The Bully at School

Rebecca had always been a fairly confident, happy girl. She had a good relationship with her parents. They were involved but not pushy. She always tried to learn from her mistakes so they trusted and respected her. They were open to whatever she wanted to do with her life as long as she gave something to the world, just as they both tried to do with their own lives.

Life had been really good but Junior High had changed that. Harmless Elementary School teasing had become cruel attacks in her new school. Grade was 7 okay, but Grade 8 was awful–or rather one girl in it was: Tina. Tina called Rebecca some awful version of fat every single time she saw her. And because Tina’s parents had money and bought her the most expensive clothes, she always had a gaggle of jealous girls with her to cackle at her insults.

Becca’s friends would always offer counter-compliments designed to disarm Tina’s attacks, which they often had levelled at themselves too, so they knew how it felt. And it wasn’t like they were saying things she couldn’t believe, but humans are built with a longing to belong, so consciously focusing on the insults and the laughter was a painful experience.

Becca hated herself even more when she would catch herself trying to hide her weight with loose clothes. It was like Tina was inside her house too. And of course social media was a total hell, with her body photoshopped onto everything from walrus’s to gigantic people eating ice cream. In her nightmares Becca would look down at her clothes in school only to see the body of an elephant. She hated Tina and her perfect, skinny beauty.

Tina was cruel. She had a lot of cruel poured into her. Whereas Becca had supportive caring parents that had held Becca responsible, where they’d never called her names or undermined her confidence; Tina had a beauty queen Mom who was at the stage where some wrinkles were showing up just as her I – married – a – beauty – queen father’s eyes started wandering to wrinkleless young ladies.

Tina’s mother felt belittled by her husband’s actions and that lead to more drinking, which often lead to flurries of insults or even blows. If Tina was even nearby when they were fighting her pure wrinkleless youth would infuriate her jealous mother. She would insult Tina viciously in a way that Becca would find very familiar, almost as though she’d heard a recording of them; which in a way she did.

Tina’s sister had thoroughly aligned herself with her mother in the parental war. And why not? Her mother was the one who dealt with guilt via her credit cards. By agreeing with her mother Tina’s sister had become the favoured child, and she lorded her status over her younger sister like an ogre. She too constantly insulted Tina, talking about her skinny boyish frame and her total lack of a chest. Tina took that insult to heart. She had no idea that her sister picked that quality only because it was the biggest difference between them.

Many years later, when she ran into the only junior high friend she’d ever run into, she was reminded of how she used to tease Becca. The woman thought Tina actually didn’t like Rebecca even after all these years. In hindsight, Tina recalled Becca as a nice, smart girl. She had teased her terribly during that time, that was true. That was the most painful period of her life; when her parents were in the process of breaking up. But she hoped the girl hadn’t let that bother her too much. It literally had nothing to do with her.

Tina made the mistake of thinking that her thoughts about things were the actual things, so for a while she felt she really was fat and she worked hard on trying to change that, but the fact was she had a bigger, softer, more bosomy figure than that. It was like trying to change the basis of her being. It never worked. So it would have been good to know that she was just confusing her thoughts about herself as being facts that were first presented by Tina.

The fact was Tina didn’t think Rebecca was fat. But she did know she was one of the first girls in class to get breasts, and that reminded Tina of her sister. So Tina didn’t hate Becca. She didn’t even hate Becca’s chest, or her own sister. Becca was only called fat because Tina was jealous because she had no defense against her mother’s cruel attacks.

Now that she was older and she’d been through a divorce herself, Tina felt more on her feet than she ever had. Now that she had some self-confidence of her own, Tina certainly didn’t try to elevate herself by putting others down. She knew that was the sure mark of an unhealthy personality.

For her part Becca did think for too many years about Tina’s insults, but in the end the beliefs her parents instilled in her won out and she regained her natural confidence. It was a far less painful and growth-laden experience for her than it was for Tina, but it left both women ended up in a place where they basically liked themselves.

Whatever routes they took, both of their older selves knew that junior high was a tiny blip in their life, and that any differences anyone had there were the sort of immature differences that would not survive the struggles of adulthood. In the end, as with all challenges in life, neither one of them would trade them away. Because in their maturity they both knew, those experiences are the essences of our people’s growth and maturity. The route there just happens to be called Junior High.

peace. s

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.

Joining the Mob

I’m not sure how much the awful event made the news around the world, but here in Canada there was a nationally discussed news story that went viral on social media. It involved a new and meaningless trend that started with young men at sports events and has, like a virus, even infected some women and children now. At these events the young men would interrupt female reporters on-air with a meaningless, unnecessarily cruel sexual comment/threat. Sometimes the remark is even chanted by groups.

684 Relax and Succeed - We survive by pulling togetherThere’s no way getting around that it’s sexual harassment and that it represents the underbelly of human behaviour. I’m not judgmental in the sense that I deem things as good or bad. But if we’re seeking value from our own life experience then the worst thing you can do is be meaningless. For someone to suffer for nothing to be gained is the worst deal in the universe. The fact that these guys made a deal that bad is an indication that they have not been taught to grow through self-examination and healthy critical thinking.

In this particular case a young female reporter is doing her story on the season opener for her local professional soccer (football) team. Several men in fan team jerseys stop to make the vulgar, meaningless comment/threat but this time she turns the tables (and the camera) on the men and she pressures them to explain themselves. Their explanations are pathetic to say the least and they only serve to get themselves into even deeper trouble.

How in this day in age they don’t make the connection that they are being filmed seems remarkable but they hand-feed the reporter a story that was absolutely certain to go viral. Indeed the men look like complete fools and it is difficult to muster any sympathy for them at all. But as is my natural habit, I took a moment to be those men. At that point sympathy still didn’t come, but some empathy did.

684 Relax and Succeed - Don't judge someone just becauseMost of us have heard the story of the woman who sent the quick admittedly racist tweet about not getting AIDS in Africa because she’s white. She says she was actually mocking white privilege and there’s a lot of reasons to believe her, but even if her racism was intended as satirical, you will be inclined to agree with her that it was one of the worst choices she’ll likely ever make. She lost her job. She was vilified on mainstream and social media. She lost most of her friends and she had to hide for her safety. And of course she’ll always be her.

Another woman who has a history of attracting attention to herself by finding things to be offended by, tweeted a photo of two men she’d overheard telling dirty jokes. You can not like dirty jokes but offenses we feel inside our heads are our problem not other people’s. If the two men wanted to talk to each other like that and she chose to listen in to a private conversation then any issues she has are now her responsibility. But that’s not the politically correct belief today. You’re supposed to not like anyone who lives to a standard you deem beneath yours. So since that’s the current cultural standard, she instead she took their photo and tweeted about them. The tweet wasn’t even very serious. A light reprimand. But one of the two men—a father of three—lost his very hard to replace job because of it. When that came out on social media a group just as ugly as the one that attacked the man was suddenly attacking the woman. She ended up losing her job as well and she was so concerned by threats she’d received that she felt compelled to get security for her house.

684 Relax and Succeed - Repeating a rumorAnd just recently a man was in a mall. He had never taken a selfie and when he saw a Darth Vader cut-out he thought that it was the perfect time. A lady’s kids watched him while he took it. He explained he was going to send the picture to his teenage daughter because she’d always wanted him to take one. The kid’s mother—watching from a distance—entirely misread the situation and posted a photo of the man, identifying him as a creep that was talking to her kids. He had to go to the police for protection.

And you don’t need social media for this. I know tons of women who’ve been gossiped about by insecure men as though they have had kinky sex with someone when in fact they’ve never had sex at all. This violates the woman in a terrible way. You cannot unscramble a scrambled egg. Her life will be changed and it’s reprehensible. I also know lots of men who’ve been accused by an angry ex of violence they did not commit, and that’s dangerous because it muddies the water for the very serious cases of actual abuse that require attention. In the end the source of the information doesn’t matter. It’s our reaction to it that does the damage.

If it’s someone you actually know and the accusation is serious you obviously should look into it. Get the other person’s version of events and then proceed with an open mind. But when it’s strangers we’d better be careful about casting stones because you have to ask yourself: is there even one of us who couldn’t have this happen at least once or twice in our lives? Catch us on the wrong day, or after too much to drink or you’re too tired or grumpy? Everyone has said things they didn’t think were smart after-the-fact. But if we’re going to start punishing people with death threats and income losses then we would be wise to consider where we want that line to be.

684 Relax and Succeed - In the end we will rememberWhy did I feel empathy for the guy? Because if someone was recording me enough I’m sure they could find some moments where I wasn’t at my best. But also because some particularly cruel gossip lead me to be wrongfully attacked very seriously, I am somewhat aware of how that man’s life will change. Before I could even write this he’d lost his $106,000+ a year job. Worse is he’ll lose friends, and even more friends will insist that others not be his friends either. He’ll face vandalism, violence, he’ll get spit on, called names and it will be very hard to get a job. If he has a wife or girlfriend they’re likely to see serious problems develop in the relationship and situations like this can see people estranged from their kids and some even lead to suicide. In the case of the reporter-taunting troglodytes, that guy will have his life, his schedule will all change. His list of normal things to do will all have to change and that is just as traumatic for someone who’s done something stupid as it is for a refugee. You are in a new world that you have no familiarity with and as-yet no relevant coping skills. It can be quite terrifying.

I really despised what he said. I really thought it was terrible. But along with the reporter I found that price too high. A sincere public apology would have sufficed and been sincere. Because if that’s the price, then I would suggest we all look more closely at our own lives. Because you can be a regular church-going grandmother and I guarantee there will still be moments in your life that you would not want the world to see.

684 Relax and Succeed - It would seem strangeBut now the world can see almost everything. So as Rabbi Julius Gordon suggests, we should employ love. Because “Love is not blind—it sees more, not less. But because it sees more, it is willing to see less.” The world doesn’t need more perfect behaviour because everyone has a different idea of what that is and we could argue about where that line should be forever. That’s what government is. Does that look wise or efficient to you? So since that’s effectively impossible I would suggest that we all just relax a bit. Because the flip side of acceptable behaviour is greater tolerance. And since that’s spiritually, emotionally and mentally good for you as well, it seems a much better response than revenge or vigilantism. If you really want to help in cases like this one, don’t attack the perpetrator with more unpleasant behaviour. But if you see a friend participating in meaningless, damaging action toward anyone or anything, then offer your influence. Steer them toward a more rewarding life. That’s just being a good friend.

In the social media debates that followed this event a good friend whose judgment I trust disagreed on the man losing his job. In considering his points I have reconsidered my opinion on this matter. While I don’t think we can start doing this en masse, in a case like this it does seem reasonable that the public would need some very strong and public examples to demonstrate that the public standard has changed and that if people want to work well with others then these are adjustments that should be made. I still feel sorry for the guy who’s going to be an example for millions, but life has its tragedies and we all get our share. At least by getting through it we grow.

The next time you hit share don’t just immediately want to, but pause to ask yourself if you should based on who you truly are. And do the same with gossip. If you’re going to share anything, tell good stories about people. Because there are way more of those anyway and that will paint a much more accurate picture of the world around us.

Now go have yourself an awesome nonjudgmental day.

peace. s

Going Deeper

We have ideas of ourselves. And we can look at our lives and find examples of us being that person. But how often are we that person? For instance, how far does our compassion extend? We can say we’re compassionate because we care about the plight of young girls in 674 Relax and Succeed - If it looks like a duckAfghanistan or Nigeria, but are we compassionate in our own daily lives?

This is never fun to confront, but our egos live by opinion. So you have an idea of who everyone you know is. You have a thought-based framework around which you interpret everything they do. So if you think someone’s snobby but they’re really shy, you’ll see all of their shy behaviour as snobby behaviour. That’s how the brain works. It fills in gaps it can’t see. And in an egos life the gaps are much bigger than the glimpses of any greater truth.

If you don’t like people it’s usually because you don’t like their solution. People’s actions are solutions aimed at the problems they perceive. So if you’re hungry you walk to the kitchen, open the fridge and get an apple. Problem solved. If you’re really hurt by something and you just don’t know how to react, you’ll copy whichever parent you witnessed do that same thing—and you won’t even notice you did it. Maybe that’s getting angry, maybe that’s getting sad or maybe that’s getting drunk. But you won’t recognize it as pattern-matching a caregiver. You’ll just be solving your problem.

674 Relax and Succeed - To be aware of a single shortcomingThese solutions extend much deeper as well. You can look at a girl’s clothes and behaviour at a party and see a slut, whereas you could incorporate more compassion so that if you told yourself any story about her it would be a charitable one. You could use her as a meditation—a study on separate realities and what it’s like to see the world from other perspectives. You could see her as a slut or you you could see her behaviour as being directed at solving her problem, which might simply be that she’s insecure and like many of us needs the approval of others.

If it were me and I was in a judgmental state of mind and felt myself doing that, the story editor in me would think backwards to what her problem might be. Why would that be her strategy? And in looking at her more closely and in listening to her talk maybe I would notice her large breasts and her innocent manner. I could imagine a young girl with a heavily overworked but dedicated single mother. Life with a kid is busy and tough and so guys don’t stay. But this little girl might have longed for a male role model as most kids do. And if she developed at a young age she would have realized that her physique could hold men’s attention. So long before she would have had any sexual feelings of her own she’s already mimicking sexualized behaviour 674 Relax and Succeed - Opinion is the lowest form of human knowledgesimply as a way of getting that time with male role models. So should she be judged and disliked because as a kid that was the approach that actually worked to some degree?

In another example of trading judgment for compassion—you might look at a slow-moving grey-haired bagger at the grocery store and think to yourself that he should quit if that’s as fast as he can go. And I might think, gee, most people that age have wanted to retire and yet this guy’s still working—he must have to. It must be his solution. Plus people his age have arthritis and yet he’s picking up stuff with his hands all day. No wonder he rubs them between customers. So I feel connected to the guy through compassion whereas egocentric thoughts build a wall between the other person and ourselves and this hurts us as much as them.

We have to become more generous. If we want more love we have to give more. You’ve got to get serious about this. You can’t just read this blog and post some quotes and that’s it. Enlightenment is a verb. It’s an action. And it takes you being far more conscious than just taking your own narrow interests into account.

Start thinking less about yourself and more about others. And do so from the perspective of compassion. Where you really meditate on the challenges of being a single mom, or all the challenges that would go into a special needs child, or a job that had you travelling every 674 Relax and Succeed - Humility is not thinking less of yourselfsecond week, or how difficult it would be to be morbidly obese or have a beloved spouse who was gravely ill. Noticing these realities will allow us to more easily see our own good fortune. And in seeing that we are immediately made grateful and grateful people are generous and kind.

Be grateful. Get out of your head and out of a constant alignment with only your own goals and aims and desires and start getting behind other people’s. You’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to have a good day if you seriously take action to invest in the objectives of others. Maybe that’s just letting them into traffic. Or maybe it’s something bigger. But no matter how big or small it is, both parties benefit from compassionate generosity so practice it with wild abandon. Because in the end any giving you do is like giving to yourself.

peace. s

Check out this video of people reacting differently to kindness and compassion and see how lost many of the “successful” people in our culture really are: