As I sheepishly stumbled down the hallway of middle school, I dodged glances of concern and amusement. I wasn’t surprised. This was my life…getting picked on and sneered at was my norm. In the short time between classes, I had to run to my locker to grab my history book which I forgetfully left out of my overly-organized purple backpack. Staying out of sight for six minutes is harder than it seems, and exhausting. As I pulled up to the sea of lockers, I noticed something white and bold shouting off one kelly green locker.
“Whore”…written neatly in sticky White-Out.
As I stepped closer, my face began to swell with fear, my throat tightened, and beads of sweat began to form behind my neck. It was my locker. I fumbled with the lock, desperately trying to ignore what was screaming at me.
Fellow eighth graders began to buzz around me. I had been handed a scarlet letter to wear, of sorts, even though the word scrawled on my locker bore no true meaning in my case. Today, even after 14 years, I don’t remember much after that. The incident, feelings, and drama still remain in a locked box and I can’t find the key. But what I do remember, was an immediate sense of both wanting to kill myself and hoping that whoever did this to me, would feel incredible, painstaking remorse for my suffocating pain.
That was just the beginning.
The following years, grades 9 through 12, brought an array of bullying encounters. Experiences that included severe public shaming at numerous school sporting events (in the midst of my cheerleading routiness), harassment that followed me to my home, where boys would egg, set feces on fire, and yell profanities outside my one safe haven (thus leading to a few restraining orders and security cameras), being named, I think #2, on the senior girls’ “Bitch List,” vulgar and vile names thrown in my direction in hallways at school, and for four-months straight I was hazed as part of a dance line “initiation” tradition. Those are just a few examples from my personal experience with bullying. And even after all this time, I still feel the need to express and ultimately release my former reality, and offer tools for those going through a parallel experience.
But, I don’t want this to be just another story of bullying and how awful it is. We know that already. This is a call to action. To do something radical and different when it comes to becoming a bully-less society…
There are many articles written, school programs led, and Facebook pages founded that tout themselves as “anti-bullying organizations.” From someone who has experienced a significant portion of her life being bullied, I know this is not as effective as we hope. In my opinion, we shouldn’t focus on being anti-anything.
The Law of Attraction affirms that being against anything gives power to whatever it is you’re trying to eliminate. In order to truly squash something, we must focus on the opposite outcome. In this case: acceptance, love, and peace. What we really need is pro-acceptance articles, school programs, and online organizations.
Most importantly, though, we need to love the bully.
It may seem like a completely crazy idea, but bullies are the ones that need the most love, care, attention, and support. Why are they attacking others? It’s not because the person who is being attacked is weak or less-than or whatever the bully makes them out to be, but because the bully has a part of him or her that is broken and hurt.
Please know that I do see the importance of talking with our young ones about the impact of bullying and the destructive behavior that it causes. We should tell them that hazing, harassment, picking on, teasing, gossiping about, physical abuse or torment to other people and animals is not allowed, accepted, or normal. It is a valuable conversation.
Here are some of my thoughts on how we can reprogram our bullying beliefs:
The number one factor to a well-rounded, loving, accepting person starts with the parents or guardians.
Lead by example. Always. No more of that “do as I say, not as I do” crap. This is the most important way to show your children (and as a reminder to yourself) that acceptance and respect starts at home. Notice how you talk about yourself, family members, the strangers you see on TV. Are they kind words? Or nit-picky ones? Show kindness through your words and actions. Your behavior, no matter how small, will inspire your children to seek out similar peers…good or bad. Inspire them to seek the good ones!
If you or your child has been bullied, I encourage you to set up a face-to-face with the bully and their parents (if applicable in the situation).
Instead of lashing out, try your best to understand the other child’s perspective and come to a mutual “we’re working on it” agreement of sorts. I know this is hard. Very hard. And a lot of times, you will encounter resistance, but let the other party know that you are doing this through love and for the greater good of both children. Show them you care about resolving the situation without malice or anger and that you see them as part of your team! There is no denying that we are all connected, and if one person in our massive collective is not doing well, it is our duty to help them and show that we care.
Equally as important, set aside ample time to discuss, in detail, the incident with your child.
Their feelings matter in a profound way. Even if they shut down or push you away, allow these behaviors only for a short while. Communication is key and it must happen, no matter how uncomfortable. For me, holding it inside, and keeping my head remaining as high as possible for so long only put off my need to grieve and emotionally process the situation. Find a way to communicate with them in a way that they are comfortable with.
Ask the community, or your extended family to get involved.
Even though you may think this is “just an incident between two people” it is not. Energy is passed on, silently or otherwise. See if you can set up a night where you don’t just talk about stopping, killing, destroying bullying, but preventing it by using acceptance as the cornerstone. Teach acceptance, the art of loving others despite their “outside differences” from you. Engage your community, set up calls-to-action like forming an after-school group, setting up monthly meetings to discuss the great things going on in your world, and as always, lead by example.
Find the lesson within the bullying. How is this a teachable moment for you and your child?
I was fortunate enough to have parents who helped me see that even though I was bullied, it doesn’t mean I have a right to take my pain and transmute it onto someone else. Teach yourself and your children that hurting others will not heal the hurt inside of you. Only love, and love alone, can transform hurt. And also dive deeper into why bullying happened to you, can you use your pain to inspire others? Did it encourage you to stand up for your peers that are also being bullied? You are a transformational being who has the power to make magic out of mud.
Bullying can only be banished if we learn to love ourselves and the people we don’t “get.” It is part of the reason we’re here, to understand others and their perceived differences. We are all connected and we must surround those who are hurting with a thoughtful ear and warm embrace.
Remember too, that bullying doesn’t just happen in the hallways of school. Make it a priority to treat everyone with respect and kindness at every age and in every home, office, or grocery store run.
It’s so simple, but the golden rule really has it down: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. C’mon…no one wants to be treated poorly or feel misunderstood? Do your best today to live up to this mantra. You can do it. You can change the world.