The Un-Bullies of Social Media

Words of encouragement can make all the difference in the world.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a teen or preteen these days. School drama must take on a whole new dimension when it follows you home on your smart phone. Nowadays the haters have a cyber loudspeaker.

At least when people bullied me and treated me horribly back in the 70’s, I could leave school and get a break from it. I could bury myself in a book or a TV show. While the pain was still there, and the damage to my self-esteem was still being done, at least I could come up for air. Not so in the present day. These kids are in it every single waking moment.

Fortunately, through it all, I see a constant, if faint, drumbeat of what I call Un-Bullies. For example, there was a young man being bullied in his school for his love of books. His mother helped him create a Little Free Library, and put it out on a LFL Stewards forum that she wanted us to send postcards of encouragement to her son, and dozens of us did. I don’t know what other people said, but I told that amazing young man that I thought he was the coolest kid ever! I wish someone had told me that when I was his age.

I’ve also noticed that for every troll that says something cruel on a public forum, there seem to be ten people who step up and say, “No, you’re wrong.” They are the ones who reassure people that they’re beautiful, strong, outstanding, amazing, talented.

It takes courage to stand up to bullies. I admire anyone who takes the time and makes the effort to do so. And every person who takes that step empowers others to follow suit.

It may not seem like much, but words of encouragement can make all the difference in the world.


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Little Punks All Grown Up

You can never be completely sure of the content of someone else’s character.

Thirty years ago, a friend said to me, “Every time I meet a German male of a certain age, I wonder what role he played in the Nazi Party.” It kind of made my blood run cold, if I’m honest. But now that generation has, for the most part, died off.

But when you think about it (even though these things are on a different scale entirely), there are little criminals in every generation. Sometimes I look at the adults I know and I remember that all of us have gone through the stupid adolescent stage, and that means, purely from a statistical standpoint, that a certain percentage used to be dumb-a$$ little punks.

That CEO may have delighted in keying cars when he was 13. Your postman may have thought it was funny to make sexually harassing anonymous phone calls. Your spouse might have been into shoplifting.

Bullies grow up, too. Some of them outgrow that tendency. Others, unfortunately, become your supervisor. I shudder to think what antics Donald Trump got up to when he was 12. It wouldn’t surprise me if he pulled the wings off flies.

And while certain behaviors should be written off as the foibles of youth, and people really can mature and change, a lot of criminal behavior is an innate part of one’s psychological makeup, and the only reason that person is still out amongst us is that he or she just never got caught. You can never be completely sure of the content of someone else’s character.

Something to think about.


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Coping Mechanisms

We are all a product of our past. The way we cope with things in the present is greatly influenced by what we’ve experienced in our lives. Our psyches do not always know best. All they know is that it’s important to survive, and if something has worked, however twisted it may be, then, hey, let’s go with that.

Case in point, I was sexually abused as a child, and the adults around me who should have been protecting me were either oblivious or in deep denial. So now, when someone in a position of authority over me is acting irrationally and/or clearly does not have my best interests at heart, it tends to freak me out. That’s putting it mildly. I go straight into “Danger, Will Robinson!” mode.

Because of this, my coping mechanism is to speak up, and continue to speak up until SOMEBODY LISTENS! Cockroaches do not like to have light shined upon them. So I give them the spotlight, by God.

This doesn’t always serve me well. For a start, it makes me look crazy and/or hysterical and/or like a trouble maker. Most people really don’t want to hear about injustice. They’d rather let bullies do their thing, as long as that thing is being done to someone else.

I can’t do that. I just can’t. It’s not in me.

On the other hand, I have a friend who grew up with an abusive alcoholic, and the way he learned to cope was to pull his little turtle head into its shell until the storm had passed. He will do or say whatever it takes to appease his abuser, even at the risk of his own dignity. And to my shock, this actually seems to work rather well for him, self-pride notwithstanding. People in the vicinity of a confrontation absolutely love it when the situation is “fixed” quickly. Even if it isn’t really fixed.

I could never be like that. Not in a million years. Clearly, we are at opposite extremes of the coping spectrum. I set great store by integrity. He sets great store by peace. But does that mean one of our strategies is better or worse than the other? Not really. We are who we are. We do what works for each of us. We are both wounded, and doing our best to keep those wounds from further infection.

I guess my point is that when you see someone reacting in a way that confuses you, try to remember that the war that person is waging (or choosing not to wage) is one that he or she has been fighting (or not fighting) for many years. There’s history there. There may be wounds that you can’t see at first glance. And while change may be possible, it can’t be counted upon. Look deeper. Understanding is a step in the right direction for all concerned.


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Age Hath Its Privileges

Many years ago, I was standing with my niece and nephew in their Missouri kitchen. As we talked, I got the orange juice out of the refrigerator to pour myself a glass. Just then my brother-in-law walked in and snapped, “Who left the refrigerator door open???”

The tension level in that room was palpable. My niece and nephew fell nervously silent. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I did.” Then I finished pouring my juice and calmly put it back in the refrigerator and closed the door. He turned and left the room.

I thought, “What’s the matter, Buddy-roo, can’t you pick on someone your own size?”

I found this doubly amusing because this was a man who thought nothing of leaving the lights blazing continually throughout the house, and he was worked up about the energy consumption of an open refrigerator for the 5 seconds it took me to do my thing. But it was kind of sad that he “had to” let it drop because the perpetrator was full-grown me. If it had been one of the kids, he’d have probably caused a massive stink.

It seems you have the least amount of patience for the ones you love. Perhaps because deep down you know you can get away with bad behavior with them. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the opposite of the way it should be.

When you find yourself being harsh with someone, you might want to ask yourself if you would react the same way if that person were an 80 year old total stranger. If not, perhaps you should re-think your tone. If you are capable of reacting with more respect, you should do so.

Similarly, I’ve worked with people who are absolute bullies to their subordinates, but are obsequious to their superiors. That makes it even more shameful, in my opinion, because they clearly know how to be polite; they just choose not to be when they can get away with it. Given the choice, I prefer people who are equal opportunity offenders.

Bullies are a pet peeve of mine. If I see you taking advantage of someone who happens to be more vulnerable, I will take you down every time. This often puts me in awkward situations, but the buck has to stop somewhere. Why not here?


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There’s nothing I hate more on this earth than a bully. And I happen to interact with one regularly. Her aggression really intimidated me at first. But over time when she realized I wasn’t going to budge about certain things, she then had to get increasingly nit-picky until now the things that she blows up about seem ever more pathetic.

Now when I see her starting to puff up like a bullfrog, instead of becoming tense, I’m hard-pressed not to laugh. I can see how weak and ineffectual she truly is, and it’s quite obvious that that’s the one thing she fears—that her weakness will be revealed. That’s the thing about bullies. They may seem to loom large, but they’re really hollow inside.

I’m a fairly laid back, peace-loving individual, but if someone bullies a person that I happen to love, watch out. I will cut a beyotch. Don’t even try it. Funny that it has only been recently that I’ve learned to stand up for myself as ferociously as I stand up for those I love. And even now, it’s doesn’t come naturally to me to do so. But the older I get, the more tired I become, and the less I’m willing to tolerate abuse.

It’s rather sad that we live in a world where we have to learn to counteract such hostile behavior in order to effectively function. But it’s nice to be one of the good guys. I look at my bully and I don’t envy her that miserable existence. She may think she’s punishing others, but the main person she punishes is herself, because she’s tense, unhappy and friendless.

[Image credit:]
[Image credit:]

Adult Bullies

The psychiatric community does not like to place the label of psychopath on children. I suppose that is understandable, because there’s no known cure for psychopathy, and if you get that diagnosis wrong, you could drastically damage that child’s life. No one wants to give up on a child. But the theory is that one percent of the population is psychopathic, and the current thinking appears to be that this is not a trait that you suddenly acquire one day like a new pair of shoes. You are born with it. So it stands to reason that one percent of all children are psychopathic as well.

Most psychopaths do not turn into violent serial killers. Many of them are quite successful in business and relatively functional members of society. A lot of that has to do with their upbringing. Put a psychopathic child in a warped and abusive family, and you might get a murderer. But put him or her in a healthy, loving environment, and chances are you’ll get someone who can at least pass as being a normal person much of the time.

When children behave badly, it’s their parents who are usually blamed, or lack of education, or inadequate role models. The assumption is that their behavior can change if these factors are altered. But when an adult is violent or cruel, those excuses, as far as I’m concerned, only go so far. Adults, you see, should know better.

I’ve known my fair share of despicable adults. Many of them have had horrible childhoods. But after a certain point, one ought to be able to put on one’s big boy pants and take responsibility for one’s actions. If you are incapable of doing that, then there’s a good chance you have psychopathic tendencies.

I’ve known people who were 65 years old and were still bullies. They delighted in making life a living hell for those around them. They were cruel, hostile, aggressive, and completely devoid of compassion. If you’ve functioned like that for decades, that’s not some mere character flaw, that’s a lifestyle.

Speaking from painful experience, people like that are not going to change, and your best defense against them is to avoid contact as much as possible. Woe betide you if you have to work with this type of individual. If your human resources department thinks that these negative traits can be reversed with some sort of communications or anger management training, they will be sadly mistaken. If they don’t have the courage to cut these people out of the company like a cancerous tumor, then your only hope, unfortunately, is to try and outlast them with your sanity intact, or move on.

Yes, I know, it should be
Yes, I know, it should be “than”, not “then”. I didn’t make the meme.

