Contempt first step to hell

Coloroso's main point is that all kinds of bullying and subsequent brutality are learned behaviour. "You have to be taught that somebody is less than you before you can have contempt for them," she says.

The Toronto Star
April 14, 2007

Contempt first step to hell
Bully mentality behind massacres, parenting guru says
Ron Csillag

Barbara Coloroso, left, meets Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society Workers Shawn Girard, right, and Renata Westfall last month at Holy Name Catholic Secondary School in Windsor. Next weekend will see the launch of her book linking bullying and genocide.
Craig Glover Photo for the Toronto Star
20070414 Contempt first

Barbara Coloroso's latest book has a different look. There's no warm, fuzzy photo of the parenting guru, no shots of shiny, happy kids ready to make their beds and eat their veggies.

Instead, the cover of Extraordinary Evil is jet-black austere, anchored by a pile of skulls. Blood-red ink announces the jarring subtitle: A Brief History of Genocide.

Coloroso, the U.S. author of bestsellers on nurturing and non-violence, tackles the incongruous subject of 20th century genocide and makes the claim, which may also cause a few double takes, of a direct link between bullying and mass murder.

"It's not a giant leap," Coloroso, a former Franciscan nun, says of the progression from taunting to hacking a child to death. "It's a short walk. I wish this book had been called that, actually: ‘Extraordinary Evil: A Short Walk to Genocide.’"

She's hoping that change will be made for the U.S. edition. The book will be launched next Saturday.

"It's a short walk from being abusive on the playground – teaching kids it's okay to dehumanize another human being – to hate crime, which, sad to say, is on the rise in both our countries, to genocide," she says, speaking from her Littleton, Col.-based educational consulting company, kids are worth it! (also the title of probably her best-known book).

The other component is political, she says. Bullying turns into genocide when there is unquestioning obedience to authority, when cruelty becomes routine and when the targeted group is devalued. And that has resulted in 60 million genocide deaths in the 20th century alone.

Coloroso, who will speak Tuesday at Beth Tzedec Congregation, at 1700 Bathurst St., feels it's important not to confuse bullying with conflict.

"When you have the dehumanization of another human being, it's not about anger, not about conflict. This is about contempt for another human being. The other person becomes an ‘it.’"

Coloroso discusses three genocides: the 1.4 million Armenians killed in the Ottoman Empire between 1915 and 1918, the 6 million-plus Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) murdered in the Nazi Holocaust, and the more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus literally butchered in Rwanda in just 100 days in April, 1994. It was a trip to Rwanda that led to the book being written. Two years ago, Coloroso was invited to lecture at the National University of Rwanda in Butare on her latest release, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander. "It was such a disconnect for me, that I would be speaking on the grounds where half the staff had killed the other half, and half the students had killed the other half."

The experience turned Coloroso inward.

She flew home and completely rewrote her next book, Just Because It's Not Wrong Doesn't Make It Right, to reflect the horrors she'd encountered in Rwanda. She was toasting the volume's completion when her publisher suggested she write a book on genocide. "I dropped my glass," she recalls.

She had already touched on tough ethical and moral issues in all her books but producing this volume was personally harrowing. "I actually found myself emotionally shutting down during the time I wrote the book. To be able to listen to people's stories….I had to remind myself: I'm only listening."

Coloroso's main point is that all kinds of bullying and subsequent brutality are learned behaviour.

"You have to be taught that somebody is less than you before you can have contempt for them," she says. "But it can be caught as much as it is taught. Children are hard-wired to manifest their aggression in conflict. They are not hard-wired to have contempt for another other human being."

It's mainly up to teachers and parents to raise moral children, she says.

"They have to create an environment for children to learn to care deeply, share generously and help willingly. That is the key to breaking this horrific cycle of violence."

And they have to be active against genocide. "We can't afford to be passive, inattentive, bored, alarmed or merely deeply saddened."

Put another way, "there are no innocent bystanders."

Ron Csillag is a freelance writer who lives in Thornhill.

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