Shown, Not Told, and Too Real for Comfort

I have written a number of fiction books dealing with a variety of social issues, such as bullying, eating disorders, the emotions (not the heroics) of war, child abuse and parenting, global warming, education, and the redevelopment of a society after colonizing another planet.

Just as my non-fiction books concern our different inborn personality types and how those affect how we deal with each other and our environment, so the characters in my fiction books are human beings. Each character has a personality type, a history, as well as beliefs, emotions, sensitivities, experiences and prejudices, some of which are culturally influenced and learned. They interact with other characters who have different personality types, a different history, and different beliefs, emotions, sensitivities, experiences and prejudices.

These variables are how real people in ‘real’ life get to their problems, their arguments, their joys, their love, their hate, their wars, their celebrations… their everything  and that is how the characters in my stories get them.

Human nature, after all, is not a question of simple equations or a few chemical elements that always respond the same way in the same circumstances. Human beings are not objects with static observable traits that give evidence of their inner nature. Apart from the variables that come from their different personal and cultural histories, human behaviour is largely motivated by unconscious influences and inborn tendencies.

“Human nature” as a concept is not something that can be described, because there is not one nature inherent to all humans. The type differences are not limited to humans and different types of people are so different that they can only conceptually know what may motivate other types, but they will never be able to experience it: We cannot crawl into each other’s personality type.

Our personality is what we are and it influences everything we encounter in the world and has done so from the day we were born. We cannot and never will be able to change our inborn personality type – the tendencies that make us experience life the way we do.

All too often, fictional characters are two dimensional. They encounter a problem and solve it according to some method that “always works”, presuming all people to be psychologically identical.

If a book has a victim of bullying – a child that has been on the receiving end their entire life – suddenly make a radical character change that stops them being victimized, then it creates an unrealistic psychological situation. People cannot change their personality at will, so that such stories implicitly blame the readers that are victims for not changing who they are, because, according to the story, that would make everything okay.

Don’t you think they would have changed if that was possible? More often than not, they have tried to do so their whole life, because they get the same message at school, from doctors, from counsellors, and from the media – and the more they are told, the harder they try until it becomes too much and they either start shooting or commit suicide.

The same goes for stories in which the bully suddenly has a revelation and changes his ways.

Now, I realize that writers are also human and they have different types (that unconsciously influence them) and therefore will deal with human nature differently in their stories. Hard science fiction tends to be written by Ts, who love technology and cannot deal very well with human emotions, which they tend to call irrational and try to analyze, so it makes sense for them to write cardboard tour guides who explain to the reader the technology that is the focus of the story – maybe a story like that has no need for the variables of human interaction.

Similarly, action stories are often written for those who are not very interested in psychology, so their heroes can be stereotypes, and fairy tale characters can be superficial when written to express a moral lesson.

But when the objective is to write about human interactions, human relationships, human development and society, presenting characters that have no human complexity – no ‘real’ life – is presenting the reader with a false picture.

Now, writers get told to “show not tell” what their characters are going through and that is what I try to do. For example, In the Real World has two point of view characters who are different types. Only by allowing the reader an insight in both their minds, can their different natural responses to the same situation be made understandable.

In The Happiness Inquisition, we need to get into the minds of five characters to understand the way they act if we don’t want to assign undue blame based on superficial behaviour. People do not act without a context – every action is a reaction.

And in Of a Note in a Cosmic Song there is a multitude of point of view characters, because each represents not only a different personality type, but also a different social background and a different belief system. You cannot build a colony without people and forgetting that they are people (by focusing on the technology only ) soon results in interpersonal quarrels and acts of sabotage that put the entire colony at risk.

Yet, it is often exactly those who repeat the popular slogan “show don’t tell”, who are now telling me that showing different behaviours and motivations makes things too complex.

In Soup and Bread, my latest novel, written from the viewpoint of an 11-year old girl, I show how some kids turn on themselves when confronted with adversaries, while others take revenge.

In order to show the complexities of everything that influences their responses to the bullies or to food, I introduce a number of different characters and situations – in this case all through the main character’s eyes – to show those natural differences in children that make them more or less likely to end up a victim of bullying or to have eating problems.

Not always in so many words, but I have been told that Soup and Bread is not suitable for kids with the suggestion that it is because of this variety of characters or because the story deals with two problems (bullying and eating disorders) instead of one.

