Saturday, October 16, 2010

Does Jordan Have Bullies?

ButterBean put this question to me the other day after ballet practice. Strangely, the moms had just had a conversation about an article one had read on just that topic. The question flew at me from out of the blue. I asked ButterBean where she heard about bullying? She seemed very reluctant to answer. It got me worried. I expect I reacted with my mommy-worry rather than calm and rational mode. Honestly I was surprised she even knew the word.

In the end, it led to a very productive conversation about bullying. It's something that I've had on my mind since my kids started school in Jordan. I expect it would have been on my mind in the US as well. But, kids in Jordan are rougher. The girls have a precocious approach to picking at each other. And, they're MUCH more physical. So, I worry for ButterBean. She's so sweet and often will give up something she wants to a classmate who is not even a close friend because they also want whatever it is she's gotten (bracelet in a particular color,etc.). We've had to have many conversations about protecting herself and not giving up something she loves. And she's shed tears over this.

So, naturally when ButterBean brought up bullying, I was worried. After some conversation (not in the car), we discovered that this came from a book that she had gotten from the library. I have a sense there's some trigger I'm not in the know on, but... This week she picked a book in Arabic on bullying for her weekly story to read and answer questions. This continuing need to talk about bullying makes me think that she's trying to process it in some way. My guess is that it doesn't involve her directly. In fact, knowing her class, I'd bet it's outside her class. But it does have me wondering.

It got me thinking. Then, today I saw a blog post from a woman to her daughter about bullying. She posted this in the wake of an NYU student killing himself as the result of on-line bullying. This is a trend I can't relate to. When I was in college, our very forward college had e-mail. Period. Not fancy e-mail, not the Internet. We had e-mail. So, cyberbullying is outside of my realm of experience. Regardless, bullying is bullying.

One of the main lessons that it is vital to teach our children is empathy. In Jordan, this vital skill is undervalued and overlooked. When our KG had an expert come in and talk about empathy, she was hounded on all fronts by one father. He spent the whole time arguing. His first argument was that it doesn't enough scientific basis... it's all touchy-feely. The expert offered to provide him with several empirical studies on the topic that had been published in well-respected, refereed journals. His next argument was that it's a Western idea that doesn't apply. She referred him to her professional research on the topic and her findings. Finally he used my very favorite argument. We don't need to talk about empathy because... get this... it is built into Islam so everyone automatically practices it. At that point El 3atal and some of the others finally said, you're crazy and an idiot if you think that's the case. Oh, and we came to learn not to hear you argue with the expert, so hush now your turn is over...

However, the insight that gives is interesting... and frightening. The idea that because Islam says something that he perceives to be about empathy, he doesn't need to teach his kids to be empathetic, well I understand many problems better. Every religion likely holds values that, if followed perfectly, would lead to empathetic followers. And yet, we are all human. None of us, as far I know, are perfect. And frankly, the only way our children are raised with our religious values is if we teach them. We use discipline and gentle correction, loving guidance and teaching points. Without them, our children will not hold our values. In the best case, they'll hold no values. In the worst case, they'll hold the world's values.

It's funny that when trying to translate the word, the parents all wanted to use different words for the concept of empathy. The one most of them thought of was actually sympathy. This is a common mistake. The difference, though, is vast. Sympathy is feeling FOR someone. When something bad happens, you are sad for your friend. Empathy is feeling WITH them. When something bad happens, your heart hurts with them. These are not at all the same thing.

Clearly I don't talk to the Beans about empathy in those words. They aren't meaningful to a young child. What we do talk about is putting yourself in someone else's shoes. In a VERY simple example, we were walking down the street one day a month or so ago and someone with a physical handicap went by. One of the Beans was pointedly staring at them. We stopped short immediately. I explained to them that staring at someone is unacceptable. It is terribly rude. They asked why. I simply said to them, well you are blond and fair, how do you feel when people stare at you? Their answer, a little funny, kind of sad, not good. So I asked them, do you want to make that little boy feel bad like that? It was not the first time we talked about empathy. It won't be the last by any stretch of the imagination. Yet each teachable moment sets more firmly in their minds, attitudes, and behaviors what our values are. You can call them Christian values, you can call them human values. By any name, they are learning the values that we believe in. We believe in the dignity of humans. We believe in the rightness of respect. We believe in considering others before yourself. And if, by ButterBean shocking me with her talk of bullies, we can solidify that teaching even more, I'm thrilled.

I submit to each of the parents out there that you understand your values and make sure that you are actively teaching them to your children. Make sure that you are surrounding them with adult figures who support that teaching. If their school is one of the many schools I've been hearing about recently that claim to have superior Islamic deen teaching but have teachers that hit children, complain and change that system. I assure you that if you think your children will learn that humans deserve dignity and respect by being hit by someone given authority over them... you are deluding yourself. If you don't yet have children, I submit to you to carefully consider what values you want to instill. Once the child is here is rather late to spend time thinking. You'll be so tired you won't be able to think. And know that each adult that you willingly place in your child's life is teaching them about YOUR values. Take that responsibility seriously. You are the one who determines the values they are instilled with.

