discussion with teenagers that ended with their revealing the names of
I started my lecture by saying:
“I have a problem. Perhaps you can help me? … When I give students a questionnaire that asks: “Have you seen bullying?” or “Have you been bullied?” I get answers that indicate that 10 to 15 per cent of all pupils seem to be bullied. … Rather high figures, aren’t they? Nearly one seventh of a class. … But if I ask them to write on the questionnaire the name of somebody who is being bullied, then nobody writes a name. … Can you explain this?”
I said the above in a concerned tone of voice, sending the message that we are dealing with a general problem (and not with any bullying that may possibly happen in this class). My attitude towards them was evident: you have expert knowledge in these matters.
The most frequent explanation that I got was: “No one wants to be known as a somebody who is bullied.” We agreed that if bullying occurs visibly here-and-now, a teacher must intervene straight away. But if teachers hear about bullying from others problems develop. They start an investigation in order to find and punish the culprits. However, it is impossible to prove (individual) guilt in group bullying.
“But, suppose that they just talk in a friendly way with the bullies eliciting their sympathy with the victim”, I proposed. They explained: “Then the victim gets embarrassed by too much attention. The bullies continue bullying behind the backs of the teachers.” So I asked my audience:
“Can you recommend a better way of dealing with bullying that has been reported?” Some students mentioned peer supporters: because “They notice more than teachers do”. But others say: “But they can’t see into every corner. A person who is bullied would feel embarrassed to go to them and say “I’m being bullied!’” Some others said: “Peer supporters bully bullies, sometimes innocent people as well”.
At this point I present my offer: “Suppose we regard bullying as a conflict between two parties … Suppose we do not try to find out who is guilty. Instead of asking “Who started it?” we just aim at a shared solution.... An adult takes the role of a mediator… What does that mean? …. Have any of you had the help of a mediator in a conflict?”. … Yes. What do you think of mediation?… Do you like it? … Why? … I call it the Shared Concern method. Why? … Yes, because a shared concern is a start for a shared solution.”
The above is just a summary of the theme that emerged in a complex and winding discussion. Interestingly enough no students said that mediation cannot work when one of the parties is weaker (as the victim is when being bullied). If the students were to bring up this issue I would be prepared to elaborate on the concept of therapeutic mediation aimed at a shared solution. It is sensitively implied that the bullies might be a bit worried about their own safety in the violent atmosphere in the group.
I elaborate on the mediation procedure. If they tell me some mediation stories from their own experience, then I will go along with these and emphasise the skills of the mediators. Often I relate President Jimmy Carter’s mediation in the Israel-Egypt conflict. (1979) I say that, when practising mediation, I follow Carter’s example. “First I prepare the leaders of the groups in private individual talks asking them about their ideas for a shared solution. In that way” I explain, “I am preparing the summit meeting for a shared resolution.“
Taking the concept of mediation to an international level catches the interest of teenagers in conflict mechanisms. I talk more about escalation and prejudices as conflict-driving mechanisms together with the role of onlookers: When we see other people’s conflicts, we readily believe than one of the parties is more guilty than the other. But our prejudice just increases the escalation. If the onlookers want to help the conflicting parties to peace, they have one only sensible thing to do. What is this? … Yes! To mediate between the antagonists! And do it properly by listening to the views of both parties so that they trust the mediator as a person who wants to help them both.”
When I become aware that the majority of the audience are in favour of mediation, I ask the most important question, the question that the whole discussion has been preparing for: “Would you trust me to be a mediator in your conflicts including bullying?”
The answer my experienced colleagues and I have got from the class has (so far) always been “Yes!”
Immediately after this declaration a questionnaire is distributed to the class. It begins with the questions that are used in statistical investigations. (“Have you been bullied?” and: “Have you seen others being bullied?”) But at the end is the line which the whole preceding procedure has been aiming at. It says: “If you think that one of the students in your class needs help, please write his or her name here: …. …………………………….
Those, who like myself, have presented the Shared Concern method in class discussions have found that about one quarter of the students write down names. Most often, they write down the name of one person in their class.
If we get names we ask the person identified as the victim "who would be the people in the class that it would be interesting to talk to?" and follow up with the Shared Concern method. If no names appear, we go to the class again. We anticipate two alternatives: (1) bullying really does not occur in this class or (2) bullying occurs but they would not reveal it. Sooner or later the class senses the adult’s strong wish to support them and the resulting discussion demonstrates the growth of a mutual and friendly relations between the staff and students.
Two types of questionnaires
Here comes first a (linguistically uncorrected) translation of my original questionnaire I used in class talks in Uppsala November 1997:
An explaining questionnaire produced later but not tried
In 2007 I developed an extended questionnaire that is intended for discussion leaders who may feel that my above discussion is difficult to carry out. I proposed that they could make a combination of own presentation of SCm and a questionnaire that introduced SCm by a reasoning and ends with the same purpose. Some of SCm practitioners are trying the following questionnaire in 2008