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Carolyn Pogue

Civility begins at the top

Earth to Parliament: we’re trying to raise kids who aren’t bullies

By Carolyn Pogue

In my fondest dreams, a huge bunch of little old ladies — the kind who came to dinner in the 1950s with navy blue dresses and sensible shoes and looked formidable if you chewed with your mouth open or put your elbows on the table — are storming Parliament. They march right past the uniformed men at the door, and they keep going when the guards blow whistles and yell, “Halt!”

A few might fall down along the way to impede the chase, flinging themselves into the arms of guards or wrapping shawls around their pursuers’ ankles. Most make it into the chamber. The eldest speaks. “Disrespectful behaviour is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated in this House,” she says. “I would not insult children by calling your antics childish.” Her cheeks blush pink. She draws a deep breath. “Your sneering, goading, inappropriate laughter, disdain of manners and contempt for citizens is going to end now. Or we will return, one thousand fold.”

A tall woman raises her cane, like Moses on the Mount. “I taught junior high school,” she begins. “I know how bullies operate — with physical intimidation, or with whispers, taunts, innuendo, sneering, put-downs, laughter. In the halls, the yard, the washroom, cyberspace. Thousands of students experience this today. We need to help them, not encourage that behaviour. You’re adults. Figure out how you would advise young people to end bullying, and then do it yourselves.” My daydream ends there, but I did more than daydream, and I have the paper cuts to prove it.

This week, I mailed 308 letters to Ottawa, one to every member of Parliament. I asked them to change. I reminded them that they are setting an example for young citizens.

In every Canadian riding, peace educators, teachers, daycare workers, religious leaders and volunteers are working to end bullying and create a more peaceful world. The Red Cross, Project Ploughshares, Peaceful Schools International, the Y and UNICEF all work with students to end bullying. Part of my letter states, “If the camera was in a classroom instead of in the House of Commons, what would you think of this behaviour?”

Hetty van Gurp, founder of the Nova Scotia-based Peaceful Schools International, dedicates her life to helping teachers and youth create a more peaceful world. Van Gurp’s own son died in a bullying incident at school; she knows what she’s talking about. And so do students and teachers in Canada, Northern Ireland, the United States, Bosnia and 100 other countries that use her programs.

In most bullying situations, there are three actors: the bully, the bullied and the bystander. Every Canadian is playing one of these roles in the current Ottawa drama.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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