Many steps forward

At the last assembly of last term I spoke of a difficult choice that would face the vast majority of us at some stage in our lives. That choice that we make when we encounter bullying or abuse of someone else and we are the bystanders, the witnesses. I encouraged you to take one step forward – an actual physical step in to the space the bully has created. This is what I shared with you:

“By taking one physical step forward, we are initiating action in our brains. Instead of being what we think is a passive observer, we realise the need for action and the physical step starts that. One step forward makes us realise too that we are closer to the experience than before – we are actually part of the process. One step forward takes courage, because in changing from passive to active, we are making a choice to act. One step forward places us closer to the victim and gets in his space. It tells him that we are with him.”

At the end of the address I told you this would be hard and would take courage. What this would need in order for us to beat bullying and abuse, is not just one person stepping forward but two, then three and then the entire school or community standing united against abuse in any form.

Today I want to help you understand that process more by showing you one of my favourite videos on leadership called “Lessons in Leadership from the Dancing Guy” in which the actions of one person started a movement – but not the person you may think.

Play video:

When I said to you that the actions of one person started the movement, I am sure you thought I meant the initiator – the actual person who started doing something – the dancer. From this video though and from your personal experience of seeing human nature unfold, you can see it is not necessarily the first person but rather the second and the third that create the movement. They change the dynamic of the situation from weird (in this case) to cool.

In the bullying scenario – imagine one person standing up, taking one step forward and saying “no”. Then another, then another. Suddenly we have the bullies’ worst nightmare – he is no longer “cool”, he is no longer in power. The power dynamic has changed from him to the group and it has become “cool” to be part of a movement that says “no”. The bully becomes the outcast.

I tell you another very different story that illustrates the same concept. Seven years ago we re-did the front of the school, put down paving and generally beautified the space. We had a problem to overcome though – we had very little space for cars to park because in those days people parked parallel to the road and the verge. You could fit about 15 cars in – that was all. We discussed painting demarcated parking bays perpendicular to the kerb which would allow parking for 30 cars but didn’t like the look. We were at a loss as to how to solve the problem then we thought “what if we can change behaviour?” What if we could get people to park perpendicularly to the kerb. So we got five people who arrived early at school to change the way they parked. Suddenly others saw how parking had changed and in a week the problem was solved. Enough people started a movement and changed thinking – permanently.

If we can solve a practical problem like parking, why can’t we solve a bullying problem by using the same principle – enough people doing the right thing.

To take one step forward takes courage but let us not forget the courage to be the people who join him. And the ones after that. Then it is not scary at all to join in. So – to make courageous decisions takes not just one person but enough people. Enough to start a movement.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step. I say it takes “steps” Take that step with someone else and start a new journey for our school, our community and our country.