The Stages of Social Conscience

The three stages of conscience are denial, acceptance, and awareness.

woman at seashore

There are three stages of conscience: denial, acceptance, and awareness.

STAGE 1 — Denial

Those who engage in bullying behavior don’t always see themselves as the aggressor. When confronted with their negative behavior, especially among youth, the first reaction is to deny the accusation.

The one who engages in bullying behavior therefore lies to himself about the act and enough denials leads to the delusion that his actions are not wrong.

Such denial, unchecked, can markedly damage the one who engages in bullying behavior as he/she matures into a young adult, and later into an adult member of society.

STAGE 2 — Acceptance

After several instances of bullying are brought to the aggressor’s attention, he/she may accept that the act started with them. But, then there’s the justification that the act may have been warranted (“he asked for it”, “he pushed me to the limit”).

The one who engages in bullying behavior is basically admitting to all that “I am honest about my actions, but I do not accept that my actions have a negative effect on anyone but see my actions as benefiting myself, and if there are punishments I manage to blame others.”

There’s another level to this stage wherein the one who engages in bullying behavior may also be saying, “I deserve this consequence because I broke the rules, but there is nothing deeply wrong with what I did except that I got caught.”

This is a key disconnect between actions and consequences.

Before middle school age, children are not abstract thinkers. They find themselves in a situation where when an adult inquires about an incident, the one who engages in bullying behavior will give the right answer, but it will not have an influence on their actions.

Children in Jewish Day Schools will be astute in telling any adult that certain actions or behaviors such as gossip, namecalling, character assassination and exclusion should not be committed because it is a sin. The Torah specifically tells us not to do any of the above because it is prohibited.

However, in order to really help children make a connection between what the Torah teaches and one’s actions in life we need to work with children beyond the explanation or rather response, “It’s a sin, that’s why you can’t do that … ” to helping both children and us as adults understand and uncover what motivates their behavior.

STAGE 3 — Awareness

“My behavior is hurting someone else,” the one who engages in bullying behavior comes to realize. With luck this will not be concluded before it is too late for the aggressor or the victim(s).

By consistently pointing out the negative consequences of the aggressor’s activities, the message will hopefully penetrate and become a part of the revised behavior. There has to be a uniform set of consequences and repercussions to negative behavior — both at school and at home — so the child comes to recognize the futility to continuing this bad behavior.

Information from Stan Davis’ Stop Bullying Now website.

Nothing strengthens the judgment and quickens the conscience like individual responsibility. Nothing adds such dignity to character as the recognition of one's self-sovereignty; the right to an equal place, everywhere conceded —a place earned by personal merit, not an artificial attainment by inheritance, wealth, family and position. — Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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