Mental Illness and the Internet

Sometimes I really think that cyberspace is not the healthiest place to be. Every once in a while I encounter someone who is clearly in need of help, and since I’m not a mental health professional I am definitely not the go-to girl in situations of this nature.

Generally all I can do is the same thing I do when I encounter a rattlesnake in the bush: calmly and gingerly step back to a safe distance and then run like hell. In the digital world that means block, delete, ignore until they get bored and go away, whatever it takes to take myself out of that person’s realm.

The other day I was visiting a Facebook page that celebrates a certain breed of dog, and a lady posted about her guilt and anguish that her beloved dog had just gotten hit by a car. We were all saying things along the lines of, “I’m so sorry for your loss” as you do, when two different nut jobs chime in that she was careless, it was all her fault, and that she shouldn’t get another dog because she was utterly irresponsible.

This, without knowing the whole story. This, at the most inappropriate moment someone with even a modicum of tact could possibly conceive. But there you go. And it did, in fact, turn out to be an unavoidable accident that could not be prevented, even by a very loving pet owner. This was a tragedy that was definitely not made lighter by two people with borderline personality disorders who were incapable of keeping their mouths shut.

In the virtual world of Second Life, I’ve met quite a few amazing, wonderful people who will be friends for life, but I’ve also met my fair share of pathological liars who are only in there to manipulate people and see how much emotional damage they can cause. It seems to be a playground for sociopaths who want to experiment in ways they could never get away with in the real world.

And I’ve also encountered a few crazies on this blog. A psychopath once told me that a mass murderer I had mentioned should actually be celebrated for his acts as he had done the world a great service. My blood ran cold with that one.

And once or twice I’ve made the mistake of disagreeing with a narcissist and the response I’ve gotten was epic and totally out of proportion to my statement. Narcissists love to blog, and love to read other people’s blogs so that they can point out their many flaws and therefore feel, for a brief shining moment, intellectually superior. Their blogs are generally self-absorbed, irrational and easy to dismantle, but for the love of God, don’t do it, even with the most helpful intentions, or you will risk their wrath. It’s a very fragile bubble in which these people live.

Of course, most bloggers are fine, stable people who are writing to explore the world and its intricacies or to put forth new perspectives without forcing them upon anyone, or they simply want to share opinions or entertain. When you cross over to the dark side, I believe, is when your blog becomes, “All you people are idiots! Here’s the unfounded truth!” Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Cyberspace is also the hunting ground for stalkers, bullies, and people with every form of sexual disorder. To dwell in all things digital is to realize that there is a lot of sickness in this world. Tread carefully, dear readers.

I’d like to think, though, that in some circumstances being in here can be a healing experience. One can make friends and build up an emotional support group that will shore you up against waves of depression. It may also allow agoraphobics or those who are socially awkward to interact with the wider world. It can inform and it can make you feel less alone.

Perhaps the internet is the universe’s way of teaching us that we need to be more self-protective and set up very clearly defined boundaries. But every now and then I must admit that I prefer the sanctuary of a good book or the comfort of a real life, in-the-flesh hug.


Narcissus by Caravaggio

Don’t Hold on to Bitterness

About a year ago I got a friend request on Facebook from someone who made my life miserable in high school. I couldn’t believe it. I almost deleted it, but then I realized this was a rare opportunity for closure. So I accepted her friend request and sent her the following message:

“There are so many things I’d like to say to you. First of all, you made my life a living hell in high school. You bullied me, you harassed me, you followed me around, you destroyed my textbooks, one of which I had to pay for at a time when I was extremely poor. You broke into my locker, you humiliated me, embarrassed me, scared the hell out of me, lowered my already low self-esteem, and basically made me dread school at a point when I already dreaded being at home. I used to cry myself to sleep at night trying to figure out what I had done to deserve that. To this day I have no idea. Why on earth did you dedicate so much negative energy and time on me? What did I do?

“You have left me a lifelong legacy. I will never, EVER go to a high school reunion. I’d rather have root canal surgery than relive those days. And to this day, I have a knee-jerk reaction toward bullies. I will never understand, nor will I tolerate, people who delight in other peoples’ misery. You did that.

“I know this was long ago, and you’re probably a very different person (God, I hope so), I know I am. But give me one good reason, please, why I should be your friend now when you hated my guts then?”

Her response was quite interesting.  “I am soooo sorry if I treated you that way. I honestly don’t remember it. I can’t imagine having ever been so cruel and heartless to anyone. I am truly sorry. If you can’t forgive me then I totally understand because those are all unforgivable acts. I’m sorry.”

So I replied, “I appreciate that. It felt good to get it off my chest. I forgive you. Friendship might be a little harder, but I’m willing to give it a shot, if you are. Just goes to show one never knows the impact one makes in the world. I’m sure there are people I’ve hurt, too.”

Wow. She didn’t even have a memory of the damage she had done to me, and from what I can tell from Facebook, has turned out to be a good person, although as expected we don’t interact that much. And yet I had held onto that bitterness for decades. By doing that, I had only been damaging myself. What a waste.

This is why forgiveness is so important. Without it, you remain stuck like a mouse in a glue trap. It does you no good. And people do grow up and change and learn from their experiences. They really do.

I know someone who is still very bitter about his treatment in high school 25 years later, and he’s convinced that the kids who were so horrible to him then are still horrible people now. I’m willing to bet that most of them aren’t, and that most of them don’t even remember him or what they did to him, or if they do remember, they don’t spend a great deal of their time dwelling on it. But he holds that bitter cup of acid deep inside himself, and it punishes them not at all.

It’s time to move on.

move on

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Why I Hate Alcohol

I haven’t had a drink in 30 years. Not even a beer. Suddenly one day I realized that I had never left a bar feeling better about myself. And then there was the time when I was 17 and woke up in the trunk of my car. No idea how I got there. Fortunately the lid wasn’t closed.

Over the years, with the benefit of sober clarity, I’ve come to hate alcohol and everything it stands for.

Because of my father’s love of alcohol, I never got to meet him. I never knew what it was like to feel safe, protected and loved by a father. Because of his alcohol I grew up on welfare, and wound up living in a tent. Because of alcohol I was thrust into a nightmare of sexual abuse. Because of alcohol I never felt confident or self-assured, and was never taught that I deserved good things, or how to choose a decent man to share my life with.

Alcohol not only devastates the drinker, but everyone who is sucked into his or her destructive orbit.

Drunk drivers kill people every single day, and often walk away from those accidents unscathed themselves. They leave children without parents, and parents to mourn their children for the rest of their lives.

I HATE it when alcoholism is described as a disease. Granted, some people are more predisposed to be alcoholics than others, but in my opinion it should be described as a mental health issue or an addiction at most. It’s a disorder in which the individual makes poor choices, and is selfish, selfish, selfish to the point of not caring about the havoc that those choices wreak on family, friends, and the wider community.

I also resent it when people try to pressure me into drinking. They are uncomfortable in indulging in this habit if everyone around them isn’t doing the same, so I get to be bullied, as if I have to apologize for doing what is right for me.

Sure, there are those out there who can drink socially and in moderation. But if that’s the case, why bother? Alcohol, even in moderation, takes away money and time that could be better spent elsewhere. Alcohol is a waste. And those responsible drinkers in question help make drinking seem socially acceptable, and that only encourages alcoholics to remain in denial for that much longer. A certain percentage of society will survive Russian roulette, but does that mean that they should show others who might not be so lucky how to play the game?

Alcohol gives people the liquid courage to be cruel, to be bullies, to be violent and to humiliate the people they claim to love. Alcohol makes you look like a fool. Alcohol destroys families, weddings, reunions, holidays, birthdays, funerals, graduations, concerts, parties, and untold numbers of public events. Alcohol encourages criminality and causes suicides. Alcohol destroys businesses, ruins livelihoods, causes homelessness, devastates relationships and undermines trust.

Alcohol is a fluid wall that you thrust between yourself and the people who want to spend time with you. It’s a sword that you use to strike out at others. It makes you feel that screaming and shouting and hitting and hurting are acceptable. And in the end, alcohol will leave you all alone in the world, with nothing but your own regrets to keep you warm as you survey the chilling destruction that you have caused.

When my father died his cold, lonely alcoholic death, they found in his wallet a picture of my mother on their honeymoon—a woman he hadn’t had any contact with in 25 years. What a sad and pathetic reminder of what could have been. What should have been.

[See also my blog entry, Another Rant About Alcoholism.]


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Learning your Lessons

Every one of us has certain lessons to learn throughout his or her life. Some lessons we are doomed to repeat over and over again. Other lessons impact us on such fundamental levels that it only takes one time to get the message. It doesn’t always feel very good when we get schooled, but like it or not, it’s always a valuable experience.

Learning from our mistakes when we are young can be particularly humiliating. We are already in a phase in which we feel we know it all and are utterly self-conscious about the ways we are perceived by others, so when we receive a moral or ethical smack-down it particularly stings. In hindsight one can accept that lessons learned when young are the most valuable of all because we benefit from them for the rest of our lives, but at the time it feels as if it’s an exercise in torture.

Here’s a lesson I learned when young. Friends who are cruel to others will eventually direct their cruelty toward you as well. It might be fun in high school when there are cliques and insecurities and pecking orders are being established with a vengeance, but in the wider world, bullies are less accepted and can be even more destructive. Take a stand and defend those who are being attacked. Do not tolerate aggressive people. Pit Bulls turn on their masters every day.

Take a moment to appreciate the lessons you have learned in life. They have made you a much better person. They are gifts.