By Marcus Lorenzo Penn, M.D
On April 4th the skies were gray but the energy before our Breakfast Conversation was budding with creative energy. With this month’s conversation topic:
“Have the ongoing public school budget cuts in the Visual Arts posed a direct or indirect relationship to increases in bullying?”
We used art to guide our discussions and explore deeper. Helping to facilitate our conversation we had Laurie Marshall artist and educator at Create Peace Project (CPP) and Sophie Cary development coordinator along with her CEO, Will McCoy at No Bully (NB).
Before we dove into this juicy topic, we had our full group of attendees answer the question, “How do you meet anger as it arises within and around you?” The first response was about breathing and to simply take a breath and embrace compassion. The next person described physical symptoms in their back as a sign to stop and be with the anger. Another response was quite transparent when a gentleman from the Pachamama Alliance said he was still figuring out his relationship with anger. However, what he did notice was that his anger going inwardly was probably 10 times as much as it was going outwardly, where he uses anger as fuel when he is tired. Our Program Director Heidi mentioned feeling anger arise in her body where her teeth start to clench. At this point she knows she needs to express her anger, yet non-violently.
Another approach to anger was shared by a representative from Art Seed, who shared that they take a deep breath and yell (in a safe place) when necessary to release the energy. Otherwise he does something else and waits to give it time until he deals with it. Others spoke to anger showing in their face but with the difficulty in verbalizing their feelings, to using writing to get anger out of their system, to feeling anger for 1 minute then letting it go, to taking a walk when it comes up, to taking personal responsibility for their anger, to giving themselves permission to feel and be angry, to asking themselves “Will this matter 5 minutes later?” It was quite clear that anger was very much a part of the lives of everyone present.
So to add some anthropological context to all of this, Laurie of CPP brought out a two-sided 20-ft wide painting that illustrated on one side the three stages of Earth’s living beings evolution: reptilian instinct, mammalian community, and human communication. On the other side was an artistic representation of 170 individuals that reflected the average tribe population in early human history. What came of all of this was that being a part of a tribe brought a sense of belonging and purpose and that purpose came through storytelling and conversation. On the flip side, not feeling a part of a tribe can contribute to isolation and division and bullying behavior.
Given our depiction of the human capacity to evolve, we were offered the invitation in regards to bullying to do something different and retrain an automatic response into something different. With social media making “cyberbullying” all too easy, it was shared that the young brain is not built to handle constant negative attacks which can be seen by millions. To help combat responses of isolation, Sophie of NB shared with the group a “Pledge Kindness and Compassion” media campaign that showed no one at lunchtime is sitting alone in a school. They partnered with big name food and beverage companies to help meet kids at their level with plush emoji toys for anti-bullying and to use the arts to express feelings. The vision here is for kids and youth to “play with their feelings” outside of when they may feel them to get a better understanding of them.
The CEO of NB, Will McCoy was asked if he has noticed a rise or drop of bullying within schools as a previous superintendent of schools. His response was eye-opening where he said bullying now has become “popularized” and cliche and how everything can be seen as bullying now. He noticed there is more girl-to-girl bullying happening in schools especially via social media with 4th grade girls as prime targets starting to express themselves. With more cyberbullying happening he did not envy school principals of this day and the work they have to do. Noting it will take a different approach for professional development and finding what is acceptable and not acceptable behavior. He also shared that he plays video games with his son and informed the group that E-Sports (electronic sports) are becoming more popular and also breeding more bullying. He saw it first hand within specific online groups inside E-Sports games where a kid who otherwise could be bullied upon at a school could be “the best player.” This elevated sense of competition has given rise to new facets of bullying talk and behavior.
The major transition point in our discussion was the acknowledgement that in our overly competitive society, it is art that has the power to shift the focus and messaging back to collaboration and sharing. So the question was asked, “How can we use art to transform bullying?” As a response, Laurie of CPP had all attendees participate in the creation of a collaborative art piece involving drawing and putting messaging on cutouts of birds and leaves with colored pencils. During the creative process everyone was allowing the art to come through. Once completed, our cutouts were placed on a painting of a “Singing Tree of No Bullying” bringing a message that we all come together in the masterpiece we call life. This collaborative and creative artistic process made use of symbolism and stories to break down barriers and separation. Wonderful themes of change as represented by leaves, and many colors within the birds reflecting honoring of differences and coexistence.
As we came to the end of the Breakfast Conversation, the biggest “Ahas” were highlighting the healing power of art and the relaxing nature it cultivates when done in community. As our co-facilitator Laurie put it, “May we be a force together….” for peace.