Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke. – Benjamin Disraeli
I read an interesting story recently written by a woman who suddenly realized she was a bully. It came to her that she bullied her husband on a regular basis. It was a powerful reminder to me of the many faces and forms that bullying can take. The story was a brave admission on her part and you can read it here.
It's easy to spot the big kid on the playground pushing around the little kid, or the popular crowd that looks down on and belittles those who they consider "out." Even cyber bullying is pretty clear to spot. It's not as easy to see ourselves as bullies because we tend to rationalize it away - to feel we were right about whatever caused us to bully. Even truer, we just feel "right" period. How can it be bullying if we're right? Right?
He who knows others is wise. He who knows himself is enlightened. - Lao Tzu
Relationships, whether marriages, friendships or between family members, are a delicate balance and require great effort to remain balanced. When one party assumes more power or greater insight than the other, trouble is brewing.
It's a slippery slope we start down when we see another as flawed and make them our project - or worse - our target. I've been guilty of it myself. I've taken on the job of fashion police for my husband despite never being officially hired. This in spite of my daughter threatening to turn me in to What Not To Wear. This also in spite of the fact that he lived for 50 years, dressing himself, before we met. (Not as well as he does now though. Oops. Did I type that out loud?
I also admit to possibly "helping" him drive more often than he appreciates. He felt relieved (or was that vindicated?) while on vacation to find that I help everyone drive.
I'm far more likely to let my bad mood spill over onto him than he is onto me. He gets angry at whatever he gets angry at and leaves me out of it. He recovers quickly from bursts of frustration. I tend to frustrate over the idea of the frustration after the event has passed.
I will add, however, that I'm also the first one (OK, maybe the second one) to notice that I've misplaced my emotions and quickly apologize when it happens. I'm sincerely making an effort not to need to - but instead to keep my frustration to myself where it belongs.
Bullying between siblings can leave emotional scars that last long after leaving home. It can breed insecurity and feelings of worthlessness in the bullied child. It's sad that children don't have the maturity and experience to understand how damaging their actions can be and how it will affect their relationship in the future. (Sadder that some adults don't either.)
I'm sure we all know someone we feel is being bullied in their relationship. It only takes one "right fighter" and one person who would rather avoid conflict to complete this recipe. The silent partner may go along to get along but it doesn't mean that damage isn't being done to the relationship. It doesn't take long for the bullied partner to start withdrawing and possibly even leaving.
I was surprised to even find bullying in the comment section of the article on bullying as some of the respondents were pounced on for their opinions. I've noticed that people who feel they have little control in the important relationships in their own lives will often let loose their silent rage on others. Strangers make perfect victims since no consequences seem to follow. Sometimes that anger translates into road rage. In other cases, people take back their missing power by trolling on internet sites and leaving hurtful comments.
We are each flawed - bringing with our flaws many wonderful gifts to contribute. Our gifts come wrapped in a package of idiosyncrasies, habits, and belief systems that may or may not jive well with the package another carries their gifts in. Who are we to decide our package is the pretty one and theirs is the ugly duckling? Does it really make us look better to make another look bad?
There was a time in my life when I was the queen of sarcasm and put down. I could slice people to shreds with remarkably few words - even being accused once of having had a tongue transplant with Don Rickles. Cross me and duck. That's how it was. Then one day it occurred to me how easy it was to make people feel bad. Most people already do. It came to me that the more challenging thing would be to make people feel good. I changed. That change has brought me many times more joy than cutting others to pieces ever brought me satisfaction.
My ruthlessness was a mask. It was the crunchy exterior that covered a scared and insecure person with a heart of jello. It seemed back then that the best way to avoid being hurt myself was a "strike first" strategy. Sure, it kept people from taking me on, but it also kept people at a distance. I was safe. And ashamed. I didn't like that hurtful person.
We're all in this together and none of us are going to get out alive. What if we tried a little harder to connect. How would our lives change if those around us felt safe and honored? How would theirs? Is it really so hard to overlook the small and insignificant things others do that aren't exactly the way we'd have done it? What if we didn't pick to pieces even the things people do to help? How much more often would others feel safe doing things for us if that were the case?
What if we appreciated and celebrated differences instead of belittling and punishing them? One of my favorite quotes says: "If two people are exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary." How true is that?
I challenge all of us to examine our own relationships to see if we too may be bullies. If we find that we are, let's try a little harder to be kind and offer others the same grace we'd like extended to us for our own shortcomings.
Sometimes I catch small glimpses of what the world might look like if we could love first and ask questions later. I see it in unselfish acts of kindness and in compassionate gestures. I see it in the lives of people who are trying to be more grateful and show appreciation more often. It's beautiful. Close your eyes. Can you see it? Pass it on!