Minding My Own Business. Not.

I had to try.

Anyone who knows me well can tell you that, when properly motivated, I can be a buttinsky to a shockingly inappropriate degree. Sometimes it gets me into trouble. Sometimes it causes unintended damage and/or hurt feelings. Sometimes I get it all wrong.

It’s just that I can’t stand to see someone bullied. I can’t sit still when I think I’m witnessing some form of injustice. And false accusations make me want to scream.

I think the reason I am so adamant about standing up for people is that, all too often, no one stood up for me during my weakest, most vulnerable moments. If I can prevent even one person from experiencing that kind of pain, it’s worth it. One second of averting future psychological damage makes up for all the times I’ve stuck my neck out for someone, only to have my head figuratively handed back to me for my trouble.

There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re being attacked, and looking around at all the witnesses, only to find that they are suddenly engrossed in inspecting their shoes. I don’t know how people do that. It’s not in me.

Don’t get me wrong: Standing up for someone does not mean reinforcing their false accusations or beliefs because you usually like that person. It also doesn’t mean propping up someone’s inaccurate conclusions, even if they are dear friends. And that’s where I often get into trouble.

Standing up for others means taking a personal stand about what you feel is right and just and morally and literally true. It’s about having personal integrity everywhere you go. It’s about saying the emperor has no clothes when that’s what you see. Even if someone you love dearly insists that the clothes are indeed there, you stand your ground unless you are provided with evidence that contradicts what you know in the very marrow of your bones.

A friend once accused another friend of mine of being hostile and rude and irrationally cruel to him. It was a he said/she said situation. I wasn’t there. But I’ve known both of these people for well over a decade, and the accusation sounded nothing like the woman I had been talking to on a daily basis for all that time. I doubt this woman even squashes spiders. She has consistently shown herself to be polite, kind, and considerate of others. I have never seen her lose her temper. Not once. Calling her hostile is as improbable as calling Trump intelligent. That, and she had zero motive for being hostile to him, as he was only passing on a message that I wouldn’t be there that evening as planned.

In contrast, my accusing friend, as much as I love him, has demonstrated that he often draws irrational conclusions, especially when under the influence of something. And he’s also stubborn. So even when you confront him with the information once a cooler head should prevail, and even when he is unable to provide a shred of evidence, he tends to double down on his belief, and gets downright hostile about it himself. I’ve seen him lose his temper on multiple occasions.

In fact, he got hostile to the point of saying really cruel things to me, and insisting that I had to choose between the two of them. So who would you choose? It seems rather obvious to me, even though it made me sad. I chose the friend who has always been kind. And she remains kind to this day. On the other hand, the accusing friend occasionally pops up and leaves a nasty message on my blog, to remind me, I suppose, that he’s still feeling hostile. As if that will make him more palatable as a friend. As if his hostility will somehow convince me to see it his way and agree my other friend is hostile. It makes me sad.

Maturity has not tempered my need to take these stands. It has, though, taught me to be a little more subtle about it, when possible. Sometimes people don’t realize that they’re making an a$$ of themselves, and it doesn’t pay to broadcast that, unless doing so will prevent others from acting in kind.

For example, the other day I witnessed something, and I had to speak up. It was at the local YMCA where I swim 4 days a week. After a while, once you’ve established a routine like that, you tend to start recognizing those whose routines intersect with yours. I’m cordial with these people. Some I get to know better, and some are only passing acquaintances that might exchange comments about the weather with me.

I have made several friends at the Y, but I tend to give people their space unless they indicate a desire to go beyond surface pleasantries. After all, they’re not there for me. And that’s fine.

On the day in question, in the swim lane beside mine, there was a man in his early 40’s and a boy who was about 10. I’ve chatted with them before, so I know this is a father and son, and they come to the pool in an effort to lose weight. Good for them. Clearly this is a father who cares about his son’s health.

We exchanged smiles and nothing more. But as I was exercising, I overheard the father calling his son a loser. He was using a teasing tone of voice. (I think they had been racing, and the kid, of course, lost.) But the father kept saying, loudly, and with a smile on his face, “Loser. Looooooser!”

