Bully, a documentary directed by Lee Hirsch, focuses on the experiences of five kids subjected to bullying by their peers over the course of a year. The film raises many questions and calls all of us to become involved in the anti-bullying movement. Here are 10 discussion probes on the film.
1. Kids Will Be Kids
What do you think about when you hear someone say: "This bullying thing is grossly exaggerated; it's just kids being kids"? What is implied here about human behavior?
2. Spirit Murder
"One of the reasons I fear what I call spirit murder — disregard for others whose lives qualitatively depend on our regard — is that it produces a system of formalized distortions of thought. It produces social structures centered on fear and hate." (Patricia J. Williams) What kinds of things do you consider as "spirit murder"? Where do you find structures of fear and hate in your community?
"Nothing dies so hard, or rallies so often, as intolerance." (Henry Ward Beecher) What kinds of intolerance have you seen in the interaction between people in your community? What factors have promoted prejudice; which work to prohibit it? Were you taught intolerance and a respect for all people at home? in school? in a religious setting?
"Blessed are the inclusive. In my company there must be a rich diversity. Like God, we must find delight in a variety of opinions, in the richness of different personalities, and various approaches to the Way." (Edward Hays) What are the best and most effective ways of helping children and youth to see the benefits of diversity? What spiritual practices can help us develop respect for people who are different from us?
"This is the experience of loneliness: to feel apart from, severed from, alienated, and empty." (Rochelle Melander) Share your reactions to Alex's extreme loneliness. What, if anything, could his parents have done about it?
6. Bullying in Schools
"Bullying may be particularly problematic in American schools," says Janna Juvonen, a psychologist. "The victims of bullying, unlike the bullies, are clearly suffering and, unfortunately they're suffering in silence." What do you think of the various responses of the assistant principal in Alex's school to the bullying she witnesses or has had reported to her? Some suggest that she is just letting "hallway justice" and "playground politics" prevail. How would you have her respond?
7. The Root of the Problem: Power
Deborah Ellis, a children's book writer, peace activist, and humanitarian, has written We Want You to Know: Kids Talk About Bullying. She includes accounts by youth who have been bullies. They admit that power is the root of the problem, along with cruelty that is sometimes mindboggling in its proportions. Share your responses to the comments by Ty Smalley's best friend who admits that he was once a bully.
8. Stands Must Be Taken
"Stands must be taken. If I am to respect myself I have to search myself for what I believe is right and take a stand on what I find." (Hugh Prather) Two of the teenage boys in the documentary who committed suicide after seeing no way out of being bullied again and again have an impact on others through the activism of their fathers. What stands could you take to stop bullying?
9. Empathy as a Bridge
"Empathy is the bridge spanning the chasm that separates us from other people. With empathy as our guide we can extend our boundaries, reaching into unexplored territory to create deep, heartfelt relationships. . . . I believe that empathy can make this world a kinder, safer place to live." (Arthur Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham) Discuss the role that the spiritual practice of empathy (the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another) can play in alleviating the epidemic of bullying.
- www.TheBullyProject.com: Information on the documentary; viewer's guide; toolkits for parents, students, educators, and advocates; plus ways to stay connected.
- Education.com: Special Section: School Bullying: practical information; myths and facts; how to make a difference; and more, including Ten Actions All Parents Can Take to Help Eliminate Bullying.