Bullying the Planet: Is There An Antidote?

By: Lesa R. Walker, MD, MPH Imagine you’re a contestant on a game show. This is your chance to win big! The stakes are high. You look over your options and select your category: “Bullying.” You’re confident that you know a fair amount about the subject because you work in a school system that long … Continued

By: Lesa R. Walker, MD, MPH

Imagine you’re a contestant on a game show. This is your chance to win big! The stakes are high. You look over your options and select your category: “Bullying.”

You’re confident that you know a fair amount about the subject because you work in a school system that long ago implemented a zero tolerance for bullying.

The question is revealed: “In what ways do humans bully the planet?”

Multiple answers are listed:

A. Elephants
B. The Air in Beijing
C. The Rainforests in Central America

What is your answer?

The correct answer to the question is, “all of the above.”

Except that bullying the planet is not a game; nobody is going to win and the stakes are about as high as they can get.

Humans bully elephants (fellow travelers on our planet) by slaughtering them daily for ivory which, if unchecked, will lead to complete annihilation of African Elephants by the year 2020 which is, at this writing, in 6 years or less:

Humans bully the air in and surrounding our cities by polluting and pouring exhaust and factory emissions into the atmosphere. In China, the brown haze is a common color of the sky, replacing the color blue. The sheer volume of people in one place makes it difficult to reduce pollution and improve air quality despite governmental efforts.


Humans bully rainforests by cutting down the trees at an alarming rate. Deforestation occurs to accommodate encroaching human populations and wood/paper production and devastates the rainforest ecosystems. The world’s rainforests could completely vanish in 100 years at the current rate of deforestation: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation-overview/

When we think of bullying, we usually think that bullying targets a person. Bullying can be inflicted on animals, trees, air, water, earth, and all things on our planet. Bullying is defined as the use of power and advantage to cause harm. It can manifest as destructive thoughts, words, and deeds. We also bully by indifference, passivity, and neglect. It exists on a continuum, ranging from overt abusive action to more subtle abusive inaction. Whenever we use our human advantage to destroy nature and natural resources, we are being bullies. It is also true (though we may not want to admit it) that whenever we fail to take responsibility and live our lives in ways that safeguard and sustain our planet, we play a role in bullying.

Why do we bully the planet? Bullying is the result of insensitivity (a lack of compassion for others) and insecurity (a lack of compassion for self.) If we adopt beliefs that set ourselves apart from nature, either by assuming our superiority or by assuming our inferiority, we set the stage for bullying the planet. Such beliefs further distance us from empathy and compassion. One of the key rationales for destructive and insensitive action (or inaction) toward nature and natural resources is the belief that everything on the planet exists to serve the needs of human beings and that these needs supersede all other considerations.

This thinking implies that human beings are not part of nature but superior to it. That justifies the philosophy that everything not human is of lesser value and therefore, may be exploited. This sense of entitlement predisposes to bullying.

Yet another belief assumes the inferiority of human beings. This belief asserts that human beings have little or no impact on the overarching course of nature and ‘changes in climate, extinctions, etc. happen no matter what humans do.’ This belief removes us from having to take any responsibility for the way we act in regard to the planet. This resigned inferiority supposes that too much environmental damage has already been done and that human beings are too helpless and powerless to make a difference. This sense of hopelessness can lead to inertia and inaction, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. These beliefs acting in concert create the “perfect storm” for bullying the planet.

Additional factors play a role: Bullying can be the result of lack of awareness, knowledge, and accountability. People may not understand the damage they do and they may not understand the power they have in their simple daily choices. The repercussions of bullying the planet are often delayed and may never be experienced by the perpetrator. The targets of bullying have no voice; they don’t vote; they can’t articulate their own plea for help and, although they may have advocates, no advocate can truly share their perspective.

So, how do we address bullying of the planet? First we need to recognize that we (human beings) do not exist apart from nature. We are not superior or inferior. We exist together with nature, interdependent and synergistic. When we bully the planet we bully ourselves.

We need change at all levels- international, national, state, local. We need policies, laws, etc. to protect and defend and create sustainable incentives and options. Organizations and groups of people need to advocate for the planet and work together to develop ways for humans to exist while respecting and sustaining the Earth. Many such efforts are happening. However, policies are only part of the solution.

