Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Do Bullies Bully?

As I wrote my post on being bullied, the question I kept coming back to was "Why do bullies bully?"

Most people dismiss it as quickly as they do bullying with a statement like "Because they can." or "Blame the parents."

That's not good enough for me. See, I don't think we can solve the bullying problem without addressing why kids bully. Yes, we can encourage the bullied to hold on and not let it get them down. We can remind them that life does get better. And, that's important. I applaud the It Gets Better Project for the work it does with that.

But, I want to figure out a way to encourage bullies to stop bullying. I think, sadly, it starts at the top. It starts with the leadership and media in our country, parents' attitudes toward others, and all the adults in a child's life.

Bullies are not born, they are made. We create bullies by demonstrating that it's possible to get what you want by belittling and abusing other people. We live in a world where the person who wins elections tends to be the one who screams the loudest insults and taunts at the other one. If someone remains dignified and doesn't retaliate, we, the public, see that person as weak. Score one for the bullies of the world.

This is the example we set for the children of the world. If you're losing your argument, hurl insults, lies, or rhetoric until you exhaust your opponent. That is bullying on the public level. Politicians, religious leaders, celebrities, pundits, and other people in the public eye resort to the technique when the facts don't support the reality. I see this on social media sites, in blogs, and even in everyday conversations. Seriously, can we not disagree based on facts? Can we not lay out the opinions, look at the facts, and then find a way to see each other's points  in order to move forward together to make the world a better place for all involved? Is winning and proving our point really so important that we'd rather bully people into silence than have a civilized discourse where there's potential for everyone to learn and grow?

In our homes, often one spouse will bully the other to get their way. Perhaps it's more subtle. Constant reminders of some supposedly forgiven and forgotten transgression to get one to back down from an argument. Accusations of oversensitivity or insensitivity to force the other spouse to capitulate to one thing or another. Sometimes even physical intimidation to get a spouse to back down from a position. All of this is bullying on display for children to learn. Children learn much more from the examples they're shown than from the words spoken to them. When we demonstrate that bullying works, we teach children to bully.

Parents play a role in creating bullies. How can they not? They are the ones who first teach children how to treat people. Overly strict parents create children who are rigid with their interactions with other children. Abusive parents teach children to use violence to get what they want. Neglectful parents don't teach children proper social skills for interacting with others. Parents who coddle their children teach them that they are entitled to whatever they want and to just take it. Parents who don't teach children proper boundaries create children who can't respect boundaries. Parents who don't treat each other and their children with respect, dignity, and compassion teach their children to be disrespectful, uncaring, and even cruel to others. When parents teach children that others aren't equal to them, they teach them to treat others unequally. All these lessons contribute to the makeup of a bully.

The point is that we have to teach children a few very essential basics if we want to stop bullying, and we have to live that life and demand our leaders lead that life as well. We have to teach our children to treat others with respect, dignity, and compassion. We must lead by example by genuinely treating one another with respect, dignity, and compassion.

When we learn to celebrate our differences and recognize our similarities, we learn from one another. More importantly we discover we all have more in common than not. (Yes, that refrain is one I repeat often. That is likely to continue. Maybe someday more people will embrace the idea in practice and not just theory.) When we see ourselves as being more similar than dissimilar, it becomes more difficult to hurt one another. It truly does. When we stop preaching division and start teaching togetherness, compassion, and understanding, we will find that it's much more difficult to insult one another unfairly. When we understand, truly understand, that all people feel pain when injured, we'll be less likely to hit, maim, or kill others. When we truly comprehend that being able to withstand pain while inflicting it on others doesn't make us superior, we'll stop seeing others as inferior. When we recognize that all human beings have feelings, we will begin to understand that when we hurt another we also hurt ourselves.

The only way we end bullying is to take away what divides us and remember what connects us: our humanity, our humanness, the journey we share to create a life worth living, and love.

Friday, March 16, 2012

When Does Teasing Become Bullying?

This morning I logged on to Facebook and saw a link to Cesar Milan's video about his experience being bullied. He recorded it as part of the It Gets Better Project to give hope to children and teenagers being bullied. I watched it, and my mind started whirring.