I think it is more likely because I don’t assign blame or cause in the children (or their bodies or their upbringing) but look at the environment that accommodates this behaviour: the school. Not only is this not the accepted viewpoint, but it creates discomfort in adults, who suddenly feel the need to defend themselves.

But the thing is that I don’t write my books to confirm what is already generally believed. Doing that would make me obsolete as a writer. My aim is to show readers that people are not all psychological clones of each other and, therefore, that such conflicts are not one person’s fault – no matter how much easier it is to assign “right” and “wrong” based on superficial traits and ignore all the variables that influence a person over their lifetime. My goal is to show how we are different and how that can lead to problems without there having to be anybody to blame (including the school), and that these same differences are vital for our happiness and progress as well. My goal is to create acknowledgement for our diversity, not denial of it.

If this makes things complex then that is because human nature isn’t as simple as chemical elements or the workings of the neurones in the brain– and that is a good thing or we would all be puppets to the whims of a dictator – and simplifying these complex issues has so far made things worse.

Only by showing the differences can I show the different types and so explain the different behaviours of the children. Some readers will ‘get’ one character and others readers will ‘get’ another and if they start talking to each other, they may start to see that there are more than one way to be human.

And my book is not too complex for children. If my book is too complex, it is so for those types of people who prefer to deal with human nature in a simple way.

And just for the record: that has nothing to do with being smart, but only with how each type perceives the world. Some people naturally deal with complexities and variables and others try to limit them. Referring to “Ockham’s Razor”, many philosophers and scientists dismiss entire aspects of humanity because it isn’t the simplest answer, and so they make characters out of cardboard and set impossible standards for real people. That is because such types are naturally better at dealing with the hard sciences – with facts and objects – than human beings; each type has their special strengths.

And children meet many different characters at school every day and they are confronted with both bullying and eating disorders (which are related), so why would meeting them in a story suddenly make things too complex?

So should I stop writing complex characters and stories – because the media, the publishers, some teachers and some book sellers believe that good books appeal to the masses?

I cannot do that, because I would deceiving exactly those readers (including kids) who are currently blamed and given medical labels for being “different” on the basis of simplified ideals and stereotyped popular icons.

According to the Dictionary: Schooling or Education

Although I have many times mentioned it as part of other discussions, I would once more like to come back to the role of the school with regard raising children and educating them, because this remains a topic of confusion.

I recently came across two articles in which upset or criticism was expressed about what schools tell children. One of those discussions was about “sexual education” and specifically the idea that the school allowed guest speaker to inform children that there was a good chance they might be homosexual. A second discussion was about dress codes and whether religious head wear should be banned to avoid inequality. The objection was that the child with the religious head wear was given special privileges if head wear for non-religious reasons was not allowed.

The point of both discussions was that the parents did not agree with what the school was telling the children about the topic. In the first case, the parents didn’t actually have anything against homosexuality, but they didn’t want their child told that certain superficial behaviour (such as playing with dolls) indicated that they might be – quite right. The second was about cultural diversity versus diversity of opinion.

These objections are equivalent to objections and discussions about schools making children stand up and salute a flag, schools teaching evolution theory (which religious parents don’t accept) and schools telling war stories with the message that soldiers are heroes (which pacifist parents disagree with), as well as those issues I have mentioned before, such as when schools tell children they have mental disorders if they can’t behave like their peers, or when schools criticize what children eat or tell them what their parents are supposed to feed them.

In short, the (public) school is instilling messages into the children’s minds, which some parents object to. And although I understand the sentiment of the writers of those articles, I believe they may have overlooked the difference between schooling and education.

Today, terminology such as “education” and “life-long learning” are considered positives. The vast majority of parents, teachers and politicians will tell you that they think children should go to school, because they need an education. The UN has made a moral law that ‘guarantees’ children “the right to an education”, which is made compulsory and equated with going to school. (see my article on this topic: Education and Human Rights). Thus, we talk about “the education system” when we mean schools.

Using these two words interchangeably results from  adults internalizing what they are told as children and then never questioning it again. I call this “The Santa Claus effect”. If you raise children with the belief that Santa Claus exists, they will not question it unless somebody starts hinting at the possibility that it may not be true. Usually, at a certain age, kids start informing each other or parents tell them, but if this was not the case – like it is when an entire culture is immersed in a view and schools and the media keep repeating it – they would grow up believing that Santa Claus is real.

And so parents, teachers and the media all repeat that going to school means getting an education and if the children never hear anything else, they will pass on this same message to their own children or students when they grow up.

