Monday, July 6, 2009

How do you ‘Stand on the Side of Love’?

A potluck gathering assembled Wednesday, June 24, to observe the opening plenary session of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) General Assembly, taking place hundreds of miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah. Enthusiastic cheers responded to the announcement of a new public advocacy campaign that urges everyone, not just UUs, to "Stand on the Side of Love" and promote everyone's worth and dignity. Learn about this fledgling campaign at

Marriage equality is among the new campaign's most immediately visible platforms. Subsequent posts via Twitter and Facebook have also promoted advocacy for "family-friendly" immigration policies.

One of the side effects, however, of being in a "lay-led" congregation is that it's easy to buy into the notion that I, in fact, am in charge instead of some higher authority. While I take interest in the platforms that are being formed nationally, I have my own personal ideas about "Standing on the Side of Love."

The most insistent concern for me is to have zero tolerance for bullying and social exclusion in our schools. In order to achieve this objective, everyone must buy in, especially the teachers and the other school employees who will be the "first responders." They would be responsible, in my ideal campaign, for creating a "caring majority" among the 85 percent of children who are neither bullies nor victims.

This is the premise of a book loaned to me by Pomo Elementary School principal April Leiferman: "Bully-proofing Your School: A Comprehensive Approach for Elementary Schools" (Sopris West, 2000). Written by Carla Garrity, Ph.D; Kathryn Jens, Ph.D; William Porter, Ph.D; Nancy Sager, M.A.; and Cam Short-Camilli, L.C.S.W., the purpose of this book is to prevent the school environment in which bullying is permitted to flourish.

Students at Pomo sign a pledge agreeing to "stamp out bullying." The pledge holds onlookers just as guilty if they fail to report or stop the abuse.

Don't believe that a school can shape a bullying environment? Think of a physical education curriculum of exclusively competitive activities in which the most popular children are allowed to choose sides for the teams. The person who is always chosen last is put painfully on display. Or school assemblies in which those same popular students are allowed to single out classmates in front of the entire school -- supposedly in the name of fun.

To this day, I don't want to be a member of various civic clubs that raise funds by publicly fining their members. It feels, to me, too uncomfortably like those high school assemblies. Please don't think I am in any way disparaging these international clubs that do so much good for so many.

Most commonly, bullying will flourish when teachers and administrators decide that "kids will be kids" and leave the children to work it out for themselves.

It is inexcusable to me, however, that a victim should also have to take the lead in advocacy for the right to be treated with respect.

Do you think I unfairly hold teachers responsible for the climate in schools? In my opinion, it's part of the job that you signed up to do. It is your trust and responsibility to promote a climate of equality.

And think about much of the prejudices based upon our perceived differences. Chances are, adults learned these attitudes when they were still in school. Where better to quench these tendencies?

"Standing on the Side of Love" would do well, in my opinion, to include anti-bullying among its platforms.

I realize, however, that many other people make up my local congregation. Expand that number to include everybody else that this campaign wants to mobilize and there are probably just as many personalized opinions. I encourage you to get involved and contact the movement directly. In addition to considering the platforms that it already promotes, be willing to advocate for how you "Stand on the Side of Love."

1 comment:

  1. A keyword search on the phrase “zero tolerance,” performed July 22, 2016, returned 14 usages in reference to bullying among writings on my blog, in which I expressed thoughts and concerns as a survivor of childhood bullying. But “zero tolerance” is imbued with specific meaning in the education community and, as a result, I need to clarify my past usage of this term:


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