The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander
by Barbara Coloroso
Softcover, 240 pages
reviewed by Sara Walters
Carmarthen Wales UK
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 5, September-October 2005, p. 220
When I was eight years old, a girl in my class, along with her henchman, interrupted a game I was playing with my friends. Using the force of her personality to enlist my friends' support, I was pinned against a tree while the girls began dancing and chanting around me. After several minutes, my friends managed to whisper to me, as they skipped past, that they didn't mean it. I then made some comment about not enjoying the entertainment. Although the bully threatened me with "a good kicking," the incident did not happen again.
Barbara Coloroso never uses the word "entertainment" in her book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, but she does view bullying as a kind of drama. Each character assumes a role and the behavior associated with it. Her book focuses on ways to rewrite the script by unlearning behavior, hence, breaking the cycle of violence.
Coloroso lives in Littleton, Colorado, USA, the scene of a horrific school shooting, which the author suggests was the result of constant bullying. She is very clear that the consequences of bullying can be fatal, potentially leading to either murder or suicide, and begins her book with a series of heartwrenching stories to illustrate this point. These stories are "tragedies," but they involve not just two main roles—the bully and the bullied—but also a third and pivotal character: the bystander. In reflecting on the role of the bystander, Coloroso shows us that bullying is everyone's problem, but because of this we can all be agents of change.
Full chapters define the roles of bully, bullied, and bystander. In Part Two, the author discusses ways to change a bully's behavior, support and empower a victim of bullying, and mobilize a bystander to become a witness. Coloroso's optimism in our power to affect change is evident throughout. The final chapter on schools and the community shows that while schools clearly have a crucial role in "rewriting the script," they often contribute to the problem.
Ultimately, Coloroso sees family life as the key. Readers who have nurtured and responded to their babies' needs and have adopted loving guidance as a means of discipline may derive some comfort from this book. From her descriptions, bullies are generally children who crave attention, lack self-esteem, and are severely lacking in empathetic skills. Their bullying does not spring from anger, but from contempt, and the only way they can feel good about themselves is by terrorizing someone else. In turn, bullied children may lack self-confidence and may feel that they deserve this treatment. This is not to suggest that any child could ever be responsible for the treatment received at the hands of a bully. But the child who feels well-loved and trusted may be more open in reporting the problem and in asserting his or her rights not to be treated this way. Finally, the bystander, in order to become a witness for the bullied child, needs to have inner courage and a moral conscience. Taking a stand against the bully can range from reporting the incident, to openly challenging the perpetrator, to quietly making friends with the victim. Whatever course of action, the helpful bystander is someone who possesses empathy and compassion.
Of course, there are no guarantees that we won't find ourselves parenting one of these characters, but Coloroso has helpful suggestions for enabling our children to learn a new script. Monitoring children's television viewing, encouraging productive and respectful friendships, and guiding children toward life-affirming activities are some of the steps parents can take. The author is clear, though, that punishing the bully is not the answer. Perpetuating an environment of contempt only continues the cycle of violence.
This very readable book is packed with useful definitions including the differences between teasing and taunting, flirting and sexual bullying, and telling and tattling. Coloroso gives examples of strategies that are not helpful, and balances these with ones that are.
Reading this book helped me analyze my childhood bullying incident. Although my friends didn't openly challenge the bully, they became my witnesses by letting me know that they were on my side. This empowered me to confront the problem. My comment about not enjoying the "entertainment" showed that I did not feel I deserved this treatment. At the same time, the comment, which was not personalized, kept everyone's dignity intact. The cycle was broken. The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander may help other children learn to do the same.