I understand that this is the teasing dynamic that many guys use with one another, but that doesn’t make it right. It got to me. Not that I was ever called a loser by a family member. But there were other names and criticisms which stuck. Sometimes people don’t realize how much words can hurt. They don’t realize how labels stick to you. They think that as long as their intentions are good, and their love is there, unspoken, then they can say anything they want to say and that will be okay.

But it’s not. It’s not. Why are we so willing to say cruel things to the people we love when we’d never say those things to a stranger? It makes me sad.

I swam a few laps, trying to figure out what to do or say, because I knew I was going to say something. I didn’t want to say anything in front of the kid. Hadn’t he been humiliated enough for one day? What to do. What to do…

And that’s when another guy came along who looked identical to the father, and he jumped in their swim lane. The three of them sort of played in the pool for a while, and I could tell that there was affection all around. That’s good.

At one point, the father and son were down in the deep end, and the other guy was in the shallow, so I quietly said to him, “Is that your nephew? He’s an awesome kid.”

He smiled and said, “Yes he is. And yes, he is.”

I said, “I heard his dad call him a loser earlier. I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it, but words can hurt. I hope he’ll rethink that, because, speaking from experience, the therapy later in life can get pretty darned expensive.”

He said that he found that concerning, and thanked me.

I went about my day, knowing the situation could play out in several ways. 1) The uncle might decide that it’s too awkward to say anything, but perhaps he’ll be even kinder to the nephew to make up for his brother’s name calling. 2) The uncle might speak up to his brother and he’ll either take it well and maybe try to stop with the name calling, or he’ll get defensive and think less of his brother or of me, but will at least have heightened awareness of what he’s doing. Or, finally , and most likely, 3)The second I turned away the uncle shook his head and blew me off.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, people are, if anything, too good at minding their own business. I knew if I didn’t speak up, no one else would. But at the same time, it’s truly not my business, and I don’t know how this family behaves under any other circumstances. Maybe I made too much of it, and caused an awkward situation for no good reason. Or maybe it was something that needed to be said.

Did I do harm or good? I’ll never know. But I had to try.


Persecution Complex

“I can see that they don’t like me, therefore I’m correct.”

Recently someone accused me of being “willfully defiant” and “intentionally non-cooperative” toward him. And there’s no point in trying to defend myself from these accusations, because apparently, I’m also a liar. This verdict against my character actually took me by surprise. Usually, mature adults don’t place those labels on mature adults. That’s something you might say about a tantrum-throwing child or a troubled teenager. But the most surprising thing about it is that it was obvious that he sincerely believed his assessment, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. How strange for two people to be living in such polar opposite realities.

Clearly, this guy does not know me well. In general, I’m a very low-energy person. I’m proud of myself when I get the bare minimum done for my survival on any given day. The dust bunnies under my bed can attest to that.

The thought of sitting around, plotting and scheming and following some rigid plan to… what? Make someone’s life miserable for the pure hell of it?  That seems like an enormous waste of my limited energy. It makes me tired just thinking about it.

It’s also rather startling that someone actually thinks that I focus my attention that much, either positively or negatively, on someone who is not a loved one. I mean, I have never socialized with this guy, and I never will. I don’t know where he lives or what he likes to eat. Frankly, I have to admit that I’m not even certain of his eye color. Brown, maybe? Blue? I’m not sure.

The truth is, I don’t care about this dude unless or until he decides to do something that affects me. The bulk of his life has absolutely nothing to do with me, and that’s as it should be. If we were drawn as a Venn diagram, a tiny sliver of our circles would just barely overlap. Go on about your business, man. That’s what I’m trying to do.

We do have a lot of philosophical differences. Neither of us seem inspired to try to alter the other’s politics or religion, so frankly I couldn’t care less. Where we seem to butt heads is in regard to how things should be done that will impact both of us.

If he comes up with a great idea, I give credit where credit is due, and I adopt the policy without question. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to have kept track of the times that I have done that. Had I but known there would be a test afterward, I’d have taken notes.

On the other hand, if he floats an idea and I see potential problems therewith, I point those out. But I do that with everybody. By no means am I singling him out for such treatment. But if what he does will impact me as well, I feel I have the right to weigh in. In fact, I genuinely believe that I would be remiss in not mentioning the pros and cons of the concept.

