Stan Davis has worked for human rights in many different
ways. In the 1960s he worked in the US Civil Rights movement. As a social
worker and child and family therapist in the 1970s and 1980s, he worked
with abused, traumatized, and grieving children and trained Child
Protective Workers. Website: StopBullyingNow.com
Commentator for Ashoka Activating Empathy
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(Thank you Alexis
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E- Edwin Rutsch S- Stan Davis
Met Stan through Ashoka, Change makers
website. We are both “expert” commentators on the competition about the
best practises for developing empathy in schools!
I spent 20 years as a child and family
therapist and 20 years as a school councillor. Meeting kids with this
empathy component was important all through. How can we develop that and
also nurture the empathy within kids already?
Word ‘bullying’ is restrictive as it
implies intention to hurt, but it’s often just careless behaviour.
We need to-
1.Reduce hurtful behaviour
2.Increase resiliency in those affected since
we can never eliminate meanness totally.
·Youth Voice Project-
Gathered information re. Mistreatment
Traditional advice was-
‘Cut it out’, punch them or pretend it
doesn’t bother you and walk away, etc.
Advice also given to peers who
witnessed it, but how well does the advice work in real life?
Cerise Nixon at Penn state and I made
a questionnaire for 13,000 kids.
Focused on 3000 of them that had been
mistreated regularly. Asked which of the traditional advice they’d tried
out and had it worked? Also what had peers and adults done and those
Still putting data together but very
clear directions coming from this-
Much traditional advice not helpful,
only worked for 1/5 kids who said “stop”.
More kids said adult/ peer
intervention helped and as they got older were able to tell themselves
it was the perpetrators characteristic and not their fault., which
Helpful actions by peers and adults
that made difference were support and inclusive actions, but not
confrontation as afraid of repercussions.
Therefore many kids stuck between
compassion and inaction, which means empathy for the target of meanness
reduces over time since the peers don’t know how to act and they tell
themselves the target probably deserves meanness or there's nothing that
can be done anyway to prevent themselves from feeling bad.
Finding support for the 85% of kids in
any school who want things to stop is very important. Mistreated kids
want friendship, inclusion, emotional support and encouragement, even if
it’s only a call at home to avoid trouble at school. The kids say this
is actually more helpful than any confrontations at school.
Exciting! We can sustain level of
empathy and concern that younger kids have for mistreated peers by
helping them find safe, positive ways of helping, and they can sustain
the level of empathy into adulthood rather than lose it.
We see this bullying behaviour for
example in congress, it influences overall societal values. How can we
make empathy a firm social value? How do we transform actual situations
like these at school, to encourage empathic outcomes? What’s the best
way to transform this- Saying don’t do it without reinforcing the
dominance and power dynamic of the bully. Engage in a dialogue with the
We must stop using the word ‘bully’,
as there is no one meaning for the word, It’s an umbrella term and not
Kids are mean for many reasons and
need to helped accordingly-
1. Social modelling/ Imitative
behaviour from family or TV. These kids are the largest group and may
have no character floors, just natural imitation socialises them into
They are helped by media education so
they begin to see the models they are influenced by.
e.g. The discovery exercise-
a.list all favourite TV shows
b.think and write about value you want to
live by and your life’s direction
c.put a + mark by all the shows in your list
that are like that and a – mark by the ones that aren’t.
A teacher said they were very shaken
by the result and in a more conscious state to change behaviour.
Also information gathering to see how
much people want to change small things like comment-‘ That’s so gay’.
Often underestimate how many want to change these ‘social norms’. Very
powerful feedback for students.
Small consequences, e.g. a letter to
parents re. exclusion from communal lunchtime is enough to create
boundaries needed and discourage a whole class of behaviours.
These actions dramatically change
things for this group who have natural empathy.
2. Second category of kids being mean
have some impairment. E.g. very impulsive or don’t quite get the
emotions of others, haven’t got cognitive empathy (These are the 2
halves of empathy) and don’t realise they are hurting others. Or don’t
know how to deal with a situation where they want a little more power
and only know to attack verbally/ physically. These kids need more work.
Same work as above but also extra time with a school councillor to help
them process their actions and the impact on others. What other action
could they have taken, etc?
e.g. Expressing frustration- did they
want to be heard/admired? Common motivations. Was something else
troubling them in their life? Need to practise other actions to these
3, Last group can do most harm, but a
very tiny percentage. They are more stereotypical bullies, have superb
social and cognitive skills and are calculating in using their knowledge
of others feelings to do them harm. Cognition, but don’t feel empathy or
it’s unimportant to them. ‘Split empathy’, an almost scientific
detachment, prodding things in a lab. Helping these kids to feel is a
long term project. There's sometimes a biological or brain injury
element, or a foetal alcohol element, or severe trauma element.
