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‘Compassion mobs’ & other digital-age nonviolence stands

You’ve probably heard the phrase “kill ‘em with kindness” for disarming detractors, well in social media it’s more like swamping – flooding – public, sometimes collective, cruelty with kindness, acceptance, respect, etc. That was a powerful tactic used by students I wrote about in Part 1 of this series, but it has been practiced to huge ripple effect by students in Nova Scotia, Iowa, Minnesota, and so many other places. Prof. Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research Center calls it the “Nice It Forward Movement.” His important observation was covered in the Christian Science Monitor’s coverage of the deeply sad suicide of Canadian teenager Amanda Todd here.

The trend is inspiring, but even more important, it’s teaching us something. Media is a social, behavioral, interactive, and collective experience now, so solutions usually have to be too. We can tap into our personal social networks – or into social networks created by others specifically to help, support, and heal – to find resolution (see this about how our networks protect and support well-being).

Compassion mobs

A fresh example picks up on the flash mobs phenomenon. Kay Stephens – co-author of Cyberslammed, a new book about how to “understand, prevent, combat and transform the most common cyberbullying tactics” (e.g., digital pile-ons, imposter profiles, hate groups, and videojacking) – calls it a “compassion mob.” The Maine-based author has created two of these virtual mobs on the book’s Facebook page, one for teens either seeking or providing support to others and one for parents who want to pile the compassion on when they see cruelty online.

“I’m not the first to have this idea,” Kay wrote me, “but after seeing how much negative power an online mob can quickly generate, I wanted to start a ‘compassion mob’ – a place on our Facebook page where adults could join a closed group that would essentially serve as a ‘standby army’ of compassionate people at the ready the next time we hear about a kid who is being badly cyberbullied by a mob. Then in the flash mob model, we, the compassion mob, can mobilize just as quickly to set up a positive social networking page for the teen, offer emails or support or even offer nominal gift certificates, as I’ve seen a group of people do in a loosely organized fashion to help one teen feel not so isolated.”

From self-defense to resilience, resolution

A couple of years ago, when I was reading an early draft of Cyberslammed that Kay and her co-author Vinitha Nair sent me for review, I told Kay I was concerned that including the word “combat” in the book’s advice on how to “understand, prevent, combat, transform” cyberbullying suggested that fighting back had to be part of targets’ response, but she said this was about how to combat tactics or behaviors, not people – “ethically and legally with the help of parents, school administrators, law enforcement and legal help.” And the reader isn’t left there. Next is “transform,” the part of the book based on the work of martial artist Chuck Nguyen, who teaches young people how to turn “a negative and traumatic bullying experience into a self-empowering one.” That’s what makes this guidebook for dealing with bullying so unique. Its title alludes to the martial arts perspective too.

In a program for schools about tolerance, resilience, and enlightened defense, Nguyen also teaches about “the Power of Water,” the name of his program. In a thoughtful piece for the Penobscot Bay Pilot, Kay writes that his message “is, in essence, a philosophy about the choices a target has after being emotionally injured by mistreatment. One can strike back with retaliation, but reacting blindly with violence tends to make one hardened like rock over time (like so many criminals Nguyen has worked with [in Maine prisons before deciding to work in the schools from which the prisoners he worked with had dropped out])…. Or one can respond like water, moving with flexibility, creativity and with the desired outcome of peace in response to the conflict. This is what Nguyen teaches his students: being creative and peaceful yields better results than being violent, impatient, and intolerant.” Do click to her article to be transported to one of his school assemblies. His home page, PowerofH2O.com, has a video of the first 10 minutes of the talk he gives students (I didn’t want it to end when I got to the 10-minute mark).

The Dalai Llama had a similar message for Stanford University students a couple of years ago. He told about 1,000 of them that nonviolence will accomplish much more both for the individuals who practice it and for the planet. “The 200 million people murdered in the last century, he said, underscore the need for non-violence, mutual respect and compassion,” according to the Stanford Report. He was speaking to “you [who] belong to the 21st century.” And in this century, digital media is just another place where the power of compassion can play out. Even at the intersection of old media and new – in a game called World of Warcraft – we’re seeing the question asked, “Why do we fight?”

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