For over 30 years my international theatre work has taken me to many countries – much of it in Europe. I have many friends in eastern Europe and Russia so I feel I can’t avoid the situation in Ukraine. My angle though is young people and the impact it has on their lives.
We all know the playground. If you pass by any school playground in the world you hear the same larger-than-life noisiness, even if the children don’t seem to be doing anything to make all that noise. It has always mystified me.
“In my experience most people are decent and want things to be on an even keel – they like to be happy.”
We have all experienced our own school playground and from it we learnt valuable and sometimes painful things about life that the school itself doesn’t teach – how to make friends, how to deal with friends who turn against you, how to have fun, how to withdraw, how to step up and how to deal with bullies. It’s just as much a learning environment as the classroom. In my experience most people are decent and want things to be on an even keel – they like to be happy.
But there are people who are not drawn to harmony, some people, for whatever reason in their life, are drawn instead to chaos. Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. They can be sly and secretive or there in plain sight throwing their weight around, “Don’t mess with me or you’ll regret it”. For 6 years I taught in a challenging inner London school. When there were fights in the playground and it wasn’t that often, it would draw an ever-growing group of on-lookers who would start to chant, “Fight! Fight!”. If I waded in to sort out a fight, I would always find the same thing – two kids in the centre trapped in the situation. They were in over their heads and didn’t know what to do about it. If I said, “Right this stops now. You and you go directly to the office. NOW!”, they would both meekly walk – glad that someone was rescuing the situation. “The rest of you go,” ended it.
As we know most bullies are carrying a problem and often they are deeply insecure. They want to control, they want respect, they demand attention, but they are like the Wizard of Oz – lots of huffing and puffing to make them seem all powerful, but they’re not. They are just like the rest of us – a human being.
“If everyone then slowly pointed one finger at the bully I guarantee they would walk away. The group never realises how powerful it is until it stands with the underdog.”
If someone started picking on someone and instead of chanting, “Fight! Fight!”, everyone went and stood staring at the bully (because we can usually tell the difference between the bully and the bullied) the bully would feel very uncomfortable. If everyone then slowly pointed one finger at the bully I guarantee they would walk away. The group never realises how powerful it is until it stands with the underdog. Human nature makes us want to protect ourselves and look the other way, but the world knows from history that you can’t allow tyrants to hurt people – whatever it takes.
To my friends in eastern Europe, I say if this playground is the world and a teacher is not about to help us out we all have to do our collective bit to bring justice, if for no other reason than we want our children to know that you always call out a bully.