We simultaneously need to enact remedies that address the root cause of bullying (lack of compassion) at the personal level. We need to act NOW and make a concerted effort to train current and future generations in the life skills of awareness, critical thinking, and empathy, all of which build and strengthen our compassion.

As with any skill such as reading, speaking a language, or playing a sport, the best way to hone our compassion skills is to make such training a priority for daily practice: at home, work, school, and ideally, everywhere. The practice must encompass the 3 dimensions of compassion: caring for others, self, and the Earth. One thing can be guaranteed. We grow stronger in what we practice. Strengthening compassion through daily practice is the antidote to bullying.

A recent article published July 18, 2014 in The Washington Post lends support to this premise. The article, entitled “Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind,” provides recommendations based on the research conducted by Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education. He and other researchers conducted the study as part of the “Making Caring Common” project to determine how to teach children to be kind. The article quotes the researchers as stating “Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood.”

Five key recommendations are:

  1. Make caring for others a priority.
  2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude (“Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument;” How? through daily repetition and regular practice.)
  3. Expand your child’s circle of concern.
  4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor.
  5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings.

Article link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/07/18/are-you-raising-nice-kids-a-harvard-psychologist-gives-5-ways-to-raise-them  

“Making Caring Common” links: http://sites.gse.harvard.edu/making-caring-common and http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/06/25/ma-mcc-idUSnBw255254a+100+BSW20140625  

I have created several strategies to engage people of all ages and cultures in the daily practice and strengthening of 3-dimensional (3D) compassion (caring for others, self, and the Earth.) These strategies are:

1.  The “Compassion Relays:” http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/

Anyone, any age, any place, and any time can participate in the “Compassion Relays.” A Compassion Relay starts when a person takes up the “Compassion Torch” which can be an imaginary Torch or a tangible design or emblem. When the Torch is taken, the person agrees to discover, or do an act of compassion (caring for others, self, or the Earth) each day for a minimum of seven days, to record a summary of the week’s experience, and pass on the Torch to another person or persons to continue the relays.

The “Compassion Relays:”

  • Are part of the Compassion Games International: http://compassiongames.org/ 
  • Are also promoted by the Charter for Compassion International: http://charterforcompassion.org/  
  • Have instructions and guidance for individuals, schools and classrooms, businesses, community groups or organizations, and governmental entities.

The Relays help people to:

  • Exercise intentional awareness and empathy (caring for others, self, and the Earth.)
  • Experience self-worth through compassionate action.
  • Recognize the impact and importance of daily compassionate choices.
  • Strengthen compassion and make it a habit through daily practice.
  • Generate ideas for compassion activities that continue.
  • Take personal ownership of and responsibility for compassion.
  • Become part of a ripple effect by spreading compassion to others.

2. The “Compassion Today!” Mobile App:http://charterforcompassion.org/compassion-today

Exploring and using the app on a daily basis is a simple way to participate in the Compassion Relays. The app is FREE and offers resources to inspire and support a daily practice of compassion:

  • Daily quotes, news, and action tips
  • The “3 Daily Questions” exercise
  • Functionality to allow sharing via social media and email
  • Direct links to the Charter for Compassion International, Compassion Games, Compassion Relays, Compassion Mapping, calendars and events, extensive web resources, Internet search, videos, audio and podcast playlists, “100 Questions,” Facebook feeds, Twitter feeds, and Google+ links

3.  The “3 Daily Questions” exercise.

This exercise is included in the “Compassion Today!” mobile app and asks 3 simple questions twice a day:

Morning questions to awaken awareness:

  • What will I do today to care for others?
  • What will I do today to care for myself?
  • What will I do today to care for the Earth?

Evening questions to give honor to the day:

  • What did I do today to care for others?
  • What did I do today to care for myself?
  • What did I do today to care for the Earth?

When asking what did I do—“do” means to think, learn, appreciate, experience, perform an action e.g. read an article or book, watch a video, garden, recycle, write a letter or poem, draw, sing, or perhaps say a kind word.

Though these are simple questions, they are some of the most important questions we can ask ourselves. The answers to these questions impact our lives, our communities, and our world.

In the following blog articles, I provide further discussion of the concepts behind the “Compassion Relays” and the “Olymp-i-a Challenge,” the initial prototype leading to my development of the Relays. Both of these strategies support the personal daily practice of 3D compassion and empathy (caring for others, self, and the Earth) as an essential means to creating a more sustainable world:

  1. Charter for Compassion International Blog: Living Compassion in Thought, Word, and Deed (April 20, 2014)
  2. Ashoka Start Empathy Blog:
    Linking Empathy to Health, Green-Living, and Peace (June 4, 2013)
    Let’s Make a Habit of Empathy (July 11, 2013)
    Design Thinking and Stretching Empathy for Peace, Green-Living, and Health (December 2, 2013)

“If we choose to make it a habit to… take simple steps in our lives that move us forward in helping ourselves, others, and the Earth, we have exceptional potential to create change in the world towards greater peace, green-living, and health.” ~From “Let’s Make A Habit of Empathy.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does “bullying the planet” mean to you? Describe what it means to you and give three examples that you see in your daily life.
  2. How can the practice of compassion help prevent bullying of the planet? Explain how and give three examples that you see in your daily life of people showing compassion and helping the planet.
  3. What are the three key dimensions of “3D” compassion? Why is each dimension important?
  4. What are some resources/tools that can help people practice daily compassion?


  1. Use one or more of the tools (the Compassion Relays, the Compassion Today! app, or the 3 Daily Questions exercise) for one week to practice compassion on a daily basis. Describe your week-long journey and what you learned about yourself and your world. Was it easy or hard for you to do? Why?
  2. Help a child or youth to go on a “treasure hunt” to discover things happening in their home, school, community that show compassion for the planet. Each day for one week ask the child, youth or participant to find one thing and tell you about it or write it down so you can discuss it at the end of the week.

Teacher Classroom/Youth Group Resources:

1.  “3 Daily Questions” Exercise- Logistics for Classrooms

Each day write on the board or provide a handout with the 3 Daily Questions for the start of the day and the end of the day. Call attention to the questions at the start and the end of the day and provide a few minutes for students to think about them and then write or draw something.

Optional: provide a quick example to demonstrate the importance of “3D” compassion. Have students keep a notebook in which they write or draw or keep a folder in which they collect what they write or draw each day in response to these questions. Make sure occasionally to ask the students to share with you some of their answers. Honor their efforts and reinforce the significance of this practice.

2.  Compassion Today! App- Logistics for Use with Older Students and Adults

Have older students and adults download the app (it’s free) on a computer or tablet available at the school. Over a predetermined period of time (X # of days,) ask them to use the app each day to discover something new about compassion in others, in themselves, and in their world; have them write down a quick description of what they discovered and whether it involves caring for others, self, or the Earth or a combination of these dimensions of compassion. At the end of the time period ask them to turn in their work along with a description of their compassion discovery experience.

3.  Compassion Relays- Logistics for Classrooms and Youth Groups

Taking the Torch: Youth “take the Torch” the minute you and your class or group decides to do the Relays. As an option, you may highlight the start of the Relays by having youth create a symbol of the Torch and place it in your classroom or bring it to the place where your youth group meets. You may want to announce the Relays via a bulletin board, website, newsletter, etc.

Examples of symbols of the Torch:

  • A drawing or picture of a Torch (you may use the Relays logo.)
  • A hand-made Torch
  • A banner
  • Bulletin board
  • Invent your own.

Carrying the Torch: Youth “carry the Torch” by noting each day for at least one week theirthoughts and acts for compassion.

Each day for 1 week, set a regular time and place for youth to write or draw or represent a thought or act of compassion (can be any time- when they arrive, at a break time, computer time, etc.)

Have materials for writing and drawing available (pencils, pens, crayons, paper, computer, mural paper, chalkboard, journals, computer, etc.)

Honor/encourage the youth’s daily acts and celebrate at the end of the week.

Examples of simple ways to do the Compassion Relays with youth:

  1. Have each youth keep a personal daily journal for one week.
  2. Have each youth create a personal folder or scrapbook with their representations, drawings, writings, cut-out pictures from magazines or with photos that express their thoughts and acts of compassion each day for 1 week.  
  3. Engage youth in a class, school or group project that involves compassion for: others, self, or the Earth. Work on the project a little each day and have each youth write or draw about what they do and what they learn each day for one week.
  4. Create a compassion mural or banner- and have students add something to the banner or mural each day for one week.
  5. Do a “show and tell.” Each day youth are given homework to find a photo or video that shows an act of compassion (caring for others, self, or the Earth) and then each morning 1-2 youth share with the class or group.
  6. Post the “3 Daily Questions” (see above) each day and have youth write or draw their answers.
  7. Post a question each day from the “100 To Do List for Peace” or the “100 To Do List for Green-Living” or the “100 To Do List for Health” and have youth write their answers as their action for compassion for the day.
    List for Peace: http://www.idea4idea.com/100todolistforpeace.html
    List for Green-Living: http://www.idea4idea.com/100todolistforgreenliving.html
    List for Health: http://www.idea4idea.com/100todolistforhealth.html
  8. Have youth write down their thoughts and actions about compassion each day on a slip of paper and drop it off with the teacher or leader before they leave for the day.
  9. Engage youth in a “treasure hunt” to discover things happening in their home, school, community that show compassion. Each day ask youth to find 1 thing and tell you about it or write it down so you can discuss it at the end of the week.
  10. Have older youth download the “Compassion Today!” mobile app and use it each day to discover something new about compassion and write a brief description about what they learn.

Passing on the Torch: Youth, teachers, and youth leaders “pass on the Torch” when they invite others to do the Relays. Just give a personal message about the Relays along with the following link: http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/.

Examples of simple ways to pass the Torch:

  • Hand-to-hand: youth can simply go talk to another youth or class and invite them to do the Relays or youth may want to create and pass on a symbol of the Torch—a hand-made torch, drawing or picture, the Relays logo image, banner, flag, badge, special symbolic gift, etc.
  • Mail: youth may send a letter, postcard, email invitation.
  • Social media: Teachers, school administrators, and adult youth group leaders may invite others to participate via social media, e.g. posting the Relays logo along with a personal invitation and the link to the Relays: http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/ 
  • Sharing and reporting. At the end of the week (or daily if you wish), submit a brief comment or report to the Compassion Map:
    Share some of the student’s daily thoughts and acts of compassion and briefly describe the week’s experiences such as what was learned, its impact, etc. You may also report on your own, personal one-week journey. Be sure to indicate your school or youth group name and city when entering your report. In addition, you may want to highlight and share your Compassion Relays experience via your website, newsletter, social media, and other communications.

Orientation for Youth:

  1. Talk about the definition of compassion. Briefly emphasize the importance of the 3 dimensions of compassion (compassion in caring for others, caring for self, and caring for the Earth.) Ask youth “How do we help others? How do we help the Earth? How do we stay healthy? Then let them respond. When they do this, they see how easy it is to discover and practice compassion. Explain that the Compassion Relays are like a game or exercise that helps us practice and grow stronger in compassion just as practice helps us strengthen other skills—reading, playing an instrument, or a sport.
  2. Share some of the “Examples of Simple Daily Thoughts and Acts of Compassion” (see below). Emphasize “positive” thoughts and acts.  We are practicing thinking and doing things that make the world better- caring for others, caring for ourselves, and caring for the Earth. A positive thought or act is not a complaint. If we don’t like something, what can we think or do to make it better?
  3. Describe how the Compassion Relays work: what youth will do, when it starts and ends, and what happens at the end (e.g. a celebration or awards.) Provide a simple handout for youth to give their parents (see “Parent Handout” below.)

Parent Handout:

Dear Parents,

We are starting a fun event called the “Compassion Relays.” During this 1-week program, we help youth strengthen compassion in 3 key ways (caring for others, caring for themselves, and caring for the Earth.) Youth will be asked to think and do positive things that help make the world a better place. We want them to realize that every positive step they take matters.

Each day of the week, youth will write or create art, photos or videos to express a thought or act of compassion. To do this, they will be paying close attention to what they do and what others do to care for others, stay healthy, and care for the Earth. We encourage you to support them in these habits of positive “thinking and doing” in their daily lives. A simple tip is to make it fun. Join with your child in a fun treasure hunt every day to discover compassion in your daily life. We want to make it a simple and fun habit.

We welcome your support in this! Thank you!

**Attach the “Examples of Simple Daily Thoughts and Acts of Compassion” below.

Examples of Simple Daily Thoughts and Acts of Compassion

Compassion/caring for others:

  1. Today I helped a friend who was upset. I listened to her feelings.
  2. I watched a video (name the video) that showed people caring for others.
  3. I helped wash and dry the dishes after our family ate supper together.
  4. I read a book to my grandmother who has difficulty seeing these days.
  5. My friend worked hard to help me on a school project.

More: Share something with someone, say “thank you” to your teacher or parent, give a hug, say something to make someone feel better, think of a project to help with hunger or poverty, give food to a food pantry, learn ways to care about others, read about the Nobel Peace Prize, do a kind act, be helpful, listen politely when someone is talking, show you are grateful. Notice what other people do to care for others.

Compassion/caring for self:

  1. I took a walk to get some exercise.
  2. I tried a new, healthy food today: [name the food.]
  3. I practiced meditation.
  4. I learned some new ways to calm down when I get upset [explain:]
  5. I drew a picture about what makes me happy.

More: Brush your teeth, ride your bike, rake up leaves, read about how to stay healthy, exercise by playing a sport, play outside, run a race, skip, skate, swim, clean your room, eat less candy, visit someone who is sick, tell a joke to make someone laugh, give a hug, get plenty of sleep. Notice what others do to care for themselves.

Compassion/caring for the Earth:

  1. I used recycled paper for my journal writing.
  2. I did some planting/weeding in a garden.
  3. I read about clean energy.
  4. I took photos of beautiful things I saw in nature.
  5. I learned about an organization that helps the environment.

More: Plant a tree, pick up and throw away some trash, save some paper, make a place to recycle things, put things in recycling, use only the water you need and not more, use only the paper you need and not more, plant a seed, help water a plant, help with gardening, learn about plants and trees, and animals and what makes them healthy, read a book or see a video about helping plants and trees and animals, see the beauty of the day, enjoy a walk outside, learn what the word “organic ”means, write down what you think would make the earth more healthy, write a story about an animal, pick up your room. Notice what others are doing to care for the Earth.

Lesa Walker is a physician who’s worked more than 30 years in public health and preventive medicine with a focus on designing public health service systems for children and youth with disabilities at the state and national levels. As Medical Director for more than 24 of those years, she worked with the Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) Services Program and served as the Title V CSHCN Director at the Texas Department of State Health Services. She currently works part-time as a medical consultant, but spends the majority of her time engaging people in the practice of “3D” Compassion: caring for others, self and the Earth.

Lesa is an Education Program Associate of the Charter for Compassion International http://charterforcompassion.org/ and she serves as a member of the Leadership Team of the Compassion Games International http://compassiongames.org/.  She is dedicated to address world issues of peace, health and the environment on local and global levels.

She developed the Compassion Relays http://compassiongames.org/compassion-relays/ (a program of the Compassion Games International (CGI)) and works with the Charter for Compassion and CGI to engage people globally. She is the inventor of a mobile app “Compassion Today!” which is a handy, one-stop portal to 3D compassion, providing access to a world of compassion resources with a few simple clicks. The native app (full function) is available for free download via Apple, Amazon and Google Play app stores: http://compassiontoday.mobapp.at/.  

The prototype for the “Compassion Relays” was the “Olymp-i-a Challenge” which helps people increase awareness and empathy and strengthen habits of peace, green-living, and health in their daily lives. Lesa is the author/administrator of the “Idea4Idea” website http://www.idea4idea.com/ which provides details about the Olymp-i-a Challenge and has links to the Olymp-i-a Challenge publications (including the Olymp-i-a Challenge e-books) http://www.idea4idea.com/publications.html and the “Olymp-i-a Challenge: 3D Compassion” video

Lesa has volunteered in Kenya and Ghana, runs marathons, holds a 4th degree black belt in martial arts and is an artist, poet and filmmaker who produced and directed “The Gift,” a short-film with a story-line of compassion:

She earned her MD at Baylor College of Medicine; her MPH at the University of Texas School of Public Health; completed her residency in Preventive Medicine/Public Health at the University of Michigan; she has board-certification in General Preventive Medicine and Public Health; and clinical work in Pediatrics.


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