Now, what he chooses to do with that information once it’s provided is up to him. I’d want someone to point out potential hazards in my plans were the positions reversed. That way I can be confident that I’m making an informed decision.

Instead, his idea of feedback is vague and uninformative, and usually a tad condescending. “Your pet project is a waste of funds.” The only thing that informs me of is his general disdain for me. It causes me to explain how I could get around the funds issue, which he then interprets as me being argumentative.

So there you have it. We don’t like each other. The difference, it seems, is that he thinks I’m actively out to get him, and only him, and that it’s my reason for being. But actually, I just think he’s a jerk with poor communication skills, but I know for a fact that he’s that way with everybody. I don’t think I’m particularly special, so when I am the beneficiary of his lack of tact, I know that I’m not the only one. I don’t think he’s smart enough or evil enough to rise to the level of plotting against me. I don’t believe that I take up the amount of space in the world that would inspire someone to give over their every waking moment to destroy me.

And I am truly confused by that mindset. What am I supposed to gain by being willfully defiant? I don’t see any possible motivation for behaving that way. Personally, I prefer to avoid confrontation whenever possible. If my character and/or reputation is attacked, I will speak up about it, mind you, but I certainly don’t go looking for fights.

I’m an introvert. Human interactions exhaust me. So the last thing on earth that I’d want to do is go out of my way to make any necessary interactions hostile. I would much rather exchange pertinent information and then get on with things. Preferably alone.

I made a new friend recently, and in an effort to understand this confusing situation, I told him about it, and he said, “I bet that guy was bullied a lot as a child. He sure seems to have a persecution complex.”

Wow. Perspective. I’d never thought of that. He does spend a great deal of time documenting the most minor transgressions that he sees in all of his coworkers, and then conflates those things into a major crisis. He has a reputation for throwing people under the bus, and I don’t think he truly understands just how universally disliked he is because of it.

He seems to be incapable of allowing for human error. Someone puts a key in the wrong place one time, he will professionally shame that person. He documents it as a safety issue, which it would be if it were a habitual error, but we’re talking one incident as compared to the 125 times that person has put the key in its proper place. What a crisis! No one else at work goes from zero to catastrophe like this guy.

He has said that things would be so much better if he were able to discipline me. And he has absolutely no clue how creepy that sounds. It is beyond me how someone can be so certain of his own self-righteousness that he gets frustrated when he isn’t allowed to mete out justice to everyone around him.

Okay, so let’s face it, we’ll never be inviting each other over for Thanksgiving Dinner. Big deal. But I genuinely do try to understand people, so I decided to read more about persecution complex, to see if it truly fits him, and if so, come up with some coping skills for when I’m faced with his paranoia.

The frustrating thing about persecution complex is that the bulk of the articles out there seem to be discussing only Fundamentalist Christian persecution complex which happens to overlap with Republican persecution complex. It seems that the best way to hold onto your outlandish beliefs without having to defend them is to think that the only reason your beliefs aren’t universally held is that some person or group is out to get you. They’re trying to shut you up, prevent you from spreading the truth. So it’s not your fault. It’s theirs.

How convenient.

I don’t even know if this guy’s a Christian, and while I suspect his politics might make me want to puke, I can’t be certain, so these articles weren’t as helpful as I hoped they would be. I did pull out a few nuggets of information once I stripped away all the religion, though. Here are a few:

  • If you feel like someone is persecuting you, you can convince yourself that somehow that means you must be doing the right thing, so you get to pitch your tent, forever, on the moral high ground.
  • People with a persecution complex find it all but impossible to differentiate contradiction from persecution. (And that, in a nutshell, describes my situation with this guy. I disagree with an idea, and he sees that as the attempted murder of his very essence.)
  • People with this complex think that their beliefs are magically validated if they are hated for expressing them. Further, the more extreme they become, the more they feel they hold the truth in their hands, because martyrs would not die for nothing, right? Their flawed logic tells them, “I can see that they don’t like me, therefore I’m correct.”
  • People with persecutory delusions can’t recognize reality. They believe that someone or some group is trying to harm them. These beliefs often look bizarre and unrealistic to the outsider.

