Last night I attended a screening of the movie The Stoning of Soraya M, a powerful film adapted from the book La Femme Lapidée by Freidoune Sahebjam, which is based on the true story of Soraya Manutchehri, a 35 year old woman who was stoned to death in Iran in 1986.
I had seen the film once previously, and both times I was moved by the story and reminded that whether we choose to think about it or not, there are terrible things that occur around the world and as well as in our own backyards on a daily basis.
Following the showing of the film, there was a brief period for comments and discussions from those in attendance. I was thankful for those who stood up for their culture and faith tradition and said “what is depicted is not our practice,” as well as for the unifying call to “stop this kind of innocent-bystander behavior in our own lives and around the world,” which emerged early and was echoed throughout the discussion. (I would be lying if I said that every single comment during the discussion was geared toward these positive, accurate, and unifying themes, but the vast majority were, and it was an open-floor commenting format so there was an opportunity to learn from what everyone had to share.).
Watching the film again and listening to the discussion reminded me of a recent experience.
A few months ago, I was visiting with a person whose child attends a very “nice” (high academically performing, above average SES, strong athletic/extra-curricular programs, positive perceptions among local public, etc.) high school. He asked me, “Do you think there are guns in my child’s school?”
I thought about the question for a moment before answering that I could not comment on if there were guns in the school or not, because I had no information on that topic or situation, but I could assure him 100% that there were extremely dangerous, even deadly weapons that were not only present in the school, but used on a daily basis.
I then explained to him that while I didn’t know if there were guns or knives, or if there were how many or how often they were brought into the building, what I did know was that bullying, harassment, violent language, demeaning behavior and more occurred every day within the walls of the school (and increasingly, online as well). I told him that while these weapons may initially seem like a less urgent problem to deal with, these weapons play key factors in the cases of school violence, self-harm, and suicide that we see occur all too often (and on an increasing basis).
These aren’t easy things to talk about and deal with, just like The Stoning of Soraya M. isn’t an easy film to watch and think about, but last night I continued to see the critical the need to explicitly teach both youth and adults the skills needed to discern right from wrong, to thoughtfully form and stand up for their beliefs, to intentionally shape the culture that we live and work in, and to develop the courage and skills needed to speak up and step in when they see or hear something that isn’t right.
Through gaining knowledge and learning to use strategies such as those presented in the Culture of Excellence & Ethics Intervention Continuum, which is presented to students in Unit 5.1 of the Power2Achieve Foundations program and Integrity in Action Student Leadership Academies like the one we hosted on February 12th, to educators in our Power2Achieve Toolkit/Academy 5.1 workshops and our Creating a Bully-Free, Safe, and Supportive Learning Environment Toolkit/Academy workshops like the one we recently conducted in Iowa, and to others throughout our additional work, we can begin to build the “intervention muscles” that we all have within us…and in doing so empower ourselves and others to step-up an intervene in life-and-death situations as well as the situations that seem small at first, but which can lead to much more serious consequences down the road, because as the Intervention Continuum reminds us…there are no innocent bystanders.