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The Foundations of the Emergence of Bullying: The lack of empathy may lead to bullying

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In my last message, I spoke about children's interpersonal relationships from the perspective of "child ecology". I believe that an analysis of bullying (a phenomenon we call ijime in Japan) also from the perspective of child ecology will serve to better understand the malfunction of these interpersonal relationships of children. Subsequently, we will look at these bonds of children through an environmental, biological and structural prism as child ecology suggests.

There are many eco-factors in the child's environment, which influence the emotional and physical development of the child. Human ecology not only takes into consideration those factors such as natural factors seen in high land, chemical factors in environmental pollution or physical (radioactive) factors seen in nuclear plant accidents, but also cultural factors as seen through journalism and media. Within this broad field of human ecology, lies child ecology.

I have discussed the concept of the emotional and physical program of the human body, helping to maintain a healthy balance through the body system and the mind system. I believe that social and cultural factors are strong enough in today's Japan to cause a breakdown in this human programs and lead to behavioral maladjustments. I would like to examine bullying in this light.

The problem of bullying has been a problem in the past in Japan as well as a problem in other countries too. I, myself, was bullied, although, I am not able to remember who bullied me and how I was bullied. We have class reunions once a year, and I believe that the person who bullied me is probably in this group, but nonetheless, we enjoy ourselves tremendously. Thus, the incident was not serious enough to scar me. Today's bullying, however, is very serious, using extreme and brutal measures. It is so serious in fact, that some children even take their own lives because they cannot stand the torture of being bullied. In general, younger and younger children are beginning to commit suicide, that is, there is a trend toward the juvenilization of suicide. We need to explore what is causing this phenomenon in bullying.

In the Japanese bullying situation, there is the bully, the victim being bullied and the "gallery" (children who watch the victim being bullied but do nothing about it). In one sense, the bully classifies the victim of bullying as being of a different "culture". For example, children who have transferred from a different school, children who have a different family background (I was also bullied because my father was not a regular businessman, but an artist), children who dress or act differently than other children. The common feature of these children who become the victim of bulling are that they are easy to target.

There are many types of "bullies" also. There seems to be a pattern of frustration apparent in bullies who have low grades, those who cannot play because they are going to cram school, and have disciplinarian parents. They also fail in trying to understand another person's sadness, worries or pain and cannot empathize with others. Thus, this combination of frustration and lack of empathy seems to be the main factors leading to bullying. I believe that the "gallery" children are also frustrated and by doing nothing, they are able to relieve this frustration in some way.

Now, looking at this in light of child ecology, we need to first examine the school situation because this is mainly where bullying occurs. Of course, the child first experiences interpersonal relationships in the family environment during early childhood and thus, we need to examine the family environment also.

Child ecology places the child in the center of the micro-ecosystem of the family relationships. The child ecology model is a concentric circle model where the outer circle is the larger society called the macro-ecosystem, the next is the school or other institutions in the community called the meso-ecosystem and down to the mini-ecosystem where the family is positioned. Naturally, there is interaction between these many ecosystems of child, family, school, and community. When a breakdown occurs in one tier, it affects the others, and hence, we must pinpoint the source of the dysfunction.

Within this system, children have their own physical and emotional programs for functioning and communicating, as I have mentioned before. I believe the biggest influences of these programs to be informational factors as well as other cultural factors. We must remember that within these factors, are included the information of logic and feelings and these are the very factors (affection, warmth) that keep the gears of the human emotional program moving smoothly. We could deduce, then --however simplistic it may sound -- that the source of bullying is the weakening of this emotional information in each tier of the ecosystem.

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