Sometimes things are very clear and straightforward even though carrying them out may be difficult. But that’s a lot better than not being clear. Rabindranath Tagore, Nobel Prize winning poet, said, “Create an isle of song in a sea of shouts.” This vision provides clarity about the direction we want our lives – situation after situation. But the process varies with the specifics of our individual situations.
We can begin by protecting the ecology of our Isle of Song. Just as we wouldn’t allow toxic dumpers, we won’t allow people to trash our Isle in any way.
Therefore, we clear the bullies from our lives and we create space for the right people to come in. The reality shows also say the same thing, although not so poetically. “Vote selfish, narcissistic, insensitive, nasty, abusive people off your island.”
Who do we allow on our Isle? People we want close to us and who behave the way we need.
Who do we vote off our Isle? Remove anyone who won’t behave according to our standards. I don’t mean only bullying spouses. Our lives become much better when we use this general rule in all situations – with our toxic parents, relatives, adult children, friends, co-workers, bosses.
Physical violence is obvious, so our response is usually emphatic; “Go away!” But the more covert, manipulative, sneaky, control-freaks are harder to detect. Nevertheless, the same rule applies. Test people’s behavior. If they don’t stop bullying, vote them off our Isle. Good behavior counts more than bad blood.
Covert, stealthy bullies always try to ram their agendas down our throats – with a smile, a laugh, a good excuse. They say, “I know better, I’m right, I’m justified.” Don’t pay much attention to the specifics of each excuse. Instead, watch for the pattern of who they think is in charge and who casts the determining vote. If they always want control, we know what we’re up against and we know we must vote them off our Isle. Begging, bribery, appeasement, understanding, forgiveness, unconditional love and the Golden Rule won’t stop them.
They aren’t friends or even acquaintances, although we can be polite and firm while we’re setting our boundaries.
But what can we do about bad blood if we still feel the need to see those people sometimes? One couple I coached created a wonderful image. They needed to protect both the physical and the emotional ecology of their Isle from a very toxic adult daughter. In non-technical terms, the daughter was “crazy.”
She could be sweet one moment, but the next, for no apparent reason, she’d blow up and throw an explosive, attacking, vicious temper tantrum. She’d loudly curse and blame her parents for how bad she felt or what had happened to her. It was all their fault, she’d yell, because they wouldn’t do exactly what she wanted them to do, every moment, even if her feelings or what she wanted changed in an instant. In her rage, she’d even try to hit them.
The parents couldn’t trust their daughter. Actually, they could trust that almost every time they saw her, the daughter would repeat a life-long pattern without warning or provocation.
The parents felt that they had to protect themselves and their much younger children from the older daughter, but they still felt bound to see the “crazy” daughter sometimes.
The image that worked for them was to imagine a long boardwalk from their Isle of Song leading out to a McDonald’s surrounded by a huge barbed-wire fence. They could tolerate meeting her out there to have a burger once every three-four months. But at the first signs of a blow up, they’d leave the McDonald’s, close the gate and their crazy daughter was stuck out there. She could never get to their Isle and trash it with her emotional garbage. And they’d never allow her to move back home.
That way, the parents could satisfy both values of seeing their daughter and of protecting the rest of the family. They removed the interaction from their Isle both physically and emotionally. That solution fit them.
We may be targets but we’re not victims! There are many situations in which we can fairly easily vote someone off our Isle and never interact with them again. First dates are a good example.
There are also many situations in which we feel stuck by circumstances and choose to use the long boardwalk method to protect our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. We decide to interact with the bullies physically once in a while but we’ll protect ourselves. We’ll always have a way home that we control.
Also, we’ll maintain an emotional distance. We won’t take what they say or do personally. We may be unable to stop them from trashing the ocean far away or trashing their own Isle, but we won’t let them trash our emotional Isle.
Some of these situations might be when we decide to care for bullying, nasty elderly relatives or we choose to continue trying to straighten out a child who isn’t old enough to throw out or we accept a rotten boss in a job we can’t or don’t want to leave or we choose to keep living next to jerk-y neighbors or our child may stay in a school that has a special program even though the officials tolerate bullying.
Again, it’s our choice depending on the circumstance and what we want to do.
The key step in these situations is internal: to keep a spark alive in our hearts. We know that we’re choosing to endure the pollution and noise for a finite time, but that in the end, we’ll get free and vote those people off our Isles of Song.
We can’t allow the worst of ourselves to trash our own Isle. That image can make clear the next steps in our personal development.
We live up to the standards required for anyone to be allowed to stay on our Isle. We develop strength, courage, determination, perseverance – grit. We vote the selfish, narcissistic, insensitive parts of us off our Isle until those parts develop better ways of getting the wonderful things and feelings we want in our lives. We become worthy of our own Isle.
Often that requires expert coaching to replace old, out-dated beliefs, attitudes, feelings and habits with new ones appropriate to our Isle. With expert coaching and consulting, we can learn to command ourselves. We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.