Transcription of Interview with Jessie Klein: 46 minutes
Thanks to ON volunteer Don Caldarazzo for help with the transcription process.
Jessie Klein. assistant professor of sociology at Adelphi University in New York City is author of "The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America's Schools." She just wrote the piece "Latest Conn. School Massacre Reminds Us Again to Transform our Bully Society into More Compassionate Communities," noting that "Many of the school shooters since 1979 have been described as 'brilliant' and 'remote.' Repeatedly they had left notes or testimonies about how they were called 'nerd' or 'geek' of even more often, 'gay.'" But Klein adds: "We need to stop looking for the profile of the perpetrators; and examine instead the profile of schools and society more generally.
Rob: "Station ID" (Rob Kall Bottom Up Radio Show WNJC 1360 AM) Tonight my guest is Jessie Klein. Jessie is the author of The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America's Schools. We're going to talk about Newtown and other things. Jessie, welcome to the show!
Jessie: Thank you for having me.
Rob: You just wrote a piece, Latest Connecticut School Massacre Reminds Us Again to Transform Our Bully Society into More Compassionate Communities. I understand that there's no record that Adam Lanza was bullied.
Jessie: I think it's not important necessarily whether he particularly was bullied; my concern is that we've created a society that is fairly callous in the larger culture, and that people like this perpetrator who have clearly violent proclivities are more likely to act on them in a society where bullying takes place, where people have very little time to stop for one another and support one another. We live in a society today where, since the 1980s, social isolation has tripled, empathy has significantly decreased, depression and anxiety are rising. People trust each other less than ever before. Many people are isolated and having a very hard time, and at the same time we know that community has decreased, civic engagement has decreased. Most people feel fairly pressured to go to work, meet their deadlines, stay on a very strict schedule. We have put ourselves in a situation where we have very little time for one another; and in such an environment, when there are people who have violent proclivities, they are going to be more likely to act. If we were able to create a more compassionate society where it was more likely that you would run into your neighbor and have time to talk, where you would be able to reach out to both people you know, as well as people you don't know, and have a sense of social obligation as fellow human beings, in a society where compassion is just as important as following our dreams or going to work and meeting our deadlines, these kinds of violent activities -- atrocities - are less likely to occur.
Rob: It sounds like what you're advocating for is the same thing that the Dalai Lama is talking about when he calls for people to practice warm-heartedness.
Jessie: I think there is a sense in which it is harder to be spiritually centered when we're all so over-scheduled. So, being part of a community and developing a relationship with oneself, some people would consider it spiritual, some people would consider it psychological, some people would just consider it a balanced life. You could come at it from many different places, but the point is that we've created a society that I call a "bully society," just because it has become so competitive; people feel pressure to be powerful, they feel pressure to be perfect in their grades and their jobs. Everybody feels like - not everybody, but many people feel [that] if they don't meet this deadline or they don't bill those hours, they are not going to get the promotion, they are not going to get into college. From children all the way through older adults, people are often feeling like one wrong move and their lives are going to be undermined. I think it's the wrong way to prioritize if we want to create a society that is peaceful.
Rob: You have written this book, The Bully Society: School Shootings and the Crisis of Bullying in America's Schools. Do you have some answers, some solutions as to how to reverse this cultural process that has evolved?
Jessie: Yeah. I think that the schools are in the best position to try to change this trend. Schools have a compulsory community: kids have to come, teachers have to come, other school faculty, administrators. It doesn't have to be the bully society that takes place so often in schools, where kids are vying for popularity, and making practically military alliances to prevent themselves from becoming the pariah. So many of the social dynamics at school are so hurtful, and children come back in so much pain. Even kids who are able to be identified as popular are often watching their back and not really able to trust anybody, because they could easily be the next victim. Given this very pernicious social environment, schools could do a lot to try to create community, to try to help students develop values that were about supporting one another, rather than everybody competing to get the best grade on a test, if there is a test. I think that's something we have to deal with right now, because there are such high stakes tests around. If there is a test, teachers could think about ways that students could help each other study for the test, so that it's not "I'm against you," but "We're all working to help each other do as well as we possibly can." Schools can have town meetings where the whole school comes together, or if the school is big, three or four homerooms come together and talk about issues of concern: "What values do we have in our community?" Most importantly, students should lead those meetings, not teachers, so that students write the agenda, call on the other students, encourage other students to express their concerns, so that they feel that their voice counts, and that the community that they are creating at that school will matter, and it's something that they can own and feel proud of. There is an infinite amount of things that schools can do. Workplaces, of course, are compulsory communities too, and they have different pressures on them, but I certainly think there are ways that workplaces could create more collaborative dynamics so that people feel less like they're competing with one another. You know, "If I do the wrong thing, I'm the one who's going to get bumped and the other one is getting the promotion." It's not a very positive way to run a society, and we do see many workplace shootings and a lot of workplace bullying comparable to what we see in schools.
Rob: It sounds like what you are describing as the solution is to help people to feel more interdependent, connected, part of a community, as an antidote to what you've described as the tripling of social isolation and decreases in empathy. Is that right?
Jessie: Right, and I think that people actually don't necessarily know how to be empathic anymore. There is a wonderful program called Non-Violent Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg, where he actually runs workshops on teaching adults how to be empathic. There are many schools that have adopted non-violent communication models and started to teach kids as young as preschool and kindergarten to listen to one another, to respond to one another's feelings, to consider what people's needs are, not to go right into advising, or judging, or arguing, but to just be present for one another. I think that is a very rare experience in today's society, and schools could take the lead in helping people learn how to be empathic again in a society where empathy has been reduced so significantly; has decreased.
Rob: With all the talk in the news about this, people are looking for solutions that are legislated. It doesn't sound like this is something that would be legislated. How does something like this, the kind of change you are talking about - how do we make them happen? How are they encouraged, or supported, or funded? What is involved and what is needed to bring about these changes that connect people, enable them to help each other, maybe even get their hearts connected more?