Bullies, empathy, compassion

Compassion is the ultimate and most meaningful embodiment of emotional maturity. It is through compassion that a person achieves the highest peak and deepest reach in his or her search for self-fulfillment.”

– Arthur Jersild Professor Of Psychology And Education

I was recently speaking to a friend about a tough situation in which her hard work for a project was overtaken by someone else and the project became not a labor of love, but a chore filled with discord. As we discussed the situation and the players involved, she asked, “What is it about us that makes us easy targets? I’m fed up with people taking advantage of my generosity.” After some thought, I replied, “We have empathy…people with empathy tend not to treat others like dirt to make themselves feel better about themselves. As much as I dislike being bullied and taken advantage of, I would rather that than to never know the joy of giving selflessly and knowing that even when I feel unappreciated, someone does appreciate me (or at least has at one time or another!)”

Since then, I have been thinking about bullies. People generally think about kids being bullied at school, but there are so many other bullies out there. There are the bullies that physically abuse others or use their physical strength to mentally subdue others. There are bullies that manipulate with emotions and psychology. There are bullies that pretend to be a friend, but are actually using others for their own amusement. Some people even use their faith to bully others – to try and change a behavior not with love, but with ridicule and fear.  I think we can all be a bully in one way or another.

I also began to think about why people bully. Control is the obvious answer, but looking deeper than that. Some bullies are just mean and control because they can. Some bully because they get a high off of the suffering of others, it is their form of validation. Other bullies seek control because they have no control anywhere else. They don’t know how else to act because life is spinning away from them. I am sure there are more, but I believe that these bullies need compassion and empathy as well. Not validation of their behavior, but instead being shown by example that you don’t need to bully to get your way, you don’t need to bully to have control, you don’t need to be a bully in life.

I am ashamed that I have been a bully. As a child and as an adult.

I am sorry to those that I have bullied. 

I remember being upset with my neighborhood friend as a child and locking her in our shed (I did let her out). I remember wanting her to be upset like I was. It is not something I am proud of, and I never should have done it. I didn’t know how to deal with my frustration that she didn’t clean up her mess after we had played. At the time, I didn’t understand that it was unfair of me to feel that way as we were playing in a giant mound of dirt and mud. If I never said it before, I am sorry, Lynn. I promise to never lock you in the shed again!

I remember being bullied. Sometimes physically, but mostly emotionally. I remember sitting at the lunch table as a freshman in high school with my friends. As I was quietly eating my lunch, conversation started, and I realized that they were talking about me. I sat there in silence, pain welling up in my chest. Listening to my friends mock me. I finally stood up to go and get a carton of milk from the lunch line and all conversation halted. They hadn’t realized that I was sitting there the whole time. Once again, I didn’t know how to deal with my feelings. One of the individuals wrote me a note and handed it to me as we were heading to class. Inside it said, “You must think that I am such a b****.” I struggled with how to respond, but finally did. I responded with, “No, I wouldn’t think that of you, because I know how much it would hurt my feelings if someone thought that about me.” Now some people would think this was a good answer, and in some ways I still do, because it was truth. I did not think that way of the person in question and I would be hurt knowing that is what people think of me. But on the other hand, I believe that the person would have rather had me say, “Yes, I do,” because it would absolve some of the guilt. I didn’t do that, although I did offer forgiveness. I have forgiven, but I have not forgotten. I don’t know if the people at that table even remember the incident. No one has ever mentioned it to me, but I remember. I remember the pain of that day. I remember having to discuss this with a counselor when I was in veterinary school after 9/11. Not so much the initial situation, although that was part of it, but mainly for my guilt over my response to the situation, that yet again, I was being a bully.

It was through the counseling sessions that I learned that my response was honest, and I was not being a bully. It is common in our culture that the victim of a situation is blamed for the actions of the bully. I had internalized the situation to the point that I believed that I was the one that did wrong. That I was the one that deserved to feel guilty for an honest response.

When discussing with my friend her current situation, she kept saying how she is so upset and hates feeling this way. That she feels bad for being so upset. I will share with you, what I wish someone would have shared with me. This situation is NOT your fault. You are entitled to your feelings. You have done nothing wrong. I support you. I stand with you. Be the stronger person, the kinder person. You are more than this situation. You are a child of God that is worthy of being treated with kindness and respect.

As I have gotten older, and hopefully wiser, I realize that bullying doesn’t help anything. People may do what you want, but it is not out of respect or admiration. It may not even be out of fear. It may just be out of capitulation and being tired of fighting. I have allowed myself to be bullied in the past, by not standing up for myself. I made the assumption that to show respect for others, I could not respect myself. This was a lie. You can respect yourself and respect others without being a doormat and taken advantage of. You can be polite and stand your ground. You do not need to be rude and insulting back.

By questioning ourselves and deciphering our motives, and feelings we can stop behaviors that are not helpful to ourselves or society and nurture behaviors that are helpful. If we teach ourselves empathy and compassion, we can nurture them in others as well. We can empower the next generation with selfless acts of generosity and love.

Can you imagine that world?

A world where it is normal for doors to be held open for strangers.

A world where the news is filled with inspirational stories not crime and hate.

A world where people are lifted up and praised, rather than ridiculed and demeaned.

This would be a wonderful world. Do you know what it takes for this world to happen? It would take each one of us to change, to be a better version of ourselves. Not that our current version is bad, but what if we were all just a little bit kinder? A little bit more loving?

Oh, this is a world that I want to live in. A world where my friend does not feel taken advantage of and insulted. A world where everyone can get along. A world where selfless acts abound and are not a surprise.

Don’t be a bully. I pray that today, you can even stop a bully. Stand together, stand strong. Build each other up and not tear each other down. Blessings to you today.

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3 thoughts on “Bullies, empathy, compassion

  1. Very thoughtful, nice post. I think kids especially can be mean and it is “normal” to experience bullying from both sides until people can learn better. As an adult it’s more unacceptable. I do think people like you who are so nice and giving tend to be used and it’s not fair. It happens to me too. There have been times where I felt like I had to be a bitch just to avoid being taken advantage of, and that sucks too.

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  2. What a great post! I think we all could practice more compassion and kindness towards others. If everyone would just try each day to be a little kinder. This is something I feel very strongly about. I try to teach this to my children, as children can sometime be so mean in school. I would love to see that world you talk of. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, well done!!

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    • Thank you, Arlene. There are so many things in this world that we cannot control, but one of the things we can is how we treat others. I really would like this world of compassion and kindness, too. I am sure that your children are learning this, keep up the good work!

      Liked by 1 person

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