I really enjoy working with tweens and teens who have to endure verbal bullying at school. It’s always a nice quick process getting them back to school and enjoying it, but that’s not the most important part for me. Getting beat up is scary and painful but when it’s over it’s over. Psychological abuse is that stuff that can linger in your mind for the rest of a person’s life. I know a lot of adults whose lives are still dictated by their need to prove that they aren’t the people their school yard taunts suggested they were and I love the idea of nipping that problem in the bud.
Of course most taunts are merely camouflaged demands to get in line, conform and surrender your individuality in order to be a part of the group. In general the groups making those taunts are just the people who’ve conformed the most. And since the taunts are just verbal activities in their brain, their thought-based nature means they are also ephemeral and temporary or, in other words, meaningless. Once a child is made to fully understand this they’re pretty much free.
The best part about this for me isn’t the relieving of the teasing. While I’m happy for these inevitably awesome kids I’m meeting, they’re amazing enough that they would have been okay in another way anyway. Hardships only build strength and resiliency so enduring those things would just create opportunities later. But this way they get to skip the suffering and then build the resiliency and enact their greatest self much sooner.
These are the kids that get to function with true humility. Rather than fear their weaknesses and waste their strengths they effectively manage what they can’t do and they boldly do what they can do. There’s no more being shy about mistakes or about skills. Pride and shame get replaced by focus and involvement. Rather than thinking about how others might be judging them, these kids are very healthy about not focusing on opinions. They focus on what they’re doing so what they’re doing is done better.
Of course almost universally I’m seeing kids because they are in some way special. And of course, being special is really at the heart of why humans have been so successful for a million years. That diversity is what’s allowed us to do some really amazing things. I mean, Mars was super close the other night and I was looking at it thinking–we’ve been there! And now we’re talking about staying there. We’re amazing. And the people that get us there are these impervious kids who don’t care about things that don’t matter and so they grow up to be adults who do fantastic things like go to Mars.
No one should be stopped from the joys and rewards of a school and its community by simple ideas. We as people are much bigger than that and our ability to impact our own lives is greater than that. I don’t so much teach people what to do as I remind them of how strong they truly are. From there they are wise and clever and content on their own.
We’ve built a world that is short on displaying empathy and long on displaying selfishness. Virtually every reality show hinges on selfishness over cooperation. Same with game shows, and most dramas are also dominance games. Winning is looking like an advertisement or in having what others can’t afford. And yet despite how hard these ideas are sold to us, we all prefer authenticity and humility and in the face of each other the real qualities always win.
It may seem strange to teach the bullied empathy for the bullying, but that’s what works because it really is the bully who has the problem in their life. Once a kid sees this in this particularly profound way, it’s not so much that they feel stronger–although they are–they just no longer understand why the other kid ever bothered them in the first place. And in leading them to learn how to manage their consciousness properly, the bully literally handed their victim a lifelong superpower.
Mental suffering is the easiest suffering to manage. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Once a kid understands how their psychology really works and how they can affect it they don’t need much more. With the windshield uncovered they just drive around any challenges. And that’s important. Because they’ve got important places to go and important things to do. I wonder where your kid might take us?
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.