Most teachers, no doubt, go into teaching, because they want to help children learn – they want to educate them, and most parents will send their kids to school, because they want them to learn. But it is exactly that confusion that lies at the basis of these disagreements between schools and parents.

So, let us literally quote the dictionary  – Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, and I have used both the Ninth (1989) and the Tenth (2001) edition – and with apologies for any repeat from previous articles and in my young adult novel In the Real World.

The dictionary starts by listing the following synonyms, which are regularly used in relation to schools:

“teach, instruct, educate, train, discipline and school all mean to cause to acquire knowledge or skill”

Then it separates them:

to teach  is the most general and refers to “any manner of imparting information or skill so others may learn”

to instruct is “methodical or formal teaching”

to educate is “attempting to bring out latent capabilities”  In the 2001 edition, this is modified to “the development of the mind”

to train “stresses instruction and drill with a specific end in view”

to discipline is “subordinating to a master for the sake of controlling”  In the 2001 version this is modified to “training in habits of order and precision”

to school is “training or disciplining, esp. in what is hard to master or to bear” In the 2001 editions “or to bear” has been omitted. And the first entry definition given for the verb “school” is “to teach or drill a specific knowledge or skill”

Just to confirm, for those who object to my choice of dictionary, the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) says about “to school”:

  1. To educate or train (a person, the mind, etc.); to make wise, skilful, or tractable by training or discipline; to be educated in a particular belief, habit, outlook; to educate (a child) at a school; to provide (a person) with a formal education, typically at a school, college, or university.

More modern dictionaries, like the New Zealand Oxford  (2008) and some online equivalents, say:

to teach is “to give systematic information to (a person) or about (a subject or skill)”

to instruct is to “teach, direct, command or inform”

to educate is to “give intellectual, moral or social instruction as a formal or prolonged process”  

to train is to “teach a specific skill by practice”

to discipline is “mental, moral or physical training” or “control or order exercised over people”

schooling refers to “training or discipline” or “education at school”

So the more modern the dictionary, the more there is a tendency to relate schooling to knowledge and the mind, and education to schools, which is evidence of  language being interpretable and subject to fashions, even within the era. With that in mind, I also looked at the word origins:

According to the OED, the origin of “to school” is to reprimand, scold, admonish (obs.). To tell (a person) he or she is wrong about something; to dictate to (a person); to criticize, correct, ‘lecture'”.

And the etymology dictionary (online) agrees with this. The origin (around the mid 15th century) of “school” as a verb meant “to educate; to reprimand, to discipline”
And to educate, this dictionary says, stems from the same period and means to “bring up (children), to train”. The root of this word, “educe” means to “bring out or develop from latent or potential existence, which is therefore in agreement with the Merriam-Webster.

So, even if the word meanings change a little, there is a clear focus difference. “Education” means bringing out latent capabilities in the learner or to develop and bring up; in other words, the focus is on the child. It wants to raise an individual who can develop their own natural talents and skills as good as possible and so be happy contributing to the greater whole (the society). “Education”, by its very definition, acknowledges that not every child is born with the same talents and its goal is to discover and nurture those inborn talents.

“Schooling” focuses on the skill or the outcome. The goal is to create an individual who can perform the end goal, who can benefit the needs of the society.

This is a subtle, but very important difference, and it is possible that the half of the population who are Js (who naturally equate the needs of the group with those of the individual) might protest and say that this difference is contrived.

Nevertheless, the role of schools is to create citizens that will fit in the society, that will not cause trouble and that will contribute to its needs. To allow too much individuality is in conflict with these needs. An established society does not want people questioning it, it wants them to endorse it.

As said before, societies cannot exist unless the majority of their members obey their rules. And how do you achieve that better than by instilling the beliefs in the members when they are too young to question it?

In principle, education doesn’t need schools and, possibly, schools don’t need to provide education, but an institution that does not teach any skills or values is more like a prison. So, schools (as state institutions) can provide education, but that does not mean that the words can be used interchangeably.

Schools, as said in Changing Beliefs, at times run ahead or behind the popular opinion, but it is their job to make children accept the beliefs of the society they represent, whether that society is a religious group or the state.

The views of the current rulers are instilled in children through schools, and in a democracy those are the beliefs of the mob – beliefs that change with fashions and depend for a great part on trends.

Thus, if the vast majority of people believe that evolution and homosexuality are wrong (as was the case less than a century ago), then that is what schools tell the children. If the majority suddenly goes overboard to the other extreme (and mob beliefs are seldom moderate), then schools will follow that trend.

Schooling can only happen in an institution; education is something parents can do just as well. So if you send your child to school, you have to understand that your own beliefs could be dismissed in favour of those the school holds. The alternative would be to educate your own children according to your own beliefs.

However, as said above, the “right to education” has been made into an obligation to send children to school – and some countries will threaten parents with prison if they are not willing to subject their kids to the beliefs of the state (through school).

In general, the more open-minded and tolerant a society is, the more it will allow its members a mind of their own. In doing so, each individual is likely to contribute to the collective in their own area of expertise, which, if all different talents are valued equally, means each can feel satisfied and respected.

A stable society tends to be lenient, but the moment a society starts weakening, it will try and enforce its own views – the weaker it feels, the more moralistic and dogmatic it becomes and individual needs and views are suppressed. This is true for any group (whether the society at large or a club or a school) and the less tolerant a society, the more it will enforce ‘education laws’.

The common belief (also instilled in most adults through schools and the media) is that these laws prevent child labour. But in most cases that was a convenient excuse that played on the emotions and guaranteed compliance without effort.

In short, education is not schooling; a law that makes going to school compulsory is not there for the sake of the children.

My advice to parents: If you have a choice, go talk to the schools and find out how open-minded they are. Do they really allow the individual child to have its own opinion without being penalized with lower grades or a scolding, or is it just a slogan the school has adopted, because the word “individual” is a popular hype word?

But one more word of caution. As I said before, whether somebody is inclined to accept the popular view or go against it, whether somebody is by nature an individual or not, depends on their personality type and there is no guarantee that your child is the same type as you are. So it is possible that if you, as a parent, object to schools and to uniformity of beliefs, that your child actually prefers that and feels safe in such an environment. If you make a fuss, you could be compromising your child.

Similarly, if you believe that making children fit in the society is a good thing, because they will later get a good job, make sure that you are not forcing a naturally individualistic child into something that stifles their inner self.

Because, regardless of what schools do, most parents aim to educate their children and that means allowing their natural personality type to develop according to their own needs.

Positive and Negative Discrimination

In this post – and I apologize for its length – I want to return to the psychology behind Soup and Bread.

During the launch, two issues were raised that I’d like to respond to. The first was a criticism to my view that using role play to teach the victims to learn how to behave differently, is victim blaming.  The second was the question why New Zealand, being a wealthy country that is not overpopulated, has such a high rate of bullying if compared to similar countries. In discussing these points, I will also address school policies and the effect of the in Changing Beliefs mentioned discrepancy between what we say and what we do.

Let me first respond to the criticism. The lady who mentioned it had been part of an acting group that went around schools to act out social issues – doing role play with children and discussing the results with them – which I think is wonderful idea. She did not agree with me, because from experience she knew that teaching children to take a different attitude does make a difference in how they react and how the bullies treat them.

In the story, Vonnie (the point of view character) observes Claire (the target of the bullies) cringing every time the bullies pay attention to her. Cringing is one of the natural responses people take when they sense danger and from experience Claire knows she is in danger every time the bullies come near her.  The school counselor, who believes that Claire is picked on because she cringes, takes her out of class every week to practice standing up to the bullies – doing role play to learn to take a different physical pose and so prevent being picked on.

Although I agree that taking a different physical attitude makes a difference in how the other party perceives you and thus the way they react, as well as making the victim stand a bit stronger, that was not really the point I was making.

Just as a reminder: every person has a personality (their inner self that remains the same; the person they refer to as “I”) and also many personas. A  persona is the social mask we wear; in different situations we put on a different mask (just like our clothes) – we do not behave at a fun fair as we would at a funeral; we do not behave at work as we would at home.

So, although Claire can act differently (put on a different persona) in a role play put up for that purpose, that does not mean she will still act that way when she is alone and the bullies appear, because the situation is different. During a role play she is not in real danger.

And sure, if she were to go to a totally new school, and on her first day put on that acted persona, it is possible that new bullies would not pick on her, because of it. But it is unlikely that changing her stance in an environment that already knows her will make such a difference.

But even if it did. Why should Claire have to put on an act every time she is at school? Why is it okay for those who naturally bond together to act themselves in the place where they spend almost a third of their days, but not for Claire? After all, the bullies do NOT get sent to the counselor to learn how to behave differently. Why does the counselor not ask the bullies to play-act being nice?

