February 28 is Pink Shirt Day. Pink Shirt Day is meant to remind us all of our desire to find peaceful ways to solve our conflicts. It is also a day to highlight the issue of bullying in our society.
Conflict and bullying are often used interchangeably, but they are quite different. I have taken this from safeatschool.ca (a great resource for students, teachers, and parents) to help show the difference:
Conflict is a disagreement or a difference of opinion or interests between equals. The people involved in a conflict may disagree vehemently and emotions may run high. When conflict is badly managed, it may result in aggression. In a conflict, both parties have power to influence the situation. That is their goal. Conflict may be an inevitable part of group dynamics, but bullying is not.
Bullying is typically a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or individuals that is intended to cause (or should be known to cause) fear and distress and/or harm to another person's body, feelings, self-esteem, or reputation. Bullying occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance.
Recognizing the difference is important because the intervention to each is different. Conflict can often be resolved with conversation between the people involved, with or without guidance. We have a number of peer resolution strategies and tools available to us, and in a conflict situation they work well to resolve issues.
Bullying, however, requires direct adult intervention to ensure the safety of students being targeted. As well, adults need to work directly with students who are bullying to move them towards taking responsibility for their actions. Conflict resolution is not the appropriate response to bullying – sitting the bullied across from their tormentors to talk about their feelings is something we would never expect from an adult, no less a child.
Conflict happens. We don't always agree on everything, and sometimes there is a tug-of-war between even the best of friends over competing interests and opinions. Most often conflict can be settled in peaceful ways, even when there is aggression. Recognizing the difference between conflict and bullying is key to choosing how we respond.