The first job is harm reduction to
others whilst we try to change them, but we don’t have high expectations
of change in short term.
We have to be more specific about
bullying to find correct remedies.
A useful parallel is Drinking and
driving. Which has potential for harm yet almost nothing to do with the
person’s intention whether they are alcoholic or one of a tiny group of
sociopaths. We have one initial rule to approach everyone with- don’t
drink and drive. I.e. Penalty and education. But the habitual ones we
then look for elements of addiction or the will to hurt, which will need
different intervention. There is no actual word for Drink driver because
its such a diverse group of people.
Differentiate meanness from bullying.
‘Potentially harmful behaviour’ is the
phrase I like best because we know certain things are likely to harm
others and more or less agree on those things- ‘the reasonable person
test’. It doesn’t imply intent or that someone harmed, but if you do
this there's a potential for harm. We shouldn’t have to prove harm to
not do it like no one hurt yet, so do it, but you don’t because it
increases the likelihood of harm. This is also a way of building empathy
with kids- asking them if someone has been hurt ( this is on the child
level) as opposed to realising likelihood of someone being hurt, even if
that hasn’t happened yet, (which is the more cognitively advanced
We need to create a positive vision to
aspire to. Empathy is not on and off, its on a scale, were never 100%,
but we can do our best to raise our level. Partly it’s intention. What
will human interactions look like if we are in an empathy rich
We should look at Ghandi. I spent time
at his ashram and realised that we’ve really misunderstood the word
non-violence in the west. Just saying ‘He didn’t hit’ (Martin Luther
King) is not enough.
Describing non-violence, the two words
Ghandi used most in Hindi, were-
‘The force of truth’, and
i.e.- ‘An obligation to speak the
truth in a loving way’.
A lovely definition of where we can go
with this, concerned with what’s best for me and you, taking time to
‘Love your neighbour as yourself’, not
more or less than yourself.
Advertisers who dropped Rush Limbaugh
after his sexist comments were very empathic, thought outside himself
and imagined his own daughter receiving this behaviour, rather than his
profits. Putting self in someone else’s heart.
Initially teach children to decode
visual clues regarding others, (using different faces). Ask them-
1.What is the person thinking?
2.Is there a link between what I did and how
3.Over time ripen process not just from
cognitive but into emotive, so the child feels an echo of what another
feels. It becomes harder to hurt because you feel things almost as much
But we have to also honour
peoples own needs in addition to advancing things for other people- How?
Ury and Fisher book- ‘Getting
to Yes’, negotiating agreements without giving in, dealing with conflict
so that the outcome, as much as possible meets both peoples needs and
sustains the relationship. This ripples out and makes a big difference.
‘Common humanity’ term, seeing each
other’s humanity, for you and me, we need to foster this in society.
Berkeley study in greed. Creating an
environment where greed is good equals people following the rules of the
‘game’. The social norm is greed is good and therefore prevents us
seeing one another’s humanity. So just need to change the rules.
Melvin Lerner’s 1960’s experiment,
‘Just road theory’, defined blaming people being shouted at for their
own misfortune, which meant they could justify inaction. E.g.- making up
a whole fictional history for homeless people, ‘they made their own
However, not commonly known from this
experiment that when people were told by the person in authority not to
blame the person being shouted at, it changed the outcome. Very explicit
statements from trusted/ authority figures can be very positive.
Food stamps and sponging from society.
Accurate and honest storytelling helps.
TV showed a single father sincerely
struggling and making huge sacrifices for his children, we can relate to
him and his child’s concern for starving father. Talking about poverty
less in abstract and more in human terms promotes an empathic culture.
Occupy movement talks about
non-violence. I’m uncomfortable with the word, it supports the existing
paradigm re. people self-serving and violent rather than ‘common
humanity’ and fostering empathy to create connections between all
around, protestors/ police/ etc.
Martin Luther King and other
non-violent protestors in the US fostered this within the word too,
seeing common humanity in the police. And Ghandi said to the UK Prime
minister- ‘I’m doing this because I know it will be better for England
to let us go and be a colony, it’s not just for us’.
Look up the Ghandi/ King institute
online, folks are trying to portray the true Ghandi message, there's
some very interesting dialogues on there.