Or why does she not ask the class to reverse the roles to ‘teach’ the children not to bully? – They actually did an experiment in a school in the US once, in response to racial discrimination. The racist kids were given an armband to signify their being different, and the rest of the class was told to ignore them or laugh at them; they fell apart in no time.

Victims of bullying put up with being alone and being picked on for years, so why do counselors try and “teach” them how to get tough?

So the point I am making is that Claire cringes out of self-protection; she has a perfectly healthy and natural reaction to danger, no differently than turtles who pull into their shell, and this reaction is not the cause of the bullying; it is the effect of it. Yet, she gets told that she must not do that, because it is “not being tough”. The bullies do not get told to act differently, so implicitly, the message is that it’s Claire’s own fault that she’s bullied, because she cringes.

This constitutes a double bind. A double bind is a situation in which a person is stuck between two negatives. For example, if an adult tells a child to do something (or get scolded), but if the child does what it is told, it is never good enough, so they get scolded anyway. Whatever they do, the outcome is negative for them.

In this case, Claire is told that changing her posture will stop the bullying – but people cannot change their instinctive reactions at will or their inner personality by changing their outward behaviour, so it cannot work consistently, which results in the implication that it is her own fault, because the school “taught her”. Not only does Claire now get bullied by her classmates, but the adults make it worse.

Towards the end of the story, Claire slowly gets more self-secure and she does not cringe when she is in the company of those who do not bully her. So, she never needed to be taught to stand up straight or to stop cringing. She merely needed a tolerant and safe environment to make that change naturally. And that is why during a role play, the observers do see a change in attitude, but that does not take away from the point I was making: that telling Claire that things will change if she puts on an act, is victim blaming.

Some people may object to my comparison to racial discrimination, but that comparison is very accurate – the kids refer to an “inner skin colour” – except that (for the moment) being picked on for one’s psychological make-up is done unconsciously, because most people are not aware of the healthy inborn personality type differences.

When Michael Jackson bleached his skin and had a nose job, he more or less literally put on a mask (a persona), but that did not mean that his genetic make-up had become white. The mask does not change the inside person – neither does a man become a woman, simply by putting on a dress.

Schools only deal with superficial traits; they observe what people look like and how they act, and they expect all kids to be able to behave in the same manner, because they think that it is a result of learning.

But, as I said before, if people could change who they are inside at will or simply by changing superficial traits, we would have behaviourism and no individuality would be possible at all.

“Discrimination” is a buzz word of modern democracy, because it is supposedly the opposite of equality, so it is used in relation to gender and racial differences, and lately also to cultural or sexual orientation differences.

But what exactly is discrimination?

There are two definitions:

Discrimination in a negative sense, which refers to putting people at a disadvantage because of a personal difference (race, gender or personality type), such as not hiring a person for a job because of their skin colour or gender, or teachers not calling on a child in class, because they believe the child is dumb due to their personality or race.

Discrimination in a positive sense refers to the ability to notice and distinguish differences between objects – sensory discrimination, for example, like chefs who can distinguish minute variations in tastes.

Today, there is a tendency to deny that people have different skin colours by those who are paranoid about being politically wrong – which in turn is a result of everything being seen through a lens of negative discrimination. But denying that the differences exist is denying something special about people – denying their heritage. We need equal respect, not everybody identical.

In that light, negative discrimination is an inability to discriminate (positively) – to know what aspects are part of the context, which are connected – and an inability to individualize: stereotyping.

If you deny positive discrimination in an attempt to avoid negative discrimination, you achieve the exact opposite.

The answer to negative discrimination is to acknowledge the differences between people and to value them all equally (true equality) – to celebrate them, even.
Tolerance is the first step in that; to acknowledge and accept that not everybody is the same as you are.

The other issue, that of the terrible reputation New Zealand has when it comes to bullying, is closely related to this. Why does New Zealand have such a high incidence?

The first thing that came to my mind was the uniforms. School uniforms are very common here and they openly state that being an individual is not appreciated – all kids have to dress the same.

But what schools “teach” in words does not match the ‘lesson’ they teach in action: The children are told that being an individual is something to strive for, but if a child dares to dress like an individual, they get in trouble – the child gets stuck in a double bind.

If they protest this contradiction, they get told that “If everybody else can behave, then so can you” – another common expression that outright dismisses individuality.

We must not forget that if a person is by nature individualistic, then having to dress like everybody else is an insult to their person. Those who naturally want to belong to the group – be alike, which even without official decrees results in the fashion trends we see – cannot possibly imagine what that feels like, so they dismiss it.