Happy Values!


At 8:20 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remember last Spring when we talked about the bullying issue and how you were making sure that your kids knew self-defense?

OK, we're there now. I posted some in the group, but it escalated - a "big kid" (3rd grader) recently knocked my boy down on the playground and dumped Pepsi on his head.

I am taking a 2-pronged approach: he MUST learn to defend himself. Not ever instigate fights, but simply defend himself. He must also learn empathy. Someday he will be a "big kid" on the playground, and I am telling him that he has to help the little ones, not hurt them. It's sinking in. The whole thing is a good lesson in exploring how other people feel.

But the whole thing still pisses me off.

At 11:16 AM , Anonymous jaraad said...

In the past couple of days the US media is all news and talks about bullying. This made me think of the same question as yours “Does Jordan Have Bullies?” So, thanks for addressing this subject. I wanted to know the answer because I am not aware of any bullying that led to suicide in Jordan. So does this mean bullying in the US is more extreme than in Jordan? I know there are more physical fights and cussing in Jordanian schools but, I think, it is still less harmful than what I hear about American schools. I think this should not be the case because of the American schools’ higher standards.

And yes teaching children self-defense I think is important. If for any reason it gives him/her more confidence.

At 12:04 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Emi, I think most moms get there. I just heard enough from friends with older boys to start Tae Kwon Do in KG... ;). Also make sure the school is aware of the issue and dealing with it. We had some issues with one particular kid hitting all of the other boys and I asked the teachers to keep an eye on the situation. They weren't totally aware of it and became more diligent ;( sigh.

Jaraad, Jordan's bullying is likely more physical. The US's bullying seems to take on a more psychological bent. I think that is why it seems to lead to suicide. But, also, in the US suicides are reported on the news. An equally valid question based on the reported news in Jordan would be does Jordan have suicides? The answer to both is yes. Unfortunately, much of the bullying being done here seems to be by those who absolutely should not (teachers).

Also, American schools do tend to have more prominent non-tolerance policies for bullying. However, they are having to find their way through the minefield that is freedom of speech vs cyberbullying. I don't think Jordan's schools are facing this dilemma yet...

At 12:14 AM , Anonymous bambam said...

MommaBean, it's Rutgers NJ not NYU ... :S
@Jaraad yes there are some cases where it has lead to suicide, they are not reported in news but when i was in 10th grade there was a student that was bullied because he was perceived as gay, and it reached to such an extreme point where he committed suicide. Another in my school was bullied extensively for the same exact reason until he decided to switch schools which didn't help much and so he ended up being homeschooled in jordan. the fact that i'm only talking out of direct experiences here and people generally don't talk about those who they perceive as "lesser than" makes the entire issue under reported. BTW a lot of the bullying dynamics in jordan are the same and with hormones bursting all over the place without any outlet they end up revolving around the topic of machoism and you achieve you manliness by putting down someone who is less manly and hence gay ... but that doesn't get talked about.

At 12:55 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Bambam, thanks for the correction. Thought I read NYU, but who knows... none of it is close to home for me;). Thanks also for adding your personal experience. With the state of the reporting of such things, I felt certain it was happening here, just not being reported in new outlets. That's one of the challenges of the nature of the way society perceives these situations.

At 10:49 PM , Anonymous kinzi said...

Bam and MB, well covered.

I think that kids are more autonomous in the US, and have lives separate from the protection (or bondage of the) family unit, which makes them more susceptable (sp :P) to bullying.

I also think that kids have a sense of entitlement to the 'perfect, cool' life, and have a lower threshold for emotional pain than Arab kids because they have been taught bullying is wrong.

My nephew is threatening suicide. He isn't being called gay, but he is ignored, marginalized by the cool kids. He thinks he has no value unless he is invited to their parties.

I was talking to the principal of a local private school this week about bullying. He has a 'mean girl', a pack leader in high school, who has been spreading rumors that another girl isn't a virgin. They are going to expel the mean girl as she is defiant and continues to spread lies that actually threaten another girl's life. I am proud of them.

At 7:17 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Wow, that IS encouraging...

At 1:56 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nermeen Murad recently wrote about this:

I think there can be little debate that Jordan has bullies, and they employ both physical and psychological means. The pattern is set by people in positions of authority, who are among some of the worst abusers. Jordan is a dictatorship, after all, and those abuses tend to flow down.

At 1:10 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Thanks anonymous. I saw her article just after I posted and decided that great minds think alike. I enjoy her writings and have quoted her several times...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home