“I allowed myself to be bullied because I was scared and didn’t know how to defend myself. I was bullied until I prevented a new student from being bullied. By standing up for him, I learned to stand up for myself.” – Jackie Chan
Bullies. They can show up anywhere. In school, I had my fair share of encounters. I have to admit, I was an easy target. I wasn’t always the fine human specimen of physical strength that I am today. Ok, I’m not today either, but you get the point. Bullies looked for easy prey and I was easy to be found, hanging out in the science lab, at the computer table or in the journalism class. Somehow, I offended them in how I looked or what I said and it was time for a beating. “After school, Cox, I’m coming after you!” Despite my lack of athleticism, it turns out that I was a pretty good runner. But running away from bullies never made them go away. They always came back. I was a ripe canvas for their artisan craft of black eyes, knuckle sandwiches, name calling and wedgies.
I’m sure many of you have similar stories of bullies. When I was young, I naively thought I would outgrow the curse of bullying. Surely there are no adult bullies. Wow, was I wrong! It changes form and becomes sophisticated and sometimes even cloaked, but it is still there. I saw it in college. It showed up at the job, on the internet, in corporate at high ranking positions, in government with senior officials and of course, even on a global scale on the world stage.
To this day I have a strong visceral reaction to bullying. My life experience has made me passionately sympathetic with the victims. I can’t help but call it out when I see it and find myself moving to help at an instinctual level. I believe many of us are the same way. Looking at our human family across the planet, we see the profound reaction by people all over the globe. In the Russia and Ukraine conflict, there has been an overwhelming unity in the response to the action of one tyrannical bully set on the destruction of a smaller neighbor. I can’t stop thinking about it. I am grieved by the loss of life that we see unfold, impacting both Russian and Ukrainian soldiers and families. Bullies bring war, and war brings misery.
What turns people into bullies? Sure, I heard it all my life… You need to learn how to defend yourself. Teach your friends and your families how to deal with bullies. But what creates a bully? How can we help eliminate the next generation of bullies? We need to learn how to turn bullies into defenders, aggressors into protectors, haters into lovers and dividers into peacemakers.
I believe it starts with us. Don’t be a bully. We can all fall into the trap of power and personal ambitions without empathy. What we do impacts others and how they feel. We all have levels of influence and control. Let’s remind ourselves that our actions have a ripple effects on many others. Be considerate. Come to the aid of victims. Be the person you wish others would be to you. And in the process, maybe we can even help bullies see the err of their ways, and change.