First, I asked myself this important question. "Was I ever bullied?"

When I think of being bullied, I think of kids taking other kids lunch money, giving them swirlies, or consistently intimidating them with threats of physical violence. If I look at bullying like that, then, no, I wasn't.

But, there's another type of bullying. It's more insidious. It's the teasing, the taunting, the ostracizing, the meanness, the emotional and verbal abuse people heap on one another. Now, that I experienced.

There's a normal amount of teasing that kids do that often gets completely ignored or dismissed as "kids being kids" or even "character building" rather than bullying. The question becomes at what point does normal teasing become bullying?

I was teased for several reasons. My breasts were slower to develop than some of my classmates, so I was labelled "Baby Boobs" by one classmate. The name stuck for quite a while. I often wore ill-fitting or well-worn clothing that came from garage sales or were hand-me-downs from aunts or cousins. I was teased about them. Later, I would skip meals so I could save my lunch money to buy new clothes. Skipping meals and being severely thin also resulted in some mean comments, but fewer since several of my classmates also often skipped lunch.

By the time I was in high school, no one really asked me to hang out with them though sometimes friends would stop by for a visit when I stayed with my aunt. I chose not to date because I didn't want to get trapped in the small town where I grew up. This, as well as my reluctance to drink, use drugs, drive around aimlessly or otherwise party, brought on teasing that included calling me things like goody two-shoes, prude, and gay. Some of my classmates questioned my virginity as well as my sexual orientation, or at least they teased me about it. I was considered "a stick in the mud" because I didn't do fun things like the aforementioned driving around aimlessly or sitting "over town" looking aloof. It wasn't until years later that I realized this was probably because those classmates didn't understand why I acted like that. I couldn't have explained it myself. At the time, I just felt like an outcast.

My school was small. When I say the school was small, I mean, my graduating class was something like 33 or 34 students. You could be part of the in-crowd one day and out of it the next and back in the next. Sometimes this happened in a matter of hours. Everyone knew everything. There was no hiding. I had a habit, whether good or bad, of talking to everyone, even the people who were "out" for some reason or the other. I liked to make peace between people. This often found me being disliked by both sides, at least for a little while.

In a small school like mine, one day you may find yourself the target of bullies, and the next day being expected to play the bully, perhaps even against the only person who befriended you while you were ostracized. And, sometimes, you give in, even though you feel sick about doing it, because you don't want to be ostracized again. While an apology afterwards may help, it doesn't change what happened. The only thing that helps is learning to stand your ground when you know something is wrong. At least then, you can feel good about yourself.

I studied hard. I read a lot of books, especially about faraway places. I wrote stories and poems. I got teased for all of these, but sometimes my stories and poetry made me popular, too. That was a double-edged sword. One day everyone thought it was cool that I wrote stories. The next day they all thought it was uncool. I never knew which I'd be facing. To be fair, I think I there were times in high school when I felt the same way about writing.

But, I had a goal to get out of that small town. I knew studying hard and going to college was a way out. I knew my writing could be a ticket out. I looked around me and didn't see anything worth staying for, so I dreamed about leaving. I worked hard to leave. I changed my strategy as often as I needed to. I didn't want anything to keep me there. When I graduated from high school, I severed most of my ties with my classmates and the small town. Only a select few friends stayed on my radar along with my family. By the time I graduated from college, that select few had grown even smaller and our contact became even more limited.

Since college, I've lived in four different states. I've pursued a writing career. I've been married to the same man for twenty years . I've published three books and some other work. I've learned that when I'm true to myself, no one can bully me unless I let them. They can try, but I'm strong enough to perservere. I reach out to people on a daily basis hoping to help others and invite others to help me as we travel life's path together. I stand tall. I still try to encourage people to see they have more in common than not.

Life does get better. It truly does. You have more power to walk away from bullies and create a life with people who cherish, support, and encourage you. You have more choice about who you allow a place in your life. You find your strength in building a life you want. I won't lie to you and say that everyone will like you when you grow up, but you won't like everyone you meet either. It will be okay though because it's a huge world out there. You will find your place in it! If I did, I know you can!

