The Long History of No Such Thing as a Bully (POV Kelly Karius)

I’m going to tell this story as honestly as I can, whether the information makes me look good or bad. In the end, our past is simply our past and it’s best not to waste judgement energy on it in any case. Every single thing leads us to where we are now.

This is the story of the No Such Thing as a Bully. A short story relevant to how we got to this point. How we are at the cusp of spreading information around the world about coping with both bully actions and victim responses. Whether or not the world is ready is a different issue, and, I suppose, a big part of this whole story.

I was bullied when I was a kid. I was one of those kids who could be seen as “overly sensitive”, or “emotional” – descriptions that I dislike. My natural make up made me susceptible to taking things to heart, to believing what other people said about me. I can easily say that I was bullied by adults around me who didn’t even know the effect they were having on my thought patterns and my definition of self.

(That’s the first thing that I want to teach with this material – awareness for adults about their effect on children around them. I want to educate adults to begin to understand the way children think. I want them to come to awareness of the huge role adults play in developing children’s thought patterns and definitions of self.)

Phrases like “I’ll give you something to cry about!” made me think my emotions were wrong – that I should be tough. Names like Gertie and Grace, representative of clutziness and said in love, made me remember that I should be careful – I wasn’t coordinated enough to do a lot of things. When a classmate that I just wanted to be friends with danced away from me singing the song “Don’t Stand so Close to Me”, I began to believe that I wasn’t a worthwhile friend. The first time I was called “Smelly Kelly Jelly Belly”, I learned that if my belly jiggled, I was fat – and people make fun of fat. When I cried and people turned away, I learned that crying makes people uncomfortable and is best held in.

The experiences our children have give them ways to self define who they are., and that’s what happened to me. By grade seven, I REdefined and showed up to my Junior High in a jean jacket, with a pack of cigarettes and a really bad attitude. I wasn’t going to take it anymore – which meant only the other option – getting tough. Sometimes even daring -doing things that would make others say “WHO’S that girl?” Instead of (sneer) “Who’s THAT girl?” I talked about people behind their back sometimes and made fun of people. I even got in a fight in the boys bathroom…all the while knowing this wasn’t who I really was. The pendulum swung back around Grade 10, and I started to recognize a balance…though it takes time, and experience and even adulthood to really understand it.

The ten or so years of time between high school and my convocation from university in 1998 are only relevant to this story in a couple of ways. They were a time of great learning, and a time where I started to try to understand justice as a concept in an imperfect world. It was also the time when I had a marriage, a divorce, a common-law relationship, and three children. The other relevant thing was that somewhere in there, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I went for counselling and came away with pills, and the advice to ride it out. Feeling pretty dissatisfied with that solution, I set out to find things that would help me, and that I could share with other people when they needed it. I devoured books and pulled the best from them. I trained heavily in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I learned mediation and meditation. A lot of that healing research ended up in the No Such Thing as a Bully System. Nothing ever happens in a bubble.

As I set out for my first Social Work job in 1998, Child Protection, I was happy with how far I’d come. I had no idea how far I had yet to go. My kids were off to school, and I was off to work days in a community 50kms away from home. I could only do it for a year. There are so many things wrong with the systems of our society. The justice in an imperfect world part of me just couldn’t survive it. And by now I’d seen a lot of clients and seen a lot of places where the work I’d done for myself could help other people.

I started a private practice. A lot of people thought I was crazy. Just a Bachelor’s Degree and one year experience does not a private practice social worker make. I remember my mom and dad having a conversation with me about the pension I’d just given up. I was able to have the conversation without regret. I felt completely sure that I’d done the right thing. From the outside though, It just looked like I was making non best interest decisions.

Part two Within months of starting the private practice, I was hired by 20 sets of parents about an adult in a school who was allegedly not treating the children appropriately, according to disclosures made by the children. I went to bat for the parents and children as their advocate, in a very passionate, very unbusinesslike way. I took on a great deal of personal risk for very little personal immediate gain. 16 years later I can see that there was a lot of long term gain, but in those years, there was just a great deal of stress.

The fiasco went on for a full year. This is the only article I can find online, but there were several, especially in our local paper. In the very small town where I grew up.

The board members were people I knew. People from the community, women I had babysat for, women in my church. The dynamics within the school board appeared, to me to be that of an abusive relationship between the board and the director. And no one would listen. We tried to speak with the board, the STF, the ministry of education, the children’s advocate, the ombudsmen – EVERYONE. There was no where left to turn.

I remember hearing, but I don’t know from where, that the teacher left at the end of the year because we were never going to stop. That was probably true, but I don’t know if that’s really why he left. I breathed a giant sigh of relief that it was all over. The whole situation though, felt like a giant system failure and my sense of justice was bruised as I started receiving calls from people at the next school the teacher went to.

During that summer, I was counselling a student who had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder by a chief psychiatrist in a local community. He pointed directly to bullying and the letter gave some urgency to the idea that we needed to make a move in the direction of healing, especially after the past years experience. I put in a proposal with the school board to start a peer mediation program in the school. That was what I knew at the time. The proposal contained a modest fee request, and explanation of what I would like to do, and an article about peer mediation programs, and the letter from the psychiatrist.

Despite having permission from the family and youth to use the letter, I had blacked out identifying pieces of the letter. The Director of Education assumed the letter was a breach of confidentiality and reported this to my ethics committee. I was banned from all school functions and being in the schools, unless something related directly to my own children. The ethics investigation went on for a year…it appeared that the follow up interview was inconvenient for the complainant. Of course the situation was eventually resolved, but I will admit that those years were so difficult for me. I was still very young, and very naïve – and I have this deep belief in people’s goodness that just won’t falter, but there were times that I felt that I broke my career, ruined my family, created divisions in the community – and then I would remember that I was just one person trying to do what I could with the facts in front of me.

I saw bullying throughout those situations. Adult to adult. Authority figures to parents. Parents to authority figures. Authority figures to children. It went on and on, revealing an ugly facet to small town life that appears more often than I’d like to see or know about. I recognized that whatever it was we were doing to try to deal with bullying wasn’t working. It was never going to work if adults couldn’t see it in themselves, and it was never going to work if we kept on behaving this way. And it didn’t do any good to call the Director of Education a bully as he slammed the door directly in my face to keep me out of a meeting, did it? He didn’t define himself that way, so it was never going to have any effect. Something different needed to happen.

I started thinking about the skills I’d learned all those years ago, and how everything fit together, and I started writing something called Classroom Conflict. Or something like that…I can’t even remember now. I finished writing…a series of lessons based in assertion and cognitive therapy and solution focused therapy. I leaned back in my chair as one does when they are very proud of themselves and suddenly felt like I’d been struck by lightening. I believe it was a God flash. Anyone can call it anything as they wish…but I knew the whole shiteroo was wrong. I needed to take out everywhere that the words bully or victim were used as a label. This needed to be something SO different from anything else out there…and so the writings became “No Such Thing as a Bully.”

Part 3

In 2004 I wrote my first book “This is Out of Control! A Practical Guide to Conflict Management”. It’s a smart book – though it deserves a rewrite. My writing style has become much more fun in the intervening years. I didn’t publish the bullying work, I moved on to something else, too shy, scared, worried – even a little broken from that past experience. It’s easy to see why people give up when they see something wrong. It’s so hard to keep on standing for what is right. Then a little parenting book, and a few others. My career veered away from work with schools and towards work with separated parents. Some amazing people at Saskatchewan Justice had discovered me and asked me to do some contract work for them. I was teaching the Parenting after Separation and Divorce course steadily and I was doing Custody and Access assessments. The counselling business was pretty good as well, and I’m good at keeping secrets. People came from many communities to access counselling services. Somewhere in there I won an award from the Better Business Bureau of Saskatchewan for Ethics in Business. I was doing okay. Not rich. Not poor. But all my kids had the braces on their teeth that they needed, and my common-law spouse and I were making a family.

I met Dr. Ron on LinkedIn in about 2007. We became good friends, and when he had a work hiatus, he came to Melville for a few months. And that’s when No Such Thing as a Bully got pulled off the shelf. It was dusty, and had a lot of things wrong with it. I remember walking and talking and planning and dreaming and writing. Missing deadlines, making deadlines. Being doubtful, being hopeful. Dr. Ron stayed at the King George Hotel the whole time he was there. What a brave soul. He should write about that when he does his Point of View of the creation of NSTAAB. A lot of people in the hometown would want to know this story, just for learning about what his stay was like in the now burnt down local icon.

One, just one, of the most clarifying things Dr. Ron did for the system was to create a definition of bullying that makes sense. There are all kinds of vagueish and difficult definitions out there. Dr. Ron took the time to examine the dynamics and break situations down into 8 factors. All the factors must exist for the situation to be considered bullying. If all the factors don’t exist, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, it just means it might be something else. When children are struggling their situations deserve to be looked at mindfully, with achievable common sense solutions.

This page is still being developed….please check back for the rest of the story.