Try a little kindness.

Try a little kindness.

Bullying in our schools has long been a problem. While we used to ascribe the behaviour purely to students, now many teachers are reporting that they are becoming the victims of violence at the hands of parents.

In ABC’s Q+A this week, discussions about teacher abuse took up a large portion of the program. Principal Dr John Collier spoke of the newsletter he had to write to parents after having to deal with “too many parents who have verbally abused, physically threatened or shouted at a staff member.” Things have gotten so bad that The Australian Catholic University recently revealed that in 2018, one-third of our principals were the victims of physical violence.

This kind of behaviour is never okay. How can seriously ask our children to behave in one way, when civil discourse in Australia has degenerated so horrifically?

Just look at the vitriolic online hate and sexual abuse directed at female Aussie Rules player, Tayla Harris. The Herald Sun recently announced they have switched off comments on articles about AFLW in reaction.  

“After reading screeds of vile posts by readers — one story contained almost 300 comments of a grossly sexist tone, which were moderated out of publication — the Herald Sun has chosen to close reader feedback on AFLW reports except in rare circumstances.”

Parliament is no better. Earlier this month, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivered an offensive anti-Hindu diatribe during Question Time. Our politicians have donned Burqas and defended bigots, “In a free country people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted.”

Let’s never forget that hours after the mass-shooting, Fraser Anning blamed the killing of 50 Muslim worshippers in NZ on Muslim immigration. I could go on; but you are all (sadly) aware of the countless examples of hateful words and actions coming from our elected officials.

We feel entitled – entitled to say what we want, to whomever we want, and we believe we should get what we want, when we want. This has recently come to head with the toilet paper panic-buying fights in supermarkets across the country.  

So, what can we do to elevate the civil discourse in Australia, and in-turn improve the culture in our schools?

We need to realise that with free speech comes with responsibility, and we need to learn how to disagree, without being disagreeable. Almost all of us are stressed, but we can’t hide behind this excuse, or the anonymity of the internet, to speak to each other in hateful ways. We need to stop using words like Boomer, Millennial, Karen, Snowflake, Nazi etc to dismiss the views of someone we don’t want to listen to.

We need to understand that facts and opinions are different things, and that just because someone doesn’t share the same viewpoint as us, it doesn’t mean we should resort to name-calling and abuse in order to make our point. We need to stop this cycle of revenge online. If we don’t like the words someone is directing towards us, we don’t up the ante. We log off, use the report button, or block the user.  We need to make online spaces less toxic by treating each other with respect.

It’s not just the online world, though. When I am on a plane, I could push my seat back as far back at is goes. I could argue that it’s physically able to do so, so I should be allowed to, but we live in society. The moment I forget that there is a squashed and uncomfortable person behind me, I am contributing to the dangerous behaviour we are modelling for our children.

How we treat our waitresses and our teachers matters. How can we ask our children to respect their teachers and classmates, when we don’t model respectful behaviour when we converse with others online?

How can we ask our children not to bully others when we yell at salespeople and blame them for things beyond their control?

A lot of this is brought about by our competitive attitude. We compete in every aspect of our lives, and are always looking for the edge, or advantage, we can get for ourselves, friends and family. The thing that drives this competitive attitude is fear. Fear that our children won’t have the future we want for them. Fear that they are missing out on opportunities we believe (rightly or wrongly) they are entitled to. Fear that we aren’t doing enough. Some competition is innate within us, yes, and serves a useful purpose. Unhealthy competition, though, that brings out the worst aspects of our humanity, needs to be shelved.  

There’s an alternative to responding out of fear. Evolution tells us that our brains developed so rapidly because of social interaction and teamwork. Cooperation, and not competition, is what made societies for several millennia thrive and grow. Unhealthy competition, however, teaches those who don’t win that they aren’t good enough, and those who win to depend on external sources for validation. How many of the best ideas in your workplace have happened because of a team working together?  Families who support each other are better at coping with the stresses we all face in the outside world.

If we look at our fellow Australians from a place of cooperation, instead of competition, we will no longer see them as someone we need to beat in politics, beat in sport, beat in school, beat at work, beat in social followers, beat in business or beat in relationships. We will help our children do the best they can do, and teach them to take responsibility for their words and actions. We will encourage them to see beauty in difference, not fear, and enrich their lives by encouraging them to be exposed to different sorts of people. We will teach them to become avid debaters, who use fact-based arguments to make their point, and to use their words to create eloquent and persuasive positions.

We will teach them to question what they hear, but to respond with kindness. We will teach them to be kind. That’s what it boils down to. In order to make our schools safe places where students, teachers, parents and all other members of the community feel included and respected, we need to “Make Australia Kind Again.” It will mean a better society, and better schools, for all of us.

I am going to start with myself. I have been guilty of engaging in heated online debates, and in being dismissive of those hold views I disagree with. Starting today, I am going imagine that my son can hear every word I am saying online, as I know I want him to see me as civil, respectful, reasonable and, above all, kind. It’s a small change, but if we all become accountable for our words and actions, there’s no telling the enormous difference it could make for that child who is mercilessly and repeatedly bullied.

What can we all do to improve civil discourse in Australia? Let us know

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