And, you will often find when you meet those same bullies as adults, life has taken the bully right out of them. They have learned compassion and understanding. Sometimes, you even find common ground that you couldn't find growing up. Not always but sometimes. Oddly, when I saw many of my classmates for the first time after more than twenty years, I discovered through the course of conversation that many of us saw those days very differently. This is because we are all growing and changing all the time. I realized the people I once saw as bullies were struggling to find themselves as much as I was. When we met on equal footing, no bullying could happen.

Even now, I hesitate to call my classmates' behavior bullying because I feel like so many out there suffer so much worse than I did. Still, this kind of harrassing behavior is a form of bullying. It's asking that question.... When does normal teasing step over the line and become bullying? I think it's when it persists and when it makes a person feel like an outcast. And, I did feel like an outcast whether that's what the classmates in question intended or not.
I encourage anyone who feels bullied in any way to hold on to who they are. There's only one you, and that makes you special. Reach out to supportive friends and family. If you don't have supportive friends and family, reach out to local organizations or online groups. Find support. Make a plan to set you on your path to being the best you you can be. That is truly the best revenge against bullies of any kind.

I've come to realize just how important the words we use are and how little responsibility most people take for their words. You may forget the words you say five minutes after they're said, but they may imprint themselves on someone else's heart for a lifetime.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Writers' Organizations: To Stay or To Leave?

I've reached a decision many of my author friends aren't going to agree with, but I have to do what's right for me.

I have been a member of several writers' organizations for quite some time, yet I've become to doubt what they are bringing to my life. Don't get me wrong, I think these groups are incredibly important for networking, making friends, and just socializing in general. Many even introduce opportunities writers wouldn't otherwise find.

I've decided to take a break from all of them, every single one. I am not renewing my membership in a single group this year. I need to reassess and figure out what is beneficial to my life and my career. Part of that is cutting away dead weight.

I have stopped participating in the online listserv for one group. Another group's newsletter stopped arriving, and I didn't even notice until it came time to renew the membership. The other thing I've realized is that for the most part, these groups haven't contributed a lot to my book sales. I didn't even remember to include them in my recent promotional efforts.

I have lots of author friends I can discuss the in and outs of writing with. I have a great base of people who support me and my work. I gladly concede some of them I met through the writers' groups of which I've been a member.

I am currently at a point where I'm questioning whether or not I get my money's worth by the value each group brings to my life. If I can have zero contact with any particular group and find it doesn't even impact my life enough for me to notice, then perhaps that group isn't working for me.

In the past, every group I've been a member of has contributed something positive to my life or at least my writing career. I don't regret any membership I've had, but life changes requiring reassessment.

I'm not saying what anyone else should do, that's your decision. I would urge you however to look at all parts of your life and see what contributes the most to your success, your goals, and your life. If something doesn't, it may be time to step away even if only temporarily. Don't feel guilty about it either. The organization will go on without you. If not, then how much was it really doing for you to begin with? This is one istance when it is definitely permissable to ask yourself that question. After all, you pay for the privilege of being a part of the group. If you're not getting your money's worth, you should stop paying for that privilege.

There's the part of me that has been President of one writing organization and the Chair of another that is going but...but...but... I know these organizations rely on membership fees to survive; however, if the organization isn't meeting the needs of its members to the point the members aren't renewing, the organization might need to take a look at how it operates. After all it should be there to serve the needs of its members. Membership should be mutually beneficial for the member and the organization.

My hiatus from all my writers' groups is deliberate and purposeful. It is a part of the reassessment of what works and what doesn't for my writing career. It is in no way an indictment of any writers' group.

I'm simply taking control of my life and my career rather than allowing them to control me.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

FREE Kindle Edition - Reflections in Silhouette: Poems

Today and tomorrow March 7-8, 2012), the Kindle edition of Reflections in Silhouette: Poems, is available for FREE! Check it out!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Jerks, Boundaries, Actions, Character...

My friend, Kelly, (yes, for those of you paying attention, I mention her often.) recently wrote a blog post titled Jerks Need Not Apply. I can't get her post out of my mind. I've read it several times. She links to an article that she quotes, but even better she shares her attitude from her dating days. She set boundaries that demanded she be respected. She provides a little speech she used to give to potential suitors. (Wow, did I really just say "potential suitors"?)

The more I thought about her post, the more I examined my own tolerance for "jerks" in my life. I've talked before about my inability to maintain lasting relationships as well as my struggle to set boundaries in my life. I began to wonder if perhaps, though I never gave such a speech, my attitude in my younger years demanded people treat me like I deserved or get out of my life.

In my single days, I had a tendency to attract jerks with a few notable exceptions (okay, three in total). I had many, many male friends who were most definitely not jerks, but most of my romantic encounters were with jerks. My male friends always respected me and some even attempted romantic relationships, but I shied away from those entanglements. I think deep down I may have feared if a male friend went from friend to boyfriend, he'd turn into a jerk. Not exactly logical, but what can I say?

In a way, I think I tended to get involved with the jerks because being left by a jerk, or pushing a jerk away, felt easier than risking hurting a good guy. Besides some part of me questioned whether I deserved a good guy, so I never trusted it when good guys came along. Of course, this is hindsight. It's been a long time since I've been in this situation.

I realized while reading Kelly's post that the idea doesn't just apply to romantic relationships. It can also apply to the friends and colleagues in our lives.

We often make excuses for people. A friend recently excused away someone's behavior by saying the actions aren't the person. I disagreed to a degree. I see the point as well as the reason my friend needs to see it that way; however, actions are indicative of the person's character. People's actions are driven by their character. My friend pointed out that a person is capable of changing their actions, and that is true. People can also improve their character. I understood where my friend was coming from. My Mom always used to say "Hate the action, not the person." And, I get that in theory.

However, I still believe people are responsible for their actions and that character drives those actions. Which takes us back to the "jerk" Kelly talks about. When people treat other people badly, that behavior comes from somewhere in their character, especially if they consistently treat other people badly. Our actions reflect our character. Our character drives our actions. The two are intertwined.

All of us can learn something from Kelly, even those of us in relationships. If someone acts like a jerk, believe that person is a jerk. People's actions reflect their character. I'll say it again and again and again until we all understand it.

When we act in a way that honors our character, we are being true to ourselves. When our actions align with our character, we give the world our best. When we act like jerks, and we all do from time to time, we have to check ourselves and fix our behavior. That is why we sometimes see people act out of character or at least out of character according to our view of them. The idea that separates people from their actions allows us to care about others when their behavior isn't likeable. When we allow those people to continue to treat us badly by excusing their actions, we perpetuate their slide into becoming jerks. When we refuse to accept other people's bad behavior, it isn't about trying to change them. It's about honoring and loving ourselves enough to acknowledge that we deserve the best life has to offer. On the flip side of that, we have to offer others our best as well.

So, set your boundaries. Make your boundaries known. Don't let other people invade your boundaries but add enough flexibility into your boundaries to permit personal growth. Now, if I can just remember to do the same...

Not only do we have to apply that to the people we allow in our lives, whether romantic or platonic, but we must apply it to ourselves. We must occasionally look in the mirror and ask ourselves if our actions are reflecting our character the way we want them to. We all slip from time to time, and we must then do what it takes to get back on track. Male or female we must check ourselves to make sure we're not slipping into behaviors that treat others badly otherwise we risk becoming jerks.

Life is all about finding, setting, and expressing our boundaries while exploring the opportunities that test our boundaries.

Some moments in life force us to say "Jerks Need Not Apply" and others force us to admit "I know I've been a jerk, and I'm sorry."

Setting our boundaries and honoring the boundaries of others is the best solution for curing the epidemic of jerkish behavior we seem to face these days.

In the meantime, maybe Kelly and I should get to work on the t-shirts we discussed... Jerks Need Not Apply. I want mine to be red with black letters.. Or maybe greeen with pink letters... Or maybe bright blue with white letters... On further thought, just give me one of each...