The Un-Bullies of Social Media

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.

stand_up_by_cissbox

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A Wicked Sense

When I was young, I used to delight in friends who had wicked senses of humor. I liked to hear them poke fun at others, or be capable of the kind of snappy, sarcastic retorts that have always eluded me. It was fun to sit with them on a mountain of mockery and quietly witness these friends cutting down all comers. It felt powerfully entertaining.

I wasn’t mature enough to realize that their behavior was just mean. I didn’t realize that what I thought of as a rapier wit and a superior intelligence was actually a lot of misplaced anger and the hallmark of being a bully. I also didn’t understand that by being a silent and amused witness, I was being a bully, too, or at the very least, propping one up.

If it’s any comfort, though, I did draw the line at physical bullying. Even I had the sense to know that was intolerable. Physical intimidation is so blatantly wrong that even my clueless young mind couldn’t overlook it.

And I learned my lesson about the sarcasm the hard way. Because there’s one thing you are bound to find out sooner or later: If you have a “friend” who is cruel to everyone but you, even if it is tinged with humor, eventually their wrath will turn in your direction as well. Count on it. I guarantee it.

Now I get that words can hurt as much as physical assault. And I know that if I stand by and do nothing while it’s happening, then I’m complicit. Now, I can’t abide bullies in any form. Now, I surround myself with respectful, loving people. But it took me a minute to get there, to my everlasting shame.

Bullying

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Aggression is the New Regression

In the near future, when the leader of the free world is going to be someone who publicly declares “I’d like to punch him in the face,” and also condones waterboarding and other war crimes, can an uptick in violence be far behind?

There is a thin veil between humanity and aggression. That veil is called morality. The reason we don’t devolve to a society of cavemen is that we have developed laws and codes based on this morality. It keeps at least some of us in check. Violence is wrong. We all used to know this, at least on some level.

But soon we’ll have a leader who is willing to pierce that veil, and do it with a smile on his face. I’ve recently noticed a lot more adult bullying and intimidation. We are regressing. We are losing our civility. Check out this video of a man kicking a woman down the stairs. There is nothing on earth that can justify this type of behavior.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a violent world, and always has been. Every woman I know has been abused in some form or another at least once in her life.  It’s hard to feel safe in that atmosphere. But the only thing we seemed to have in our favor was public outrage. Now the outrage seems to crop up when we don’t behave aggressively enough. It’s a different world.

I don’t know about you, but I’m scared. I’m also disheartened.

I leave you now with a link to a television clip from Morocco, in which a makeup artist is demonstrating how to cover up the bruises you receive from domestic violence so that you can “carry on with your daily life.”

For this, I have no words.

violence

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Verbal Manipulation

I was speaking to someone in a position of authority the other day, and he said, “Wouldn’t you agree that…” and then he went on to push his poorly thought out agenda for policy change. So I responded, “Actually, no, I don’t agree. And here’s why.”

He wasn’t expecting that. You could see it in his eyes. But I don’t like to be manipulated. It’s just another form of bullying as far as I’m concerned. And when your weapon of choice is words, well, you’ve met your match.

I especially hate verbal manipulation in the customer service realm. For example, for a while there AT&T employees were forced to end all phone conversations by saying, “Thank you for being the best part of AT&T.” Seriously?

First of all, you can say that all day long, but that doesn’t erase the fact that you provide, arguably, the worst customer service of any company on the face of the earth. Forcing your employees to say that does not convince us otherwise, and it certainly does not convince your employees that their jobs aren’t detestable nightmares. What it does do is make your organization look even less sincere than it already is.

I know that there is something to be said for putting a positive spin on things, but there’s also something to be said for not taking it too far. Sure, it may be good on some level to call “problems” “challenges”, but the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wasn’t a challenge. It was a freakin’ disaster of epic proportions. There’s no spinning that.

A big pet peeve of mine is the phrase, “We should…” Don’t should me. You aren’t me. You can’t make decisions for me. You don’t have the power to establish rules for me.

And don’t even get me started on “If you loved me, you’d…” That kind of talk makes me run for the nearest exit. I’d be tempted to not even say good-bye on the way out.

I prefer straight shooters. Tell me what you want or need, and why, and let me form my own opinions and make my own choices. How hard is that?

Manipulation
And what happens if I don’t bring you coffee?

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.

The Bumblebee Shirt

I am convinced that some people should not be allowed to dress themselves. You know the ones. You pass them on the street and the first thing that crosses your mind is, “What the hell were you thinking this morning?”

I must admit I’m not exactly a fashion plate myself. Comfort matters much more to me than brand names or the latest trend. But I try not to clash. I try to avoid spandex. I try to be age appropriate. And as a general rule I try not to look ridiculous.

I used to date a guy who liked to wear a golf shirt that consisted of wide alternating stripes of olive drab and mustard yellow, which was horrible, but tolerable, until you added in the fact that it had a large powder blue coat of arms stitched on the upper left side. I used to call it the bumblebee shirt. The thing was awful. And it didn’t help that he was a redhead. People would stare at him with a look of pity when he wore it.

I have to admit that I teased him about this shirt. This was before I realized that he hadn’t matured past the age of 12 and that teasing actually emotionally lacerated this guy. You couldn’t even get into water fights while washing the car with him, because he’d take it personally and actually get tears in his eyes. This made it awfully hard to have fun with him.

When we broke up, I discovered that what I intended as good-natured teasing and maybe a little bit of advice came off as bullying to him. He never had the backbone to speak up at the time, and eventually he got rid of the shirt. But now I feel kind of bad about it. Maybe it would have been better to let him be laughed at by the whole world. I was genuinely trying to protect him from that. But he was notorious for not picking up on blatantly obvious social cues, and ignorance is, after all, bliss.

bumblebee shirt

He actually wore all of this stuff except the tank top.

Picking Fights

There’s this habit that I will never understand as long as I live. Some people, it seems, take delight in getting others all worked up. I detect this mainly in the male of our species, but it’s not exclusive to them by any means. They find it funny to push other people’s buttons. They actually feel as if they’ve achieved a lofty goal if they make someone upset.

Why is this? Where does it come from? It’s not unlike bear-baiting, which was popular for about 300 years in England, and only stopped due to an act of Parliament in 1835. A bear would be chained up and set upon by dogs to the delight of the cheering crowd. This bloody sport has suddenly become popular again in Pakistan, thanks to some warlords who own fighting dogs.

There is a barbaric streak in the human race, and it is not only reserved for helpless animals. We turn on each other with amazing frequency. Bullying and teasing are not restricted to the school yard. People are downright cruel to each other.

This behavior befuddles me even more given the fact that so many of us claim to be members of one religion or another. No religion on earth that I can think of advocates making others feel miserable and causing your friends and neighbors to feel worse about themselves. If you can think of a creed that says, “Ruin the days of as many people as you possibly can,” please let me know.

If you walk through the world practicing loving kindness, you leave improvements in your wake. If, on the other hand, you drop little grenades of destruction and nastiness as you pass through this life, what you leave behind you is a trail of toxic waste. It’s all so unnecessary.

For the life of me, I will never get why negativity appears to be the default position, and we have to work to overcome that instinct. It would be very easy for me to be like this, too. It’s not particularly hard to spot the sore spots in others and then stick a fork in them, but on the rare occasion I have done this, it’s left a very bad taste in my mouth.

Case in point, if I ever wanted to make my late boyfriend’s head explode, I could simply send him a meme like this one:

 obama

He really, genuinely believed all these dire predictions about our president. Oddly enough, his opinions seemed to become even more entrenched in the face of cold, hard facts to the contrary. It was kind of sad, actually.

I could have exploited this basic flaw in him, but really it would have done no good. He was not going to change and much as I would have liked him to. Instead I tried to avoid all political discussions with him. Strangely, it was he who would often drag me into one debate or another, and we’d both walk away supremely irritated. I used to say, “Why do you want to do this? What does it accomplish? Does this feel good to you? It doesn’t feel good to me. Why is this necessary?” But he couldn’t seem to resist.

I wish all my memories of Chuck were happy ones. Most of them are, but the bad ones will always slightly taint my recollections. But really, in retrospect, we were simply acting out an age-old ritual that seems to be in the very DNA of every human being. Bear-baiting writ large.

If only for today, think about the legacy you are leaving behind. Is it uplifting? Do you leave people feeling better about themselves? It’s really not that hard to do. Try it.

Namaste.

On Coming Out in Public

On Valentine’s Day, actress Ellen Page came out in front of a large group of people at the Time to Thrive conference in Las Vegas. You can hear her moving and heartfelt speech by going here if you get my blog by e-mail: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hlCEIUATzg  but I’ll also attach the video below.

Since her speech, there has, of course, been a lot of critical backlash on the web. People are chiming in that being gay is a sin, and that horrible things should happen to Ellen and LGBT people in general. People are claiming that her speech was just a cheap way for her to get publicity. They are saying that there was no need to stir things up in this fashion.

What a steaming load of crap.

If you take the time to watch it, you can tell that coming out like this was a big deal to her. Her voice was shaking throughout the speech. But she did it for many reasons. Not only was she tired of lying by omission, but she knows she’s a role model, and she knows there are many LGBT youth out there who desperately need her to be one.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBT youth are a great deal higher than in the rest of the population. They are also much more likely to be bullied, harassed, discriminated against, and basically made to feel “less than.”

While I long for a time when someone saying “I’m gay” will cause as little an impression as saying “I have green eyes”, unfortunately now is not that time.

As long as we live in a world where people can be tied to barbed wire fences and beaten to death, we need people like Ellen Page to make speeches.

As long as there are countries where you can actually be imprisoned for being who you are, we need people like Ellen Page to make speeches.

As long as people can be attacked in the street for holding hands, and as long as there’s even one person out there who thinks that if you’re gay you must therefore be a pedophile, we need people like Ellen Page to make speeches.

As long as there are people out there who have to hide in closets of isolation, depression and pain because society will reject them otherwise, we need people like Ellen Page to make speeches.

There are dozens of public figures whom we are all pretty sure are gay, but they haven’t come out. This frustrates me, because they could be doing so much good in this world. Yes, they have a right to their privacy, but they are needed, and I call upon them to do the right thing.

A lesbian friend told me that when she came out to her fundamentalist Christian parents, her mother held her arms behind her back while her father beat her bloody, and then they locked her in a room for two weeks so she could “come to her senses.” She most certainly did. She hasn’t seen her parents since. But she went through years of depression afterwards on her way to becoming the proud lesbian she is today. She sure could have used this speech back then. And hopefully kids who are experiencing this same sort of alienation now will benefit from it as much as she would have.

So on behalf of dozens of friends as well as my favorite nephew, thank you, Ellen Page, for speaking out.

Bully for You, Maybe, but not for Me

Brace yourself, dear reader, for I am in a foul mood.

I am gratified to see that there are now many campaigns out there designed to stop bullying in our schools. Three very good ones, but by no means the only ones, are www.stopbullying.gov/, www.stopbullyingnowfoundation.org/‎, and www.meanstinks.com/‎ .

I wish there had been programs like these when I was growing up. I was the smallest kid. I wore glasses. And I was often the extreme minority in schools located in very rough neighborhoods. I learned to curl up into a ball and let them beat on me until they got bored and walked away, the whole time praying that my kidneys would emerge from the fracas intact.

And except for one brief shining moment when I snapped and beat the living crap out of a girl who had been beating me up for months, the passive route has been mine, either literally or figuratively, my entire life. If stuffing one’s anger were an Olympic sport, I’d definitely have a chest full of gold medals.

Always be polite. Don’t make waves. Pick your battles. Take the high road. Do unto others.

But this morning I woke up furious and thought, dammit, WHY? Why should I just take it and take it and take it?

I am beginning to see a clear pattern, and it has me outraged. Bullying, you see, takes on many, many forms, and it’s not simply reserved for childhood. It’s not as if people suddenly start treating you decently once you graduate.

Have you ever experienced one of these types of bullying?

  • Being picked on or manipulated by a sibling,
  • humiliated or beaten up by a schoolmate,
  • beaten by another adult,
  • harassed by a coworker,
  • intimidated by someone,
  • treated like crap by a supervisor,
  • or raped (and yes, in my opinion this falls under the bullying umbrella because it’s a form of violence and aggression in the extreme)?
  • Have you been on the receiving end of road rage,
  • treated rudely by a stranger,
  • or treated rudely by a loved one on such a regular basis that you begin to think you deserve it?
  • Has anyone ever tried to make you feel crazy for feeling the way you feel,
  • or tried to make you feel stupid or silly for not sharing their opinion?
  • Has anyone ever robbed you,
  • cheated you out of money,
  • lied to you in order to get an advantage,
  • or manipulated you to make you do something you didn’t want to do?
  • Has anyone put you at risk and expected you to keep quiet about it?
  • Has anyone gossiped about you to damage your reputation,
  • gone out of their way to ruin an experience that you were enjoying,
  • or gotten drunk or drugged to have an “excuse” for their unacceptable behavior?
  • Has someone you loved or trusted told you to just sit back and take outrageous behavior so that they themselves don’t have to deal with the drama?
  • Have you ever been a victim of a troll on Facebook or your blog?
  • Has someone ever hidden behind their internet anonymity to behave obnoxiously when they wouldn’t have the courage to do so otherwise?
  • Has anyone ever cut in front of you in line?
  • Has someone scammed you out of your hard earned money? (For my personal experience with that, see “Andy Johnson, SHAME on You!!!“)

I have experienced all of these things at one time or another. And I’ve made excuses for people, looked the other way, maintained my dignity, done the right thing, taken one for the team, or thought, “Okay, maybe I deserved that,” my whole freakin’ life. At one point or another I have been a welcome mat for every douche bag within a 50 mile radius.

I have also spent an inordinate amount of time sticking up for the underdogs of this world, never truly recognizing that I was one of them and that I should put as much energy into sticking up for myself as I do for others.

Maybe all of this is coming to the surface for me now because I have been catching it from all directions recently. Maybe it’s because I feel like we, as a nation, are being bullied by our politicians. Maybe it’s just that at age 48, the scales have finally fallen from my eyes.

Whatever it is, I think people may start seeing a side of me that they have never seen before. I’m done with expecting respect and being sadly mistaken. Now it’s time to demand it, require it, and accept nothing less.

I am done with curling up in a ball. Now is the time to realize that not only do I deserve respect, but also that those who do not give me respect do not deserve to be a part of my life.

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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

(Image credit: examiner.com)