I attended an Anti-Bullying Symposium on 17th September at Church House, Bayswater. I went fully armed with the URC Harassment and Bullying Policy and Procedure downloaded from the website, which should be read in conjunction with the Church's Equalities, Disciplinary and Grievance Policies and Procedures. The policy is principally for those working with Church House, either employed or volunteers but it was this body of work that formed the basis of the session.
At the end of the symposium, it was decided a policy document will be researched and offered to Synod as a framework to tackle bullying as a problem.
Section four of Harassment and Bullying Policy and Procedure, headed Responsibilities of Employees and Managers, reminds us that all employees are responsible for their behaviour and that all managers are responsible for implementing the policy. Any complaints brought to the attention of a manager must be dealt with promptly, confidentially, fairly and consistently.
Under Harassment, many examples in the policy are cited, including spreading malicious rumours, professional or social exclusion, insulting behaviour, unwelcome sexual advances or physical contact, physical assault, offensive emails, texts or visual images, and inciting others to commit any of the above. 1.4 of the policy states this, "Whether the bullying or harassment is intentional or not is irrelevant; the key is that the person being harassed sees the comments or actions as offensive, demeaning, disrespectful or unacceptable."
Taking this policy into church life, there seems to be a need to correlate between manager and minister, with employees being members of the congregation or adherents, but this will be worked out later in the year. I am writing this so that we are aware it is being considered.
It was an educational afternoon where we looked at the concept of bullying, the purpose of harassment, played a bullying scenario game, and discussed what we should do next.
Bullying is an abuse of power found in all walks of life from school to work where there is generally a "pecking order". The bullying ripples out, not only affecting the people involved but the families and work colleagues too. Bullying seems to create something beyond itself. It has to be seen within the context of cultural norms. Some behaviours are deemed acceptable, for example, in cricket, "sledging" where the opposition do their best to intimidate the batsman.
Bullying provokes the question who decides who is doing the bullying? Should one have zero tolerance or is a level of acceptance needed?
How do we respond to bullying, whether it happens to us or if we witness it occurring? Do we have the power to stop the bullying? Perhaps having a church policy is helpful so that if something occurs, we have a checklist to use to define whether it classes as bullying.
We have to treat one another with respect, honour and love. It is okay to have different views but we have to be careful that being forceful in our conversations and overzealous in our encouragement, may come across as bullying.
The scenarios we looked at prompted good conversation. From the scenario, we had to decide whether the situation was never acceptable, sometimes acceptable or always acceptable. We found it was very easy to come up with explanations to excuse the bully's behaviour. It depended on: knowledge of the back story, the context of the scenario, how it was said, the tone of voice, the relationship between the parties, and the culture.
The uncomfortable question, "Do we deal with bullying by not dealing with it?" seemed to be a recurring theme.
In short, if you feel you are being bullied, you are bullied. I look forward to a policy being produced within the next year. In the meantime ... what can we do?
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon