New York Comic Con, a conference where cosplay is king, the imagination can run wild, and heroes and villains collide. My first Comic Con, #NYCC14, was a great experience on many levels. I am not an expert of comic books and have never claimed to know much about the culture in which this amazing conference was founded, but I now “get it”. The excitement and the lure of Comic Con to many people is the outlet of the mundane world, a safe place to manipulate the human mind and step away from the colorful comic book pages into the “real world” as their favorite characters. Comic Con, aside from the autographs, movie premiers, and photo ops, provides a safe arena in which using your imagination is not only encouraged, it is mandatory.
I was fortunate to sit on a panel with an outstanding group of people and help provide a safe environment to reflect and learn how to take action to stop bullying behavior. The panel consisted of Matt Langdon, (The Hero Construction Company and The Hero Round Table), Joe Gatto, (TruTV), Ashley Eckstein, (Her Universe and Star Wars: The Clone Wars), and Dr. Travis Langley (College Professor and Author of Batman & Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight). The End Bullying! Responding to Cruelty in our Culture Panel proved to be an eye opening experience for me.
Carrie Goldman (Author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Violence) and Chase Masterson (Star Trek Deep Space 9, Dr. Who) co-founders of The Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition did an outstanding job of facilitating the panel and connecting the stories of heroism to the research behind bullying behavior.
The panel session, lasting more than the allotted 45 minutes due to an overwhelming positive reaction from the audience, proved more work must be done in the field of heroism and positive deviance. As I explained during the session, there is no research or evidence in the U.S. that anti-bullying programs decrease bullying behavior in schools or in the work place. While thousands of dollars are spent in school districts each year to battle bullying, the programs and speakers schools bring in are usually met with student apathy and confusion on the desired outcomes. Many of the anti-bullying programs I have witnessed over the years, remind me of a story about a small village and a tragedy they endured. Walking alongside the river outside of the village, a few villagers noticed children floating down the river screaming for help. The villagers jumped in to save them, yelled for more help, and started to work together to save the children. A few minutes later more children were floating down stream gasping for air and trying to swim for shore. For hours, more and more villagers were jumping in the river trying to save the children from drowning and more and more children were floating down stream. The screaming and the procession of children floating down the river finally stopped. A villager walked out from a group of trees and others started scolding him asking where had he been. ‘We have been here trying to save the children from drowning and you walked away?” The villager finally said, “It occurred to me that the children were coming from up stream and I wanted to see what was causing them to fall in the river. There is a bridge two miles up and there were two planks missing. The children were trying to jump over the missing planks and were falling in the river. I worked with them and showed them how to replace the two planks.”
My Comic Con experience reminded me that as adults, we react to situations of bullying behavior similar to how the villagers continued to jump in to save the children. We are often like the villagers, jumping in and trying to save the victims. I believe we should be walking up stream to better understand the problems and create true sustainable solutions. Think of the drowning children as the victims of bullying behavior, the missing planks as skillsets or mindsets associated with heroism, and the children crossing the bridge as bystanders. What is the true solution?
Should we continue to jump in and try to save as many victims as possible knowing more and more children will be floating down stream? Or should we walk up stream, find the problems that are leading to, and fostering bullying behavior, and help the bystanders gain the mindsets and skillsets to fix the missing planks and solve the problems themselves?
I, Matt Langdon, owner of the Hero Construction Company, and our friends on the panel, know how important it is to walk up stream and help the bystanders replace the planks that have fallen. These missing planks are often characteristics of what makes us heroes. Empathy, kindness, courage, having a growth mindset, and the ability to be a positive deviant are planks that must be in place for a child, and an adult, to walk across the bridge. Heroes go against the status quo, and will ultimately stand out and take risks for a positive outcome. The Hero Construction Company and the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition are researching and uncovering the characteristics of what makes us heroes that do not come natural for most people. Practicing and training not to be bystanders is a must to move away from the status quo of an anti-bullying initiative and begin building a culture of heroes.
After Comic Con, and hearing from people on their experiences of being the victim of bullying, I pledge to be the villager to walk up stream, find the problems that lead to negative outcomes, and help others learn to solve the problem themselves. I challenge you to walk with me.