Three issues have made national headlines in the US this month: the bullying problem that has resulted in adolescent suicides, the question of free speech currently being decided by the US Supreme Court, and, today, the case of the University of Notre Dame student videographer who was killed while taping the ND football team's practice in 60 mph (90kph)winds.
On the surface, it appears that these have nothing in common. However, looking deeper into it, they all have a common thread: civil discourse and communication.
In the case of bullying, the problem has become worse due to social media. Don't get me wrong, I am a strong advocate of social media. However, it also has the potential to create an environment in which bullying (either intentional or unintentional) occurs. There are two parts to bullying that many in the media fail to recognize: the bully and the person being bullied. In some cases, the person receiving a message may ignore the message; may feel hurt and confront the "bully"; may feel hurt and internalize the hurt, keeping it secret until they can't stand the pain and take their own life; or work in creating a social atmosphere in which perceived bullying is socially unacceptable. The other half is often over looked, however. It is assumed that the bully KNOWS that he or she is bullying. But sometimes it is just that the bully does not know how to engage in civil discourse. Name calling, teasing, put downs are all images they see on TV, in sports, and on the internet. Often, I will read something written to my kids on facebook and be outraged, my perception being that this is bullying. However, they do not perceive it in the same way. This divide between what is appropriate and what is not appropriate to say is magnified when someone misinterprets the intention of another person.
So does this mean that some people need to "toughen up" and that bullying is not taking place? No, it means that the way to overcome "bullying" is to create an environment in which there are clear communication standards and rules so there is not a divide between perception between people. And if there is a difference, there is a way to resolve the problem before it is unmanageable.
Another aspect of civil discourse has to do with taking responsibility for what you say. In the US, freedom of speech is a basic right. However, over the years, some citizens have wanted the right to speak without having to pay the price should what they say be hurtful, cause pain, cause damages to a person's reputation, job, or business, or be inaccurate, an outright lie, or a distortion of the truth. Just as someone has a right to free speech, the listener has the right to be upset, angry, or not agree with the speaker. Likewise, the listener then has the right to speak back.
There are those in our country who use the label "politically correct" as an insult, thus limiting the voice (and right of free speech) of the listener. A person who self proclaimed as being "not politically correct", is often saying, "I don't want to hear your anger because I have already told you I am not concerned with other opinions than my own." Related to this are those that must place blame or, in essence, say "whatever" or (the phrase I HATE, agree to disagree...in other words, I'm right and will not listen or try to understand your position). The current Supreme Court case is case in point. A group's protest outside of the funeral of a soldier killed in action (the protest was allowed as a right of free speech) resulted in psychological problems for the father. He sued group. This is not a question of free speech; the group was granted it. It is a question as to whether those that exercise free speech must be accountable. There are many more examples of this including the firing of Dr. Laura, a talk show host.
So what we need to do is go back to the notion that with freedoms, come responsibility for what you say. It is not enough to say, "I hear you. I take full responsibility." (Although this is a good first step). Rather, we need to teach children AND adults that what they say may have repercussions for which the speaker must take responsibility for. In other words, freedom of speech does not mean freedom of speaking before you think or considering the impact of your words on those that may hear or read them.
Finally, the death of the Notre Dame student yesterday is especially worrisome to me as I see my children develop into adults. In this current economy, many people feel powerless to say no to something that instinctively they feel they must. When a person in power asks them to do something, they feel that they do not have a voice to contradict someone that has power over their school, job, or even community. As a result, they may post their misgivings on facebook, or complain to coworkers/classmates about their environment, but they never tell the person in power that they have misgivings, and ultimately "no". This is a conversation I have had for a long time with my students. The fact is, our educational system rewards those that will do what they are asked. The best students, the best athletes, the best children are those that are "respectful" and those that "conform". For many, "respectful" is synonymous with agreeable.
But there is a difference. It is important that we teach our children to be civil, but to also disagree (respectfully) especially if their instincts are telling them what they are being asked to do is not right. Heaven knows, if the student had just listened to his instincts (his tweets indicated he was scared) he might be living today.
- V Yonkers
- Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.