Zero tolerance for bullying! I hear that so often, and when I hear it, it is said with determination and there is fire in the eyes of the speaker.
They say it. They believe it when it’s being said and they know it’s the right thing to say.

But that’s the problem with all of this isn’t it?

Words.

Sometimes they have meaning.

Sometimes they don’t.

I was watching kids playing in a pool, it was a summer camp activity. I knew this because there were camp staff with them in the pool. I could easily identify them as camp staff because they all wore singlets with the words ‘camp staff’ on them.

Right in front of me I saw a bully standing under a devise that, when full, dumped a blast of water on whoever was below. He was centered directly under the dump bucket and was taking, to his delight, the full impact of the water. There were kids around him, pushed in close, who were taking the left over splash. The brave ones tried to get closer and the bully elbowed them hard and they moved back. This was his and he was keeping it.

This was seen.

I clocked three of the camp counselors notice this.

But nothing happened. They made no move. Two shook their head in disapproval, but that was the extent of their action.

But there was a boy, with a disability, who was in the pool, several feel away, who saw what I saw. A bully using force and entitlement to take from other kids the experience of a direct blast of fun. His elbows and his attitude were his weapons, his expectations of inaction by the staff was an integral part of his strategy for domination of that area of the pool. The kid with a disability saw all this.

He was accompanied by a staff. He got their attention and he pointed. It looked, from my viewpoint on the other side of the glass, that he didn’t use words to communicate. He pointed, they saw and looked away, he pointed again, and they looked away again. He was getting frustrated and it showed.

“Tell the staff,””Tell someone in a position of authority” is one of the strategies we teach children, people with disabilities, and each other. It’s a common sense strategy. If you see or experience bullying, or violence, or abuse, report it.

But bullies, and aggressors, and abusers, know that ‘zero tolerance’ often means ‘zero acknowledgement’ that people will simply ‘not see’ what they ‘don’t tolerate.’

That child, the one with the disability, was the one kid in the pool that did what needed to be done. He clearly took responsibility and because he did he SAW what was happening and he took action.

But that’s where the action stopped.

Then, the whistle blew and the kids clamoured out of the pool.

I saw the bully standing, smiling from the fun he had. I’m not sure if that fun was the water bucket or the fact that he had it to himself.

He won.

Everyone else lost.

And he knew it.

Zero tolerance doesn’t exist if there is zero determination and willful, purposeful, refusal to see what won’t be tolerated.

And maybe we need a new strategy.

Maybe we should be promising something different, not ‘zero tolerance for bullying’ but ‘zero tolerance for inaction’ to the issue of bullying, abuse and social violence.

That’s what I’d like to see.

That’s what I’d like to experience.

That’s what may make the world a little bit safer.