Yep, all these things apply to the guy in question. Does that make me feel vindicated or triumphant? No, actually, it makes me feel sorry for him. He has a sad little life, and that is painful to see.  Another upsetting conclusion I have drawn from my reading is that many people who have a persecution complex either had traumatic childhoods or are suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for some other reason.

I can imagine he was bullied as a child, and no one deserves that. I can imagine he’s been through some horrible stuff to have so much self-loathing that he believes he must automatically be completely loathed by others. But he’s taking victim-hood to new depths. He once told me that if his marriage fails, it will be my fault, such was the stress that I put on him by pushing back all the time. And I couldn’t even pick his wife out of a lineup.

So, now I have a better sense of what I’m dealing with. I hope that some day he will realize that I care entirely too little about him to pose a threat. Dude, I didn’t push you down the stairs in high school. This monster costume you’ve put me in makes my scalp itch. It’s time for you to let me take it off.

It must be really terrifying to think you’re surrounded by irredeemable demons whose sole purpose is to hunt you down. But I suppose it’s preferable to looking at yourself in the mirror and admitting that you are your own worst enemy.




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mizjkPLUFYo (This crazy video allows you to see persecution complex in action.


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Bully Busters

They decided to be part of the solution.

I stumbled upon a Washington Post article entitled, “Classmates wouldn’t sign his yearbook. So older students stepped in.” And it brought me right back to my public school nightmare of being bullied and ignored and made to feel inadequate. Pressure to be popular permeated the very walls of my schools, and I never made it to that summit. Instead, I collected all the misfits, and we meshed and occasionally glanced upward to a place where we knew we’d never be.

As much as I loved reading and learning and getting straight A’s on my report card, I viewed school as something that must be endured for 12 years until I could break free of all the judgment and hostility. Mostly, I kept my head down and tried not to be noticed/beat up/humiliated. And when you add braces, glasses, severe acne, poverty, a complex home life, a heaping helping of pompous intelligence combined with an extreme deficit of self-esteem, and clothes that were way out of style, and you stir all of that up into an already toxic social stew, is it any wonder that I was chronically depressed?

I did get to confront my worst bully decades later, and wrote about it here. She didn’t remember any of it. Even so, rereading that post is cleansing for me. I’m proud of everything I said to her, and I feel like I got it out of my system. It kind of felt like bursting an abscess: briefly painful and unpleasant, but oh, the blessed release of pressure, and the knowledge that healing can begin!

So reading that article about a 12-year-old boy who had been constantly bulled and felt so alone that everyone refused to sign his yearbook, I wanted to hug him and cry, and tell him that things will get better, even if that’s hard to believe at the moment.

But what I love most about this story is the older students who stepped in. Apparently the kid’s mother was talking about the situation in a closed Facebook group for parents of children at that school, and those parents then told their kids, and several different sets of kids independently decided to be part of the solution. They gathered a bunch of friends, and they all went and introduced themselves and signed his yearbook and talked about bullies, and sent a message that bullying isn’t to be tolerated. Many of these students remain his friends and keep in touch with him.

I’m sure that did wonders for that young man’s self-esteem. And maybe, just maybe, it made it possible for him to someday become an 18-year-old boy who is comfortable in his own skin, and who isn’t bitter, impulsive, and potentially a harm to himself or someone else. Just like that, some teens became aware of an injustice, and came together to make the world a better place. Bravo!

I wish all public schools would create a Bully Busters Club. These kids could do talks about bullying, and they could form an alliance of children that vowed not to be bullies, but instead be caring, compassionate and civic-minded. They could spread the word that if you don’t feel like you fit in, come join this group! Everyone is welcome. Strength in numbers. This group would need constant promoting and support so as to avoid becoming the club that no one wants to be a part of, but I think it could be done.

It would have been so nice to have a safe place to land when I was in school. If done right, a group like that would quickly outpace the popular clique and the sports clique, and pretty much every other grouping, and make it clear that inclusivity and kindness are the real things to care about, not popularity.

We need more of this, please.

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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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A Wicked Sense

Now I can’t abide bullies in any form. But it took me a minute.

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.


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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.


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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?

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:


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.