Are we modeling ways to communicate that demonstrate respect for others and their opinions?

Why is bullying such a problem among our youth today?

Everyone is well aware of the statistics and the toll it takes on children and teens. It is a recurring, ever-increasing cycle; one person bullies another, and the victim retaliates by bullying others. Bullying is learned behavior; it is on the rise and the problems are increasing.

So, who are these bullies that live in our community? As many psychologists or counselors can tell you, most were victims themselves. They operate on a base of fear, and bully to control and manipulate their environment to get what they want.

Many of you might be thinking that we need to 'fix' these kids who are doing the bullying, but are we the role models our kids can rely on?

Are we modeling ways to communicate that demonstrate respect for others and their opinions? Even when those opinions differ from our own? Do you consider others' needs and wants, or are you solely focused on getting what you want?

Let's consider the difference between influence, persuasion, manipulation and coercion. Each can be used to get what we want and are related: persuasion is a more powerful form of influence, manipulation is a more powerful form of persuasion, and coercion is the strongest form of manipulation. We often think of influence as something good - it's how we achieve our goals. But coercion is generally seen as bad and punishable.

Many of us use our powers of influence and persuasion to obtain what we want for ourselves, our families and our communities. It's the way we do business and are the methods we employ to further our own causes and agendas. Many of those causes and agendas are a wonderful thing for our entire community. Some benefit only a subset of our community and some benefit only a few (or one). Some do no harm, and some do. How do we define what is acceptable and what isn't? Where do you personally draw the line?

In our efforts to achieve our goals, do we consciously (or unconsciously) use influence, persuasion, manipulation or coercion? How do you view those in your way? Do you always treat others with respect and courtesy? Do you treat people indifferently, trivializing their concerns? Do you smile with pseudo-concern while dismissing them? Or worse yet, do you treat them with disregard and contempt?

Where in this continuum is bullying?

Those with power in our community, both ordinary citizens and leaders, have the opportunity to use any and all of these behaviors to achieve what they want. It seems clear to me that each of the techniques become bullying when used with disregard or contempt for others. It is only when you respect the other person and treat them with dignity despite their differing opinions that your behavior is above reproach.

As uncomfortable as it is to admit it, I've done my share of manipulation and coercion over the years to get what I want and I haven't always treated others with the dignity and respect they deserve. I deeply regret this past behavior and make significant efforts to prevent this from happening. Despite my best efforts, I'm human and fallible and need to acknowledge these infractions and shortcomings. I do my best to correct these wrongs to the best of my abilities, because I have a responsibility to model the behavior I expect of my own daughter.

We know that kids have difficulty understanding the nuances or shades of gray; it's certainly easier to understand rules, which are black and white. But even we as adults have problems recognizing where bullying starts and where respect and dignity end. Is it between manipulation and coercion? Or is it between persuasion and manipulation? Is it OK to treat others indifferently, trivializing their concerns?

As we move into this new school year, I think we all need to reflect on our own behavior and decide if we are modeling the kind of behavior that respects and preserves the dignity of all the members in our community.

- Marian Cakarnis is the parent of a Forest Grove 7th grader.

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