years. A Lincoln, Nebraska elementary school ignited a media firestorm by innocently providing students with a flier listing a set of rules for “turning bullies into buddies” that enraged some parents. The story immediately went viral, with literally hundreds of media outlets condemning and ridiculing the school and the set of rules. The public, who are not bound by the set of ethics that reporters are, posted even more disgustingly vile and hateful comments. The avalanche of vilifying news postings continued to grow despite the fact that the school quickly issued a public apology for the flier, calling it a mistake. The school affirmed the fact that it abides by the standard district recommendations to kids that they tell bullies to stop, then to walk away, and then to tell the school authorities. Reporters and the general public are demanding to see “heads rolling.” Because the creator of the flier neglected to name the creator of these rules, the hate-fest is being directed at the school and the staff members responsible for the flier. Many reporters are wondering who is ultimately responsible for these rules. If they actually took a few minutes to investigate, as a few reporters did, they could have quickly discovered that it was me.
Everyone who uses the Internet to promote their ideas and creations dreams to have them go viral. It has finally happened to me, but I never wanted it to be at the expense of innocent people paying the price for my work. This is causing me untold grief.
Reporters and public at large, I implore you: please stop attacking the school and its staff. They do not deserve the way you are treating them. If you feel the need to vilify and humiliate people over this incident, you should direct your sentiments only at me. I am the mystery creator of this set of rules that I call “How to Turn Your Bullies into Buddies.” I stand behind these rules, and I accept full responsibility for what the school has done.
Before I continue, though, I want to make two comments about the set of rules.
First, these rules were not intended to be posted in a bare-bones format and presented to students. The rules are part of a comprehensive system that requires detailed explanation, including qualifications, exceptions, and most importantly, role-plays to demonstrate how they work and how to apply them. The way the rules were paraphrased and presented in the infamous flier is bound to make them unpalatable to many uninformed readers.
Second, the last rule, which instructs kids to have a sense of humor and respond to an insult with an unexpected and outrageous insult about one’s own family members, is simply a suggestion of a simple way to use humor without having to think hard. It is not something one is required to do. This “rule” became the brunt of mockery at the hands of Glenn Beck. Ironically, Mr. Beck is a libertarian and would love my program if he actually got to know it, because it is highly consistent with his own social philosophy of self-reliance and limited government interference in our personal lives.
Back to the news story. I don’t know how the person who created the flier obtained the rules. My guess is that they are one of the approximately fifty-thousand mental health professionals and educators that have attended my continuing education seminars over the past dozen years. At these seminars, I teach how to use this set of rules to quickly change hostility into harmony in any situation, whether in school, the home or the workplace. If the person who distributed the flier was a seminar attendee, they, like the overwhelming majority, loved the seminar and have been using my approach in their work.
I take full responsibility for the staff member who paraphrased and posted my rules, even though they did so in a way I don’t recommend. They did so innocently, with nothing but good intentions and expectations. And there are many other schools currently using these same rules in their proper context that have been spared the rotten luck of being crucified by the media.
I have been actively insisting that these rules are highly effective. I have demonstrated to professionals how beautifully they work in a thousand seminars. I have successfully taught hundreds of individual clients how to use them. I have three thousand glowing testimonials from seminar attendees on my website, including many from Nebraska: http://bullies2buddies.com/seminar-testimonials-by-state/nebraska…. If you take the time to read the testimonials on my website, you will find that people note that I care deeply for victims. Over and over again, parents testify that my teachings have saved the lives of their children. I have been claiming that the great majority of professionals who use them are experiencing unprecedented success. I present evidence for these claims in my seminar manuals and website: https://bullies2buddies.com/evidence-testimonials/does-bullies-to-buddies-work/ So if the person used them, it was at my urging. Blame me, not them.
What are these infamous rules? They are practical guidelines, based on logic and understanding of human nature, for turning hostility into harmony by the practical application of the Golden Rule, which teaches us to treat people like friends even when they treat us like enemies. We cannot expect people to treat us like friends if we treat them like enemies. Unfortunately, there are many ways by which we treat others like enemies, and we aren’t even aware of it because no one explains to us what it means to treat someone like a friend or an enemy. In fact, the extent to which I have been failing in my own endeavors is directly related to my own failure to follow these rules.
Coincidentally, this incident took place in a city named after Abraham Lincoln, who is famous for having said, “Have I not destroyed my enemies when I make them my friends?” The school is being bashed for teaching an approach that is precisely what Lincoln advocated.
I would also like to draw attention that today, April 20, is the 15th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, the event that ignited the world-wide campaign against bullying. What is the result of a decade-and-a-half of anti-bully crusading during which hundreds of research studies have been conducted on bullying and every state has passed a tough anti-bullying law? Bullying is commongly being called an epidemic!
A recent large scale study found that students are more likely to be bullied in schools that have anti-bullying programs than in ones that don’t.
Bullying researchers routinely spin the results of studies on programs that failed to reduce bullying as though they were successes. The Highmark Foundation spent 19 million dollars on a massive study of the “gold standard” Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (with approximately half of the funding going to public relations), and found that after two years of intensive implementation there was a mere 12% reduction in the number of students who claim they are bullied twice or more per month, yet managed to use the news media to portray the program as a resounding success. And the research didn’t even mention the number of kids who are bullied everyday–the ones we really need to be concerned about! Johns Hopkins university invested $13.5 million dollars on a study of PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) and found that bullying went up during the study. Yet the study was promoted in the media as a successful way to combat bullying.
The creators of these programs are researchers who insist that schools must use “researched based” programs. What they neglect to tell us is that their research shows they are not likely to reduce bullying in any meaningful way, and may lead to an increase. This includes the official “stop, walk and talk” approach mandated by Nebraska. Are we still supposed to use them just because they were researched?
I wonder if the public is aware that the leading researchers consider a 20% reduction in bullying to be a highly desirable outcome, meaning that they are thrilled if 4 out of 5 bullied kids will continue to be bullied or, perhaps, that instead of being picked on 10 times a day, bullying victims will be picked only 8 times. Should the public be satisfied with such expectations?
The modern world is in a crisis over bullying. Instead of bashing ideas that seem counterintuitive and even dangerous, it is time that thinking people, including investigative reporters, start asking why the popular approach to bullying is failing and considering that maybe the true solution is something that we are refusing to consider.
Whether or not the news media takes this challenge, I beseech that they please stop bashing the school. The rules are not their fault. Direct your angry comments at me.
Education Editor, Israel “Izzy” Kalman, is Director of Bullies to Buddies (www.Bullies2Buddies.com), a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems.