When We Were Bullied As Kids, What Did We Want Done About It?

I maintain there’s not a person on this earth who hasn’t been bullied at one time or another.  I certainly experienced my share when I was younger, and unfortunately some of that came at the hands of adults.  In one case, my mother intervened and requested a conference with the bullying teacher, and it actually made the situation worse.

Recently I was talking with someone who was struggling with how to protect her kid from bullying or at least prepare him to handle it.  When I told her that it didn’t matter what her kid did, he’d be bullied by someone for something and that it would be more important to prepare him to deal with it (and told the story of how my mom’s intervention made things worse), she asked a really vital question I’d never considered before:

What did you want your parents to do about the bullying?

I’d never really considered it.  The way my particular situation was dealt with at the time was the wrong way, something I predicted even before the meeting took place.  But when I went to my mother complaining that the teacher was treating me unfairly and didn’t like me for some reason, what did I want from her?  Obviously she thought I was asking for intervention.  What was I asking for?

This is a really relevant question for all adults, even those of us who don’t have kids, because it’s a much broader topic than just bullying.  When we feel mistreated, belittled, marginalized, or harmed by others, and when we take those complaints to our friends or our deity of choice, what do we really want to see happen?  The way we react to things in our life that make us feel the same way bullying always makes people feel ties directly back to our inner child.  

The thing is that the bullying I experienced isn’t something that only happens to kids.  Adults do it to each other all the time.  At one point in my professional life I came up against a supervisor who, for reasons I can only speculate about, was dead set against allowing me to advance within the company.  In many ways, it was the same kind of bullying I’d experienced back in high school.  This time, however, I knew I didn’t want anyone to step in and try to sort the situation by throwing all the accusations into the light.  When the bully has authority over the victim and the mediator doesn’t have authority over the bully, that can only end in disaster.  

So, being an adult with a more critical and strategic mind, I sought out my own solution in the form of a support network.  

I talked to my manager about moving forward and she backed me up.  I talked to other supervisors and volunteered for opportunities to show that I was capable and ready.  I networked.  I developed more people who supported me and advocated for me.  And through it all I never had to accuse the bully of anything.  I didn’t have to make a fight about it.  I just kept pushing, kept finding allies, kept growing my network of support.

And, in retrospect, that’s what I wanted from my mother.  I wanted to know that, should I make my own push for justice or my own move to change the situation, she would back me up.  I wanted to find those people who saw things differently, to assure myself that I was surrounded by people who knew her opinion of me was wrong, who might see for themselves if things got bad.  

In the end, the point I’ve finally learned as an adult is that you cannot change what others think of you, and you don’t have to.  I continued to work under that supervisor, and despite his opinions I rightfully got the opportunity to move up in the company.  Other people gave me the opportunities he refused to provide, and in the end his opinion didn’t matter.  

So, in response to the original question, what did I want my parents to do about bullying?  I wanted them to tell me I was right.  I wanted someone to assure me it wasn’t okay for the bully to treat me that way, that I had a right to be upset, that people in this world had my back.  I wanted the adults in my life to provide a safety net while I faced down an unfair situation.

The things we do for kids to try and solve the problem of bullying are largely counter-effective.  If we teach them not to act in ways which make them different, we reinforce the idea that there are “bad” ways to act and look and be.  If we teach them to meet bullying with bullying we teach them that those acts which make them feel so awful are okay if done in retaliation.  

What if we taught our kids (and ourselves) that for every person who treats us unfairly, there are many more who will be there to hold our hands and support us in our search for a better situation?  What if, instead of trying to figure out how to defeat those who stand against us, we try even harder to figure out how to strengthen our ties with those who stand with us?

In the end, the confrontation with the bullying teacher had its up side.  The meeting ended in outrageous lies on the part of the bully regarding things other teachers had said about me.  In response, I went to my other teachers to ask for myself if there were problems I should know about.  I did it on my own, and I ended up reassured that the rest of my teachers had my back.  Had I not already been reasonably sure I had people behind me to back me up, I might have been unwilling to stand up for myself like that.  

I think the best thing we can do for each other, for humanity at large, is to concentrate less on fighting our enemies and more on being there when our friends need to lean on us.  The stronger our own alliances, the less threatening the enemy becomes.

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I Am Who I Strive to Be

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this phenomenon where we have started putting labels on our qualities — good and bad — and declaring that these things are parts of our identities to which others must adjust in the interest of “accepting us for how we really are”.  I’m all for accepting everyone as they are and embracing our differences, but we all have things about ourselves which hold us back.  We have flaws.  We have habits and views which prevent us from forming meaningful relationships, achieving our goals, or valuing ourselves the way we want others to do.

Shouldn’t we strive to change those things?

I think if there is such thing as a soul, it comprises those things about us which are unchangeable or nearly so, those beliefs and ways of thinking which make up our very cores.  Everything outside that, anything which isn’t truly part of our soul, is changeable with the proper tools and efforts.  It may not be easy, it may not be comfortable, but it’s possible.  

So all those things we say are just the way we are, the behaviors and qualities the rest of the world just needs to learn to live with…  If you used those qualities to describe your soul, would that be a description of your deepest self with which you’d be comfortable?  On the other hand, if we acknowledge that those things are qualities and behaviors we choose not to change, what would that mean?

I actually have a difficult time naming things about myself which I think are rooted soul-deep in the sense that I would be hard pressed to change them.  I used to think that there were qualities about myself which were just part of my identity.  I was always described as shy and reserved, especially when around people I didn’t know extremely well.  I always had a need to know why things were the way they were, and I believed that there were hard rules for how everything was supposed to work.  But it turns out those things are not unchangeable.  In the past twenty years I’ve slowly overcome those fears and beliefs which kept me from reaching out and taking chances, calling attention to myself and engaging strangers.  I’ve questioned most of the things I thought I knew about life and reality.  I’ve experienced different cultures and ways of living and actually opened my mind to the idea that what I’ve always believed might be wrong.

I believe I am, in significant ways, a different person than I was two decades ago, and not just because I’m older.  What wisdom I have is not a natural side effect of age.  It is hard earned, the changes I’ve made to my life (and continue to work towards) deliberate and undertaken with purpose.  I think I’m a better person, a more flexible and functional person, than I used to be.  I count it as an accomplishment that I’ve been able to look critically at myself, pick out things I do and think which hold me back from doing the things I want with my life, and set about trying to change those things.  If I were to describe myself now, I’d not talk about whether I’m shy or not or what my basic beliefs about my place in the universe are.  Instead I’d talk about my commitment to improving myself and helping elevate those around me, and still I’d say those things aren’t unchangeable parts of myself.  

They are, however, parts of myself I don’t want to change.  And in that sense, they are part of my soul.  They become unchangeable in the sense that I defend them and protect them actively.  I ask those around me to adjust to those qualities and accept them.  I declare them permanent and fundamental.  I believe we can reshape our souls if we really want to.  We can work on changing ourselves, starting with the surface and moving ever deeper, until we’re tinkering with the heart of who we are.   And furthermore, we should.  

Your Hands Are Not So Clean

 

Everyone on this earth who professes some kind of spiritual belief thinks that they are right.

 

Everyone.

Nobody, therefore, gets to use their own personal conviction to justify their position to others.

It doesn’t matter one tiny bit how right you think you are.

 

The value of your beliefs lies in the results they produce.

It doesn’t matter if you didn’t pick up the gun, didn’t pull the trigger, didn’t directly shed the blood of others.

If your beliefs, taken up by those with different moral boundaries, can lead to oppression, violence, even mass murder, your beliefs are worthless.

Period.

 

Think about the life you dreamed of when you were a child.  How different is it from the life you have now?  What changed to make you want something different?  What didn’t you know then that you know now?  If you could have the life you wanted as a child, would you trade your current life for that life?

About the Books, Part 5

One of the reasons I’m turning my own spiritual quest — my research and thought on the history of religion and its purpose for humanity — into a book is that I find so few books which provide useful content for my personal journey.  There are a zillion books written by those who think they have the perfect spiritual path figured out and are ready to lead others in their own footsteps so they reach the same conclusions and destinations.  There are plenty of books which are resources and inspiration for people who already have a path picked out or are curious about specific religions and traditions.  But there is very little out there for those who know more about what they don’t want from their spiritual tradition than they know about what they do want.  

And there is even less out there for those who want a meaningful spiritual life but who don’t believe in a god or supernatural forces.  

My hope is that my books help fill that void a little bit.  I think spirituality is a mindset which can be found separate from religion.  And if there is any one conclusion I want to lead people to, it’s the mindset itself, the idea that spirituality is about developing your spirit and elevating the state of your soul so you can connect with those parts of life you want to connect with.  That’s it, and if we all develop our souls in different ways and connect with different aspects of existence, all the better.