The issue of bullying in schools became highlighted in the most notorious of ways on April 20th 1999 when 12 students and one teacher were killed in the Columbine School shootings. Twenty-one others were injured. The shooters, both high school students themselves, also died.. Later investigations highlighted the fact that they had been bullied and that, perhaps fueled their revenge. Eight days after that event, on April 28th 1999, a 14 year old student in Taber Alberta who had also been the victim of much bullying, walked into his high school and shot two people, killing one. Canadians could no longer pretend those kinds of things didn't happen around here. The complicated issues behind what makes someone a bully, why people are bullied, and what might break the pattern became a science.
In my opinion, 13 years later, we can't deny the fact that bullies create bullies. It would seem that the capacity to be both a victim and the aggressor exists within us all. Perhaps rather than treating the two entities as separate problems or people, we should be acknowledging the fact that every bully has been, or is, a victim and every victim can become a bully. Hmm...
There's a Bach Flower for that!
When Dr. Bach was creating his line of 38 healing essences, he first developed the 12 healers. These first essences address soul qualities or personality types. After those had been developed he created the next 7 essences which he called the Seven Helpers. The essences within this category are not inherent soul types. They address what has become a chronic emotional response to life experiences. The essence Vine is included within this category.
The Vine essence is prepared from the flower buds of the grapevine plant. In "Bach Flower Remedies Form and Function", Julian Barnard compares the emotional state of Vine with the growth of the plant. Grapevines are cultivated just like bullies. Every time the plant puts out a new shoot it is cut or tied into a particular form. Barnard writes that the Vine personality experiences the same type of control. Every time the child has an impulse to express themselves they are limited, shot down, or ridiculed.
"Whatever the individual story, the Vine types begin to learn that the only way to gain control is to follow that example and become in turn bullying, dominating, forceful adults. It is a learned approach to life." (Barnard,pg. 176)Grapevines have a tendency to climb up and over others. They don't have a strong trunk or core, so they attach to something else and curl around it in quite a restrictive manner in order to reach the light themselves. It's a blind search. The vine keeps reaching out until it finds something that it can seize upon. Just like the way a bully searches the playground (or the office tower or the community) looking for someone they can pick on. They are looking for a source of strength and support. Perhaps we're all looking for that at one time or another.
In the cultivation process, everything around the grapevine is removed. The world around the plant is very controlled. The vines are encouraged to grow in one way only. Do we do the same with bullies? When we see the problem beginning do we try to remove the stimulus? Do we isolate them by suspending them from school. Do we take away their technology so they won't have their "tools". Do we put in more controls and trim them back? In doing that, do we give them ideas of how they too could control others by taking away, giving orders, and restricting access?
Dr. Bach wrote a lot about relationships between parent and child. He felt the Vine personality occurred when parents or a close relative tried to dominate or control the child. There is a tendency to "blame" family relationships when we see bullies developing. But I think we need to consider there to be a much wider circle of influence today than there was in the 1930's when Dr. Bach was considering such things. I don't think all bullies get their ideas on how to control and dominate from their parents. I think it's something we perpetuate in our culture. It's the "climb to the top" mentality. It's the search for physical and material gain. We reward vertical growth more than horizontal spreading. Hmm...
Is there a point to my ramble? I think so. First of all, we could give the Bach Flower essence Vine to people (children and adults) that seem to be focused on controlling and dominating others. When balanced with compassion, the Vine tendencies of ambition, assertiveness, and the search for the light are great attributes. It's what we want in leaders, teachers, bosses and parents. The essence can help people be determined without dominating. The core of the grapevine, the grape, is sweet and juicy and highly useful! That's why we try to cultivate it.
But perhaps we could also acknowledge and reward self expression and horizontal spreading. So when kids and adults seem to be testing out a shoot and going in a direction we might not have anticipated, perhaps rather bringing them back by force, rules and controls we could allow that self-expression . Perhaps we should see that as their chance to find their core support, their trunk, their spine.
Perhaps there is a reason why bullying in schools has become the focus. I'm not blaming teachers or parents. But I think the system might be a bit broken. I think the school system looks a bit like a vineyard. New growth and unusual flowers are considered weeds to be trimmed and dug out. Success is measured in terms of vertical height and curriculum outcomes. Sitting still, printing neatly, and focused attention are highly rewarded as "controlled" behavior. We are all about "control".
What if we rewarded self-expression for it's originality and creativity. If adults, saw and believed, really believed, in the value of thinking outside the box, finding new ways of doing old things, and encouraged dreaming, maybe the potential bullies wouldn't see any value in trying to control those that express themselves that way. It wouldn't be a weak point. Maybe if we pointed out how colorful, unique and cheery those mis-matched socks with the striped leggings, the lace ballet skirt and the flowered shirt worn backwards to Kindergarten looked, there wouldn't be suicides or homicides over wearing the "wrong" runners to High School.
Grapevines still grow in the wild. They still attach themselves to other plants and search for the light. They make it to the light. They grow horizontally as well as vertically. They still produce sweet, juicy grapes. It isn't the Vines we need to get rid of. It's the process of cultivation that could use a closer look.
During this school shootings/bullying "season", I'd like to see less examples of "no bullying: and "zero tolerance" and more tolerance of each other. I'd like to see less focus on the differences between the bully and the victim and more focus on the similarities between the two. Instead of "zero tolerance" I'd like to see 100% tolerance. It's the perfect time of year to celebrate new growth,and shoots of self-expression. I think I'll start my own bullying program. I'll call it WEEDS. It will stand for We Encourage Extaordinaary Dreamers in School. No cultivation allowed.