The Twisted World of Bullying: March 27 2013

During the holiday season, I sent out a card with pictures of my family. Of more than 100 cards that I sent, one person sent me back a nasty message about the card and how I was an “imperialist pig with aspirations of entering the white-man’s universe!”

Awestruck with this reaction, I decided to “divorce” this “friend” completely from my life and eliminate all connections.

Life’s too short to deal with bullies like these who want you to feel bad about yourself or respond to their twisted sentiments. Whether it’s some sort of personal inadequacy or chemical imbalance, bullying, is not something that should be accepted gracefully.

Picture of bullying

It took me some 30 years to come to terms with the fact, that I was bullied as a child.

I went to a prestigious Catholic school and my parents were completely oblivious to this fact– because I was embarassed  to talk to them about this.

I was not a small kid but was never athletic; having skipped a grade, I didn’t have the physical prowess of most of my older class-mates. For five years, from sixth through tenth grade, I never got into a fight – nor did anyone physically touch me.

A couple of the older, stronger boys would lurk in the school hallways and made eye-hand gestures suggesting that they would physically assault me if they got me alone. I was so scared,  for the next 5 years, not once did I ever use the facilities of my school; I learned bladder control very well.

It was never totally clear to me whether it was just that I was a new kid, or I was picked as the random target of their anger;  I always wondered, whether it was just me that they bullied.

During those days, I used to think of only one thing; one day, I will succeed so big, that those bullies would have to look up at me from their lowly scum of the earth places.

Bullies have a tendency of making you feel smaller; as if something’s wrong with you or that you have inadvertently committed a crime of sorts. Bullies can be assertive and obnoxious in language, or passive-aggressive in nature which leads to taunting, verbal harassment or even non-verbal gestures.

If not stopped early, these young bullies often turn into as adult bullies and bring their belligerence to the workplace.

About 15 years ago, I was a senior executive of a major multi-national corporation and a newly appointed GM tried to bully me into submission. Sometimes it was harsh language – and at other times it was taunting and coaxing at the entire staff. The funny thing is that this individual didn’t just bully me – but our customers, our unionized work-team and his own leadership team. As news of this bullying spread, he was fired.

The questions that must be asked: do we let bullies change us, or our choices enough, to become someone else?  Do we start behaving differently because we let bullies dictate our way of life?

On a grander nation-state scale, imagine the world changing every day to demands of bully states North Korea or Iran!

If you have been bullied, verbally or physically, at school, work or inside your family, the first thing is to acknowledge that you are being bullied and come to the firm conclusion that this bullying is simply wrong.

Once you accept/understand that you are being bullied – the next step is to muster enough courage to stand up and gather the necessary resources/support/courage to confront the bully – and if practical – put an end to this. Sometimes, one has to just verbally confront the bully; at other times, you need a higher authority to step in and put an end to it. I have seen instances of bullying of the perpetrator into a corner and positioning them such that they can’t bully any more.

The history of bullying goes many generations or centuries. It may even be natures ways of promoting the survival of the fittest. We cannot stop bullying just by resisting it; however, we can stop the impact that bullies have on us. It’s a question of how much we are willing to compromise or change.

As a father of two daughters, I am always cognizant that bullying may occur at their schools, play yards or parties. Today, there is also the threat of continuous cyber-bullying. I try to prepare them with tools to deal with bullying – specially the verbal, silent or cyber bullying they are most likely to experience.

My coaching for them is that , if anyone harasses them, the first thing is to tell someone else – someone safe – authorities at school or, me.  For this, they need to know that someone will believe them and not just blow away their complaints as “fiction”. As parents, we may not be able to be present for our children at every corner; however, if they are bullied, they can count on safe places to reach for help.

Finally, if it’s a friend or family member is bullying them, I am encouraging them to end that relationship altogether. History or context of relationships may burden us with a need to remain in contact with a bullying family or “friend”. Once you realize that there are lot’s of good people around to make new friends and one or two bullies in your life can easily ejected from your life.