School may have the best of intentions, thinking that putting all children in the same outfit makes for equality, but do they really think that the obese child in the tight skirt looks the same as their slender classmate? The children certainly don’t think so.

But I want to modify my position about uniforms a little, since some other countries, like Great Britain and South Africa, are also very keen on stiff uniforms, so that alone would not give New Zealand its bad reputation.

Somebody mentioned poverty, because New Zealand also has a high ratio of childhood poverty, but in my view, bullying is certainly not a problem of poverty; on the contrary, bullying is very prominent in private schools.

Uniforms do send another message: they reinforce strict “group” belonging. Every school has their own uniform; boys wear different clothes than girls – girls in New Zealand schools wear skirts (not track pants or shorts) and in some cases those skirts almost reach their ankles and are culturally biased (Scottish kilts).

Thus, the us versus them, the concept of in-groups, is openly encouraged with such displays and bullying is about in-groups.

As said in Changing Beliefs, groups need a certain amount of congruence between members in order to exist, and thus “the group” will try and enforce any behaviour (like dress) that emphasizes its own existence. Some people, by their very nature, will accept and adapt to outward displays of defining the group. But others do not feel it that way and they will resist. Some do that by rebelling or standing out and setting trends (so they create new groups and get followers), but others cannot make that adaptation, so they end up standing alone.

Bullying is therefore a result of “the group” defending itself against that what feels different, because individuality threatens the integrity of “the group”. As a result, bullying happens most in places where there is no greater adversary to stand up against together (such as a war, a tyrant, a hurricane, poverty). So the higher incidence of peer-directed bullying is seen in times of wealth and peace, because the natural instincts are still there.

But, because the inner need to either belong or stand out (the personality) cannot be seen, this need is expressed in clothing, behaviour, rituals and language and the more specific the group already is, the more the smaller in-groups need to find symbols to use against those they do not want.

The more pride for their club, the more inclined a group is to keep others out. Uniforms certainly enforce that, but even without uniforms, there will be in-groups – In Soup and Bread, both public and private schools are shown to have similar problems.

The other aspect of schools that reinforce bullying is that of competition. Vonnie’s school teacher says that “competition makes us perform the best we can”. This is a common assumption, and simultaneously contradicted with the message that “there are no winners or losers”.

But, of course, the naturally competitive children do think in winning and losing and they look for blame if they lose; the blame befalls the odd child out, the one who was already different (very often a child that is not naturally competitive or athletic), so that encouraging competition encourages bullying.

Neither is it true that competition makes “us” perform the best we can. That is a slogan used by those who need to be one-up. In team sports, sure, it is about winning and losing, but there are plenty of people who prefer personal improvement sports and have no desire to win over others and some need harmony instead of competition. Those differences are personality type differences and cannot be changed at will or by lessons.

I have nothing against healthy competition, such as in sports, but only if it involves those people who are by nature competitive or have a need for it. By forcing all children into competition, you put those who are not so inclined at a disadvantage.

In Australia, where I have seen a lot of negative intolerance and bullying at schools, there is a very strong “tall poppy” focus. They pride themselves on not tolerating “tall poppies”, which, they will tell you, are people who think they are better than others. After all, the Aussies pride themselves of their convict background and have a proud national interest in competitive sports.

As a consequence, in one primary school, this message was literally translated to putting down the kids with an interest in science (like Donny in the book). At eight and nine years old, these kids were told they were tall poppies and deserved to be “put in their place” by the group, who were footy fans. In short, they confused snotty attitudes (thinking you are better) with being different by nature (having different natural interests and talents), and used “tall poppies” as an excuse to oust individuality. As a result, “tall poppies grow best in those gardens that claim to have eradicated them”.

Like uniforms, such attitudes legitimize the notion that being different is being bad, and if this difference is something a person cannot change (like their gender, their race or their personality type) then it is no longer about the behaviour, but about the person, which makes it negative discrimination.

So, if a school claims “policies”, that constitute teaching kids to change their behaviour with the message that it will change who they are, then those policies are creating double bind situations and are in essence covert bullying. For more examples, see 

And saying “we are doing all we can”, while only focusing on strategies directed at changing the victim, is selectively picking somebody to blame.

The solution: to actively make the diversity, the natural differences between people (including psychological differences) a source of pride; to change the collective attitude so that “the group” identifies itself by its diversity of members and its tolerance becomes a trait that signifies the group. That is why focusing on the environment itself and on the bystanders – as the KIVA program does – can work.