Preventing Bullying & Promoting Respect

I was wondering if you’ve ever been bullied in your childhood, teen or young adult years?  If so, how did it feel to be humiliated or intimidated by someone either physically or verbally? If not, have you ever witnessed anyone you know or knew? Did anyone come to the aid of the victim? How did he/she respond? Did the victim accept it or reject it?

I was never bullied in my childhood, adolescence nor during my college years, at least I didn’t think so. A recent flashback to my junior year abroad, as an exchange student, reminded me of one of the Spanish students at the University of Granada in Spain. I remembered that he asked me if the pendant on my necklace was a monkey, each time he saw me; my pendant was a ‘chai,’ the Hebrew symbol for the letter 18 and for ‘life’.  Not thinking anything of his interpretation, I smiled each time he expressed his curiosity about it.

Today, I ask myself, why didn’t I just explain the meaning of the symbol since he seemed to be innocently ignorant of such symbols in the Jewish faith. I could have used the first time as a teachable moment; Instead, I let it go. Then, towards the end of the year, upon studying for our final exam in our arts/arquitecture course, we were reviewing symbols of the Catholic faith such as the ‘fish’;  This often appeared in the arquitecture of the many churches we visited and I was ignorant of its meaning. When asked if I was Catholic or Protestant and I replied that I was of the Jewish faith, he walked away and he chose to never study with me again.

Is this an example of a subtle form of bullying or simply an example of ignorance or intolerance and prejudice?

 So, what is subtle bullying?

Subtle bullying may not be as easy to spot as outright name-calling or physical aggression, but it can be just as upsetting and isolating. Subtle bullying may lead to being excluded from group activities on purpose. In my case, it was only one individual who excluded me from his life.  Thankfully, I had other friends who accepted me for who I was; in fact, I was selected as Miss Foreigner (‘Senorita Extranjera’) by the Spanish students I had met in my University classes; and musicians celebrated the event by entertaining me under my balcony with traditional Spanish songs. I still have the blue ribbon.

Lessons learned:

– Our Inaction leads to Action upon us by Others.

-We can make uncomfortable situations a teachable moment.

-We need to be grateful for the people who we do have in our life rather than focus on those that don’t support or accept us for who we are.

-We can feel empathy for the ‘bully.’

As a licensed teacher, I used my college experience of subtle bullying to teach tolerance and understanding by creating the Spirit of Heroes essay contest and awarded participating students in Palm Beach County, Florida for their solutions in essays. They demonstrated tolerance and understanding towards another‘s religion, race, mental/emotional/physical abilities, socio-economic background, sexual orientation and/or towards immigrants from different nations.

 Check out excerpts of some of the students’ award winning stories:

“So many people who created new inventions or contributed towards positive changes in the world have been immigrants.”

“Human beings come in all shapes as well as sizes.  There’s tall, small, thin, fat, black, white, red and yellow people.  We are all of the human race, all brothers and sisters and to live in harmony one must learn to respect and ‘tolerate all people in one’s life, no matter how hard it may seem.”

“It makes me sad when I see people with one arm or in a wheelchair. I know every parent wishes for a healthy baby but sometimes it’s just not to be.  Therefore, everybody should be more understanding of people of a physical disability because with one car hitting you or any other accident, you could be one of those people who are now disabled in some way.”

“I live in an Orthodox Jewish Community and I am Catholic.  At Christmas time, I joke that we won the holiday lights contest again. This is easy because we have the only decorated house. It all started when I saw a sign for a Sunday Jewish Soccer League.  My dad, being a champ at soccer, said “let’s go.”  Even though we’re Catholic, they accepted us.  My dad became a coach and I became a member of the team.  Now I’m invited to birthday parties and have Jewish Orthodox friends.  We have learned to respect and accept each other’s religions and customs.

A few years later, students were asked to submit essays, poetry, art  and photos to share their stories of triumph over adversities; winning entries were published in my first book, Teens Are Heroes, Too! Challenges, Choices and Character. The young heroes in the anthology chose to see the essential traits, features and potential in either themselves or in others, even historical teens; in so doing, they were able to transform their sadness, pain and/or tragedy or those of another into action for their well being or the well being of others. They began to discover their ‘meaning in life’ by doing a deed, creating a work, loving a cause, experiencing or encountering something or someone’s goodness, truth and/or beauty.

One of the poems written by an 7th grader was a tribute to Ruby Bridges; here is an excerpt:

“Once there was an ordinary child,

Whose family dreamt that she have an education.

But at the time there was desegregation,

Which was the norm for our nation.


Therefore her beginnings,

Were not without strife.

Because the child came,

From the “wrong” color of life.


