Bullying and Lent
Recently I was given two positive ideas for my yearly Lenten practice. The first is 40 bags in 40 days, which is a cleansing of the physical as I go through my possessions and throw away or give away one bag a day. The second is a cleansing of the heart as I give up criticism for 40 days; criticism of others and of myself.
The second abstinence was severely tested this past week as I was once again the subject of a bully attack. I failed twice as I first walked out on a very angry person who was not listening to my side of a conflict and second as I passed the ensuing pain on to my coworkers, complaining about the situation, and the person who had caused me pain.
For that I am sorry and now publicly renew my Lenten vow of abstinence from criticism.
Those of us in leadership in the community have to deal with bullies, whether in town or at a higher level. A bully creates a reality that they are in complete control of your life and you have no hope of escaping their prison, no way to make things right, and no way to earn forgiveness for your trespass. The bully makes it clear that you will never again be considered a friend or coworker or even an acquaintance. Your name is now in the bad book forever, scratched off the Christmas card list and printed indelibly on the black door of doom.
Before a bully attacks it has prepared for every contingency of struggle, including kind words and logical explanations. A bully does not listen to apologies, gentle humor or the bright side of things. A bully wants to make you suffer.
A bully changes the rules to remain in control of its world. A bully demands things be done its way. A bully strikes on a nice sunny day as they lug their two-by-four to the park and smack you with it as you enjoy your pleasant walk.
A bully ignores you when you say, “Hi.”
A bully points at something you did or didn’t do and asks you why you did it (or didn’t do it) and asks “How stupid can you be?” A bully makes sure you hear in crystal clear tones that there is no help for you, no hope for you and no friend who wants to be near you.
A bully slaps you around and makes sure you have no chance for retaliation. A bully inflicts pain on those you work with and those you love, and twists the facts to create the illusion that it is your fault that your loved ones are hurting.
If you are still reading this, you have been hurt by a bully. So, what do we do about it? Do we stand up to bullies, thus becoming bullies ourselves? Is this bully really a bully or just someone in extreme anguish not realizing they are passing the hurt along to others?
How small the life of a bully must be: Always controlling, never learning about the life outside of itself, never venturing to worlds unexplored to open themselves to the wonder and the humility of self-imposed ignorance.
How the life of a bully must shrink, closing in around those few things it can control, until, isolated and almost alone, it suffers in silence, never knowing the beauty of the lower life form knowing more than itself or the unexpected surprise of a child imparting wisdom.
I have stood in silence as a bully has raged and fumed until it has burnt itself out, cussing at the last and slamming the door behind.
The bully always passes on its pain to me. But perhaps I need to know its pain so that I will never bully another in my own ignorance.
Perhaps the bully is to be pitied, loved and forgiven. Perhaps a raging bully in mid-burn needs a hug, a sign of compassion, a gentle hand on its shoulder.
It is true that bullies beget bullies and it is also true that many have become bullies in an attempt to overcome bullies.
I don’t see myself as a hard-nosed big-city editor unearthing corruption everywhere and publishing photos of back-street drug deals. I see myself as an invisible communication conduit gathering information and sharing it with others.
Bullying begets bullying and, unfortunately, I have had to play the part of the bully to continue on here as editor, to protect my fellow staff members and to protect our little local paper. But I much prefer joyous communication and the exchanging of ideas and working to break through long-held paradigms, intolerance and short sightedness.
I believe bullying comes from self-criticism and perhaps you will join me in my second Lenten practice. Let us refrain from self-criticism and criticism of others. Then, perhaps, by Easter we will have created a community that smiles, laughs, hugs and helps. Then perhaps we will no longer hear the over-used complaint of residents leaving in droves for a better place, but instead, begin to worry about the available housing market and our ever expanding city.