None of Us Deserves Stop Signs Like That

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Stop signs are everywhere.  But one place we don't need them is in the classroom, or anywhere else where learning and sharing might take place.  And by holding up "stop signs", I mean bullying!

Bullying is still a problem that exists today.  In fact,  "It is estimated that 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of attack or intimidation by other students. Source: National Education Association." And according to Facts & Statistics, the numbers continue to rise every month. 

One form of bullying is holding up "stop signs".  Holding up "stop signs" is equivalent to "teasing".  Teasing is one of the most common forms of bullying, whether it's in person, or online.  Gordon MacKenzi, author of the book, Orbiting the Giant Hairball, even describes teasing as the “Death of a thousand Cuts".  In his book, Gordon describes a time when he witnessed a teasing incident while he was leading a creativity workshop for adults. 

The Situation

Gordon asked each of his workshop participants to draw a picture that symbolized their company.  After a few minutes, he asked if anyone would like to share their picture.  One woman in the back timidly raised her hand to share.  While she was sharing her picture that she drew, her colleagues began teasing her based on the quality of her drawing.  Below, is Gordon's reaction to this incident: 

I have a sinking feeling that the teasing you bombarded your colleague with just now reflects a similar strategy.  I suspect that, when you teased this woman, it was an unconscious effort to control her by throwing her off balance--to stop her from risking, which she was most clearly beginning to do.  Why would you want to do that?  Well, when one of us finds the courage to risk to grow--to leave the status quo of the Hairball--that can be pretty threatening for the rest of us to witness.  The threat is that we, too, might be expected to grow.  And sometimes growing can be a frightening and painful experience.  If we feel we have already suffered too much pain or are already frozen by a sense of menace, we are liable to do anything we can to avoid the pain or threat that often comes with the experience of growth.  So we contrive to stop others in our loop who display a desire and willingness to grow.  One way to stop them is to shame them.  But because we don’t want to admit to others or ourselves that we are trying to stop growth, we disguise our shaming as teasing--all in a spirit of good fun. (Whatsa matter, can’tcha take a little joke?--more shaming.)
If I am wrong about this, forgive me.  But I think that when you teased your co-worker about the level of her drawing ability, you were holding up a stop sign that said:
Stop Risking!
Stop Growing!
Stop Sharing!
Stop Living!
Because when you finally stop living, you will no longer be a threat to me.  None of us deserves stop signs like that.  So I would ask you--those of you who are inclined to tease others--the next time you are about to tease someone, pause for just a moment.  Look deep inside yourself.  See if you can get in touch with your motivation.  And, perhaps, reconsider.
Some time later when I was telling this tale to another group, someone in the audience protested:  “Wait a minute.  Teasing is how I show affection.”
My response was:  “You must find a better way.”

For your consideration
  1. If you were Gordon, how might you have handled this situation?  
  2. How should we as educators handle these types of situations in our classrooms? Or when we are holding online discussions?   
  3. What are some ways that we can create a safe learning environment to prevent these incidents from occurring?  How might we be more proactive, rather than reactive in these situations?

Let's put down the stop signs and continue to encourage creative risk-taking with our students and provide safe learning environments for them to take these risks!  


MacKenzie, G. (1998). Orbiting the giant hairball: a corporate fool's guide to surviving with grace. New York: Viking.