Ruby Bridges was just six years old,

When she first entered school.

The U.S. Marshalls had to drive her there,

Because all the white families were so cruel.


Ruby never cried, and never whimpered,

When being attacked or made fun of.

She relied on her family and the neighbors,

And survived on their support and love.”

 What is traditional  bullying?

Bullying is a form of verbal, physical or relationship/emotional abuse comprised of repeated hurtful behavior over time that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power.  The bully’s intention is to humiliate, intimidate, manipulate, frighten, embarrass or isolate his/her target.  Cyberbullying is inflicted via phones/cellphones, social media.

Why do bullies bully?

They have a need to feel empowered and a need to control and dominate another because they themselves have been bullied and humiliated, intimidated, etc.

How can bullies be transformed into benevolent beings and victims into victors? What are the solutions?

As an educator, I felt that I could initiate an anti-bullying program with a contest that I named the America’s Young Heroes anti-bullying contest. And so, I invited teachers and their secondary school students to participate. Students were asked to offer their solutions via the arts.

Check out some of the award-winning solutions by teens for teens:




I’d like to add some of my own solutions which I consider coping tools if and when you’ve been bullied & are feeling very uncomfortable or anxious. Firstly,

What is Anxiety?

If and when you feel anxious, know that anxiety is the fear of dying (fear of physical death or the fear of emotional death such as rejection or criticism by another)

Solution:  Make the fearful feeling conscious by saying aloud,  

” I’m afraid of dying and I accept this fearful feeling;  the fact is that nothing is really threatening me and either way, I know I can handle it”  “There’s always solutions to every problem.”

And begin to:  De-stress first with deep-breathing, mindful/visualization exercises

If you wish, you can close your eyes and

Take a deep, relaxing breath in and slow deep breath out;

Breathe in calmness and breathe out tension and tightness;

Breathe in positivity and release negativity.

NOW, Imagine yourself in your favorite peaceful, soothing plac

What colors, shapes, designs do you see?

What fragrances do you smell?

Soon, it’s time to leave and you hear your inner voice ask:

for whom and for what are you grateful?

Slowly you open your eyes, feel refreshed, renewed and re-energized ready for creative, positive, joyful action you’re about to take.

-To boost your mood:

1.Write your Story: How did the bully and /or the bullying experience make you feel?  

2.Accept your feelings and verbalize them  (I feel….. and I accept my feelings of… and I can handle them knowing there’s always a solution). Share it with a family member, a close friend, a teacher, counselor, an administrator

 3.Begin a Gratitude Journal and if you like you can write daily of every little thing, situation or person that has been kind, helpful

4.Do what makes you happy😊

5.Do your favorite form of exercise or just go for a nature walk

 6.Be proud of your accomplishment (s) for yourself and/or for another

7.Ask each morning upon awakening and/or before school, “What joy will I give myself today? What joy will I give another?”

 8.Positive Self-Talk

-I realize I don’t like it AND I can stand it  and I can handle it;

-There’s always solutions because I choose to be a Victor rather than a Victim

-My business is to be myself and not react to provocations of others

-I need not be loved by everyone; I’m grateful for the friends and family that care, support and accept me for who I am

-I don’t need to please you and you don’t need to please me.

-I rather be better than bitter and am willing to actively listen, non-judgmentally and ask the same from you

-I let go of wanting to change people and accept their ‘warts’ and all.

9.Volunteer/Mentor with an Organization where you feel comfortable via phone, email, zoom.

(Depending on your talents or skills, perhaps, you can create an art piece, a musical composition, a poem, anything that can make someone else feel better)

 What you can do in the future to avoid arguments and possible bullying:

1.Don’t engage in arguments and don’t respond to critics especially on social media.

 2.If you decide to engage, perhaps, you can say,“ I’m willing to listen if you wish to share whatever your problem is about and perhaps we can help solve it.”

 3.If he/she continues to be insulting, you can just walk away or say, “I’m aware you’re bullying and insulting me AND I’m not giving myself permission to continue to be insulted or bullied any longer.”

 Acknowledge his/her anger and pain and try to show some empathy: “I’m sorry that you’re in pain and I forgive you for targeting and lashing out at me instead of talking about it.”

 Please feel free to share your thoughts, feelings and even constructive suggestions that have worked for you.  I would enjoy receiving them.



Educators & Parents, please note that this template of tools can be viewed on my

America’s Young Heroes YouTube channel:

and detailed activities for each teaching tool are available in my educational resource,

I’m Somebody & So Are You! The Human Connection in Educationfor Safer Schools & Environments

©2018   by Vera Ripp Hirschhorn




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *