By Jeff Brain
Really? I had not thought of it that way before. It’s no secret that The Family Foundation School and the principles for which we stand are “under attack”. In part by a youth rights advocacy group and in part by a handful of angry, resentful alumni – a minute percentage of the 3,000 young people we have served over the past 30 years. They do not know how to engage in a civil discourse but rather use slanderous and subversive tactics to intimidate. Yet, in the way that a bully gets noticed, these few alumni and their minions spread lies, and slander us on the internet. And in this way, represent a modern age organizational bully.
This was revealed to me this week by a wise, experienced and supportive colleague. She suggested that I reframe in my mind those who attack us as a bully. She reasoned that they are engaging in all of the same behaviors as a bully. In fact, it is likely that if we researched the history, we might find bullying as part of their childhood history.
In this new age of being heard on the internet, bullies have a new tool to try to hurt their victims. They sound convincing, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet – unable to see their faces, hear them speak and thus see them for who they are. Our children are at risk in the same way. There are news reports of kids spreading gossip and rumors about one another on-line. A recent workshop announcement titled “Cyberbullying” seeks to educate parents and educators on the dangers that lurk on line for their children and students – and how bullies are using the internet. “Bullying isn’t just in the hallways anymore — it occurs on cell phones, in chat rooms, and on the ‘Net”.
Dealing with bullies remains difficult. We do not consider ourselves victims. We believe in who we are and what we do. We are proud of that – and will stand up for our students and our parents – and they are standing up for us. We are also not afraid – we trust that as we are guided by God, and by our principles and best practices in the field, we remain an important therapeutic option for families. We are listening to our students, alumni and parents – who continue to support our mission.
It was helpful however for this colleague to reframe this in terms of bullying. We help our students learn how to deal with bullies – how to be confident in themselves and their abilities and how to find strength in positive relationships. My colleague said the following:
“They are not going to impact our programs if we truly are doing what comes from our heart. They can target anyone they want, and as long as they get attention, they will continue to do so. You do not need to fight for a good reputation when you already have one. Fighting takes a lot of negative energy and time and wastes your mission at FFS. However, this is exactly what they want you to do. Most parents I have encountered who have found these negative websites have called and asked about it. When they trust in the person who is assisting them, that is more powerful that some radical negative comment on a website. It is not difficult to represent your client when you stand in integrity. So, what can be done? you ask. Every time you go to their site, they know, and every time you mention them, someone will go to their site, even if out of curiosity, and that gives them more of what they want. Not every student in every program is going to leave happy. There is just too much tied to each child, family, situation, that you have no control over, and is not your responsibility. So the unhappy people twist their beliefs to feel better. Again, human nature. Jeff, you cannot fight human nature. What to do? Nothing. I have a much more important aspect to my life and practice than to give these people any attention at all.”
My colleague is correct – let’s re-focus our energy on our mission of helping teens and their families. Let’s not give the bully the fight he craves – for his motives are only to harm and come from a place of pain and hurt within himself. For this reason however, I will continue to pray for our bullies.