From Dr. Jane's Notebook

"No Tolerance" policies often punish the innocent

The impact of such tragedies as the shootings at Columbine High School and the bomb in Oklahoma City have been felt on many different levels throughout the land. These incidents are particularly frightening because they have occurred within our borders and by citizens of our own country. As a result, children and adults have become more suspicious of their own neighbors and institutions have become more suspicious of employees.

In the effort to prevent future terrorist attacks, schools and businesses have developed a variety of no tolerance for violence policies. While these new policies are designed with good intentions, students and employees alike are left with the following dilemma: "How am I supposed to defend myself in day-to-day relationships?".

The problem of bullies at school is not a new one. Many kids feel tortured emotionally and physically by their peers on a daily basis. While it is certainly appropriate to outlaw weapons, students must be taught acceptable ways to stand up for themselves. Unfortunately, when bullied kids strike back in the effort to defend themselves, they are often punished. However, a more constructive lesson could be learned if schools and teachers would use these everyday conflicts as windows of opportunity to teach kids about conflict resolution.

Assertiveness is built upon truth and respect, while most aggression is based upon deception. Assertiveness is an approach to interpersonal relationships based upon mutual respect and fairness. When people behave aggressively, they fail to respect the rights of others and they certainly don’t play fair. When we ignore the needs of others, step on their toes, and achieve something at someone else’s expense, we are being aggressive. When we stand up for ourselves assertively, we grow in self-esteem and self-confidence.

When I was a kid, there were specific guidelines for protecting one’s self. After-school fights using boxing gloves were often scheduled and supervised by coaches when kids needed to settle their differences. Other teachers implemented court-like arenas for dispute management. The point is that with all of our emphasis on violence prevention, we have not specified acceptable approaches to conflict management and conflict resolution.

Our challenge is to learn from tragic experiences but avoid the temptation to overreact and create blanket policies. It is all too easy to create new laws and rules which punish good citizens and make them feel like criminals. When this occurs, instead of punishing the guilty, we end up punishing the innocent. Instead of teaching violence prevention, we may further blur the differences between good and evil in the world.

©Copyright, 2001, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.

Return to Personal Growth

Return to Table of Contents