by: Mike McGough
Currently, there is a great deal of talk about bullying among children and teens. The effects, both short and long-term can be devastating. We’ve all seen it, and most of us have been on the raw end of some of it at one time or another. When kids bully each other it is truly a shame. It is hurtful, it causes pain, it brings about suffering, and can easily lead to consequences that are at very least unpleasant and unnecessary, and at worst unthinkably tragic. With the increase in various venues of social media, the impact of bullying has increased as has the potential reach of the bully. Any initiatives to understand, deal with, and reduce bullying for our young people is time and effort well spent!
Unfortunately, there is not nearly as much contemporary conversation or attention paid to adult bullying. Unlike children who sometimes bully unintentionally or even unknowingly, adult bullies generally know exactly what they are doing. They know how to accomplish the ends to which they work, and with practice they are calculatingly good at it.
We all know some adult bullies. There are any number of ways that they bully and create power-over situations. They enjoy establishing an unlevel playing field, and they seem to thrive on social disequilibrium. For example, they’ll ask you embarrassing questions in front of a group just to force an equally embarrassing response. If they are aware that you have a certain fear or sensitivity, they will play on it, forcing you to address the sensitivity time and again, or expose your fear in front of others.
Often adult bullies seek to cover their tracks the minute someone suspects that they are bullying. At times they will even apologize, with an “Oh, I’m sorry if that embarrassed you,” or an “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” From time to time we all put someone else in a tough spot with our words or actions, but when that becomes a habit or a pattern of behavior, it’s no accident, you’re just a bully.
Whether the bully is a kid or an adult, there seems to be one simple truth for why they get away with their bulling ways--their victims accept their treatment and do nothing about it. Recently, I came across a silver dollar in an old box of things from my childhood, and I had a reminder of some lessons I had learned from a bully and my Great-Uncle.
My Dad’s Uncle, my Great-Uncle, was a mild-manner man with a distinguished bearing, and a positive outlook. He was generous and kind. He happened to be at our house one day when I arrived home from school. I was in something less than a great mood and he picked up on that immediately, asking me what was wrong. I was embarrassed to say anything, but finally told him that I was being picked on and that I had had enough. In his clam and distinguished manner, he said, “Well have you told the boy picking on you that you’ve had enough?” I confessed that I may not have, fearing that it would only make matters worse for me if I did. He then said in a very matter-of-fact tone that until I let the bully know that I had had enough, there was every good reason to assume that it would continue.
Without even taking my coat off, I went right back outside and informed my bully that I had had enough. As you might imagine, and as I had suspected and feared, that brought on a bit of a confrontation. I had demonstrated by my past inaction that I was willing to put up with a good bit of bullying, just to avoid such a confrontation. I had been a willing victim with no resolve to end the bullying, so his response was initially something less than desired. It took us awhile, but I finally demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that I had indeed had enough. I made it clear that if he had the need to bully someone, it wasn’t going to be me anymore.
My Great-Uncle was not about to pass up this teachable moment. He said intentionally picking a fight is never a good thing. He also shared that assuming that everyone is picking on you or believing that everyone is out to get you is an unhealthy life perspective. He said there are time when avoiding a confrontation at all costs is a wise thing. He also said, that there are times when standing up and defending yourself is the only wise and prudent thing to do. He said that was true even though it may take great effort, it may require some time to get the job done right, and it could be initially uncomfortable. He said the key is in knowing the difference. Later that evening he said he was proud of me for standing up for myself, and he gave me a silver dollar.
Recently, when I found that silver dollar, I immediately remembered who gave it to me, when he gave it to me, and why he gave it to me. I'm really pleased that I found it. I had to wonder if I had thanked him enough, not for the silver dollar, but for what he taught me that day after school. Today, I carry that silver-dollar from time to time as a reminder of a simple truth, a piece of reality, a life lesson that I’ve seen played out numerous times. From time to time we’re all going to get pushed around or bullied a bit, either intentionally or unintentionally. And from time to time, we all may bully someone else, either intentionally or unintentionally. In either case, and regardless of the intentions behind the bullying, the odds of it continuing are significantly increased, if the person being bullied chooses to do nothing. Simply telling yourself, "Oh well, I guess that's just the way it has to be," resolves nothing and actually serves to reinforce the bully. If you want it to stop, you’ve got to do something about it. Informing the bully that you've had enough is a good starting point.
As we try to better recognize and deal with adult bullying in our lives, we may gain some additional understandings about bullying among children and teens. Looking at incidents of adult bullying will heighten our awareness of the problem and may generate additional incentives for working to reduce its harmful consequences for the next generation. As parents, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, and anyone else who works with kids, we must be ever mindful of the impact of bullying, and we must try to reduce it among the young people in our care. We owe them that!
Thanks Uncle Blair!