Following reviews of Paul Tough’s book, “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character,” Holly Finn brings in Cowboy Ethics and the Cowboy Code in her review in the Wall Street Journal, “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”  She contrasts the Cowboy Code with many examples of poor character shown by students and their parents – lying, cheating, stealing and doing anything to get ahead at many of our most prestigious schools. Of course she’s right about character versus greed and success at any price.

Whether the Code comes from Jim Owen’s book, "Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West" or from Ernest Morris’ “El Vaquero: The Cowboy Code,” the message is the same.  Character counts.  Character counts first and most.  Or, as said elsewhere, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Some of the crucial traits of Cowboy Ethics and different Cowboy Codes are:

  1. Live each day with courage.
  2. Take pride in your work.
  3. Always finish what you start.
  4. Do what has to be done.
  5. Be tough, but fair.
  6. When you make a promise, keep it.
  7. Ride for the brand.
  8. Talk less and say more.
  9. Remember that some things aren't for sale.
  10. Know where to draw the line.
  11. A cowboy never takes unfair advantage - even of an enemy.
  12. A cowboy never betrays a trust.  He never goes back on his word.
  13. A cowboy always tells the truth.
  14. A cowboy is kind and gentle to small children, old folks, and animals.
  15. A cowboy is free from racial and religious intolerances.
  16. A cowboy is always a good worker.
  17. A cowboy respects womanhood, his parents and his nation's laws.
  18. A cowboy is clean about his person in thought, word, and deed.
  19. A cowboy is a Patriot.
  20. The highest badge of honor a person can wear is honesty.  Be truthful at all times.
  21. Your parents are the best friends you have.  Listen to them and obey their instructions.
  22. If you want to be respected, you must respect others.  Show good manners in every way.
  23. Only through hard work and study can you succeed.  Don't be lazy.
  24. Your good deeds always come to light.  So don't boast or be a show-off.
  25. If you waste time or money today, you will regret it tomorrow.  Practice thrift in all ways.
  26. Many animals are good and loyal companions.  Be friendly and kind to them.
  27. A strong, healthy body is a precious gift.  Be neat and clean.
  28. Our country's laws are made for your protection.  Observe them carefully.
  29. Children in many foreign lands are less fortunate than you.  Be glad and proud you are an American.
  30. I will be brave, but never careless.
  31. I will obey my parents. They DO know best.
  32. I will be neat and clean at all times.
  33. I will be polite and courteous.

But the Cowboy Code is not true; few cowboys really followed it. Yes, that’s right.  Many of the exemplars are fictional or fictionalized characters like Hopalong Cassidy and Wild Bill Hickok.  We can quibble with many of the sentiments and find situations in which, for example, parents are not always good, right and deserving of respect.

So what?  The factual nature doesn’t matter.  What matters is what spirit gets stimulated in our children’s hearts and even in us as adults.  The history of the greatness of the human spirit and human endeavor is passed on generation after generation through stories that inspire each new individual to be great and to do good.  It’s passed on in myth, legend and fiction, as well as through the lives and deeds of great men and women – great humans.

That’s the way human education works.  What counts is what gets inspired in the heart of each child and each adult.

Won’t honesty and good character mean that our children will be beaten out by the cheaters? That’s what many parents are afraid of: the cheaters will get better grades, get into better schools and eventually get better jobs and careers; lying cheating and stealing are necessary for survival or success.  But those predictions come from fear and aren’t necessarily true.

Step back from fear and think.  Would we want our children to become or to marry people who are selfish, lying, cheaters?  Don’t we want our children to have “Cowboy” character and to their live lives based on that?

If our children become witnesses or defenders, won’t they get into trouble? Maybe.  Children or adults who speak out against harassment, bullying and abuse can get trouble focused on them.  Children or adults who speak out against domestic violence, racism, religious persecution, genocide and terrorism can get trouble focused on them.  We each decide what to do in specific situations.

What’s crucial is to know the difference between right and wrong.  If we don’t know the difference, if we think that all values are the equal because there are so many different ones across the globe, we are making a grave mistake.  Different values lead to different places and we choose the direction we will try to go.

The engine and the steering wheel. Traits and skills like grit, determination, perseverance, fortitude, endurance and resilience are our engine.  We need the power of these abilities to get anywhere on the long road of life.

The values, beliefs and attitudes that are embodied in the humans who exemplify the Cowboy Code or Cowboy Ethics, whether as real as Lincoln, as fictionalized as Wild Bill Hickok or as fictional as Hopalong Cassidy, are our steering wheel.

We need both an engine and a steering wheel to get where we want to go.

What engine and steering wheel do we try to teach our children?  What engine and steering wheel are we models of for our children?  Which values are more important when some of ours conflict or are even mutually exclusive?

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Stopping bullies, whether overt, covert or cyberbullying, and especially stopping self-bullying, requires time, effort, courage, determination and perseverance – grit. It’s easy to lose heart along the way, but we must not give into fear, discouragement, despair, defeat, loss of hope or depression.  We must not listen to negative self-talk, or give in to the self-flagellation of shame or guilt, or pay attention to the voices who are convinced we’ll lose.

Instead, we need two crucial things to become effective in stopping bullying.

From deep in our guts, we need to rally our spirits and keep them high.

  1. Our lives and lives in history and fiction give us many examples.  Our task is to build a treasure trove of examples and models who will inspire us when we falter; who will keep us from becoming passive victims.
  2. They may be personal memories of times we’ve surprised ourselves with courage, strength, fortitude and skill.
  3. They may be the examples of family members, teachers, priests, ministers, friends.  I always think of my mother’s mother, who walked across Europe when she was 16 in order to come to America – barefoot.  I’m inspired by her example.  If she could do it – with no cell phone, wireless tablet, social security, health or unemployment insurance – and not a word of English, how can I be less determined?  How can I succumb to fear or despair?
  4. They may be people in history or the news.  Think of Joan of Arc or the women who walked across America along side covered wagons or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who escaped from Somalia.  Think of the men at Valley Forge or the Battle of Britain who kept going even though everyone “knew” they didn’t have a chance.  Think of George Washington and Winston Churchill refusing to admit defeat.
  5. Many movies and books come to a dramatic moment when the heroes can chose to give up or to continue on, whether they win or lose.  For example, in the last “Matrix” movie, Mr. Smith is defeating Neo.  He keeps calling him Mr. Anderson and trying to sap his will and strength by taunting him with, “Why do you keep fighting.  You know you can’t win.”  Finally, in agony and desperation, Neo says, “Because I choose to!”

There it is.  Because we choose to.  That’s the beginning and end of it.  Keep choosing to resist bullies; keep choosing to resist the self-bullying and the perfectionism that would discourage us and sap our will and strengthSimply choose to fight on, whether or not we really think we can win.  Hope or will: choose which ever reason feels better or choose both reasons.  But choose to keep on keeping on.

We need helpers to lift us out of the pit of despair; who will march on together with us.

  1. We usually need help to remind us to keep on when we might otherwise give up.
  2. Family, friends and even strangers can sometimes say the right words or make helpful gestures.  When abusive, bullies seem unstoppable or our self-bullying seems overwhelming, our guardian angels can encourage us to keep our spirits strong and stand with us to keep us fighting.  They can keep us from defeat, depression and suicide.
  3. Sometimes they’re the gestures of famous people who inspire us.  Because I grew up in Brooklyn at just the right time, I remember Peewee Reese, from Louisville, Kentucky, putting his arm around Jackie Robinson’s shoulder to let Jackie and the world know that Peewee was not a bystander.  He was a witness for what was right, standing with him.
  4. Sometimes fictional characters remind us of people being lifted and supported. In “The Lord of the Rings,” all the characters except Gandalf and Aragon have moments when they despair and are ready to give up to seemingly inevitable defeat by the forces of evil.  And someone encourages them to keep fighting, because we must be an example for future generations and, also, we never know what will happen if we keep fighting.  There are thousands of other examples.

We need to build:

  1. An inner world of those models who will inspire us by saying the right words when we need them.
  2. A community of deep and sturdy friends who will inspire us to remain strong and dedicated.

They don’t have to make anything okay.  But what they do in the darkest times is to show that there is light and they throw a life line.

Sometimes we may act immediately and firmly to stop bullies.  At other times we hold back while keeping an intense fire burning in our guts, waiting for the right moment to act.  But that’s our choice of tactics, not the acts of a defeated soul.

As Winston Churchill said, “Never give in, never give in, never give in.”

Then we have a chance to succeed.

For some examples, see the case studies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.

Since all tactics depend on the situation, expert coaching by phone or Skype helps.  We can design a plan that fits you and your situation.  And build your will and skill to carry it out effectively.

Many people wrote and called for coaching after last week’s post, “Stop Bullies Who Demand their Way.”  Although their circumstances varied, their fundamental hesitation was the same: “How can I defend the behavioral standards I want if that means angry confrontations with my blood relationships?” Some common situations were:

All the callers recognized that continued, long-term exposure to those bullies would destroy their own and their children’s self-confidence and self-esteem.  They could see how the bullying was causing sleepless nights, anxiety, nail-biting, discouragement, negative self-talk and even depression.  Their children’s school work suffered.  They could see their children either being beaten into submission or adopting bullying as their own strategy for success.  So why didn’t the adults act?

Some were afraid of the economic consequences of resisting spouses, parents or grandparents with money.  Some were afraid the bullying would increase.

However, most were afraid that if they objected to such treatment of themselves or of their children, they would split the family into warring groups or have the whole family turn against them.  Most were embedded in cultures that reinforced the idea that “family is family” and “blood is the most important thing.”  Most thought it was morally wrong to say “No” to elders or relatives.

They had tried everything they could think of: understanding, reasoning, sweet-talk, begging, bribery, appeasement, the Golden Rule and threats but nothing had been effective in changing the bullying behavior.

So they were stuck, knowing they were tolerating bullies and behavior that was harming them and their children.

Their hope was that I could provide a magic technique to convert those adult bullies into nice, sweet, kindly relatives; the loving, caring, concerned relatives they thought they’d have.

But they had already tried all the “magic wand” techniques and discovered that those family bullies wouldn’t change.  After all, from the bullies’ perspective, why should they change?  They’d gotten away with being abusive, demanding bullies for years; they got their way so why change?  They were beyond appeals to conscience or to considering the feelings they were hurting.

I’ve seen bullies like that have near-death experiences due to cancer or accidents, and still resist changing.  They’ve mastered brutality as a strategy to get what they want from life.  By now, it’s all they know.

In my long experience, each successful client had to face a difficult choice and make a different one then they had before.

They had to support good behavior instead of bad blood.

They had to change their inner questions from, “How can I fit in?” or “How can I do what I’m supposed to?” to a question of “What behavior will I allow toward my children or in my space, no matter who the perpetrator is?”

They had to insist on good behavior toward themselves and their children, even if that meant challenging the previously rotten family dynamic.  They had to become models of the actions they were preaching to their children.

The first step in creating a bully-free personal space is always for us to rally our spirits; to become strong, brave, determined and persevering.  Endurance endures.  Then we can make effective plans, take skillful steps and get the help we need.

We can begin a little soft, but bullies inevitably force us to become firm.  Sometimes that meant denying the perpetrators access to their children.  Sometimes that means leaving when the bullying starts.  Sometimes that means standing alone and being a scapegoat.  But often, when we insist on good behavior, many members of the family will also step up to the higher standards; they’ve simply been waiting for someone to take the lead.

In all cases, we have to fight the culture we’re embedded in.  Plans have to be developed that fit the specific situations we’re in: are spouses on the same page, how bad is the economic dependence, how far away do we live?

But in all cases, we must hold out to ourselves and our children a better culture, in which people behave with caring, kindness and respect to each other.

We have to overcome our fears that we’ll be alone; fears that in the end, the only people who stand by us are family, so we have to pay the high price it costs to maintain relationships.  However, we’ll discover that by clearing brutality out of our space, we’ll open up space for people we want to be with.

Review the case studies of Carrie, Jean, Doug, Kathy, Jake and Ralph facing different family bullies in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.  Many times, when faced by our firmness, family bullies will give in.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

Weaklings and whiners blame temptation and tempters.  That pattern of good reasons, best of intentions, and pathetic excuses and justifications to blame someone else is as old as apples and temptation.  It’s just as lame and weak now as it always was. According to Wall Street Journal articles, Beverly Hall was Superintendant of the Atlanta Public School District when at least 178 teachers have been accused of cheating to elevate student’s test scores en masse.  Administrators were also accused of “impeding the investigation, tampering with tests and intimidating teachers.”

Already, “82 of the 178 teachers and administrators implicated admitted to cheating.”  No examples of such cheating were found in rural schools.  Ms. Hall’s role is not yet clear.  The vast majority of Georgia teachers resisted the temptation to cheat and lie.

According to Kyle Wingfield, reporting for the Journal, “Many politicians and teachers have responded to the report by blaming the test and accountability measures like No Child Left Behind. This is exactly the wrong reaction: Atlanta shows us why public schools need more, not fewer, accountability measures.”  I agree.

Interim School District Superintendant Erroll Davis Jr. is cleaning house.  “At the same time, a former Atlanta deputy superintendent [Beverly Hall] agreed to go on paid leave from a Texas school district that hired her earlier this year.”

The dust will take a long time to settle.  I hope Ms. Hall’s lieutenants and all the other teachers involved spend time in prison and then find jobs in which they will not held out as role models to children trying to better themselves.  We count on teachers to be role models; to demonstrate the highest standards.

Let’s keep the focus on the overall issue – the reasons, excuses and justifications; the whining, complaining and blaming of bullies, abusers and criminals who want to blame temptation, not themselves.

The problem is not the “No Child Left Behind” mandate or standardized tests – although those aren’t perfect.

The problem is in individual humans who fail, who fall short of the standards they promised to uphold and then want to be left off the hook – no consequences, no punishment.

They used to say, “The Devil made me do it.  I had good reasons.  It’s not my fault and, therefore, I shouldn’t have to suffer.”  Now they say, “Society, the bad rules or system, too much pressure, my bad genes, my bad brain chemistry, my bad upbringing and childhood made me do it.  It’s not my fault, I’m a victim and, therefore, I shouldn’t have to suffer.”

Those are the same excuse used by men and women who bully, batter, control and abuse their dates or spouses.  They say, “It’s your fault I’m bullying you.  I can’t help myself.  It’s not my fault.”

Instead, let’s champion individual responsibility in the face of temptation – like all those teachers who resisted temptation.  All through history, in every culture at every time, temptation has been acknowledged as a fact of life.  And the need to overcome that temptation has been emphasized.  Of course we know we won’t always succeed.  Some temptations must be avoided in the beginning because we know once we start down a path; we won’t be able to turn back.

The fault is squarely on the heads and hearts of the elites who did not resist the temptation or report the weaklings who hurt all the students in their care.  The superintendent, the administrators and the teachers who colluded individually and en masse at cheating parties; the people who failed to fulfill their promise as keepers of children’s futures.

Lord Acton said, “absolute power corrupts absolutely,” as if it’s a foregone conclusion and we’re simply too weak to resist.

But Peter Parker’s uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  Like Spiderman, we all have to rise to our responsibilities.

Sometimes toxic parents think they have us over a barrel even after we’ve grown up, gotten physically and financially independent, and started our own family.  They count on our loyalty to some ideal of “family” no matter how badly they treated and still treat us.  They count on our self-bullying and guilt.  They count on us still trying to jump through their hoops to win their love and approval...  They count on our fear that they’ll manipulate the rest of the family into thinking we’re ungrateful and bad.  And they often count on our enduring the verbal and emotional abuse so we can inherit our share of their fortune. Of course, I’m talking about those toxic parents who are still blaming everything on us and abusing us because “It’s your fault” or “You are selfish, ungrateful and don’t deserve any better” or “It’s your duty to do what they want in their old age.”  They’re the toxic parents who know our every weakness and sensitivity, and still poke them hard when they want too; still find fault with every little thing we do; still compare us unfavorably to someone else or to their standards; still criticize, belittle and harass us and our spouse and our children in public or they’re the sneaky ones who criticize, demean and denigrate us in private but pretend they love us in public so everyone thinks they’re wonderful, loving parents.

Of course, we’ve tried everything we can think of, but the negativity, harassment, criticism, blame, shame, bullying and abuse haven’t stopped.  We’ve tried to do exactly what they want, but it’s never enough.  We’ve apologized and pleaded with them to stop, but that just makes them act nastier.  We’ve gotten angry and threatened not to see them, but they broke down in such tears of distress we felt guilty or they blamed on us even more or they acted nice for a few minutes but, when we relaxed, they attacked us more about something different they didn’t like.

So what can we do now?

  1. For the sake of peace and quiet in the whole family, we could keep trying to endure the abuse while begging them to stop.  After all, we never know; if we only kept trying, if we only did enough, they might change.  Also, they might leave us in the will.  And it’d be our fault if we quit too soon.  Many people fly low until they have children and see their toxic parents either criticizing and emotionally abusing their children or belittling and criticizing them while being sweet to the grandchildren.
  2. We might continue objecting and arguing; enduring our frustration and anger.  Usually this tactic repeats endlessly and often spirals out of control.  Relentlessly toxic parents won’t admit they’re wrong and give up.  Eventually they’ll escalate and cut us out of the will.
  3. We might try withdrawing for a while; not seeing them, telling them we won’t return emails and calls, and then carrying through.  People usually shift from the first two tactics to this one when they see the effect of their toxic parents on their own children.  This tactic sometimes convinces nasty, mean, bullying parents that they’d better change their ways or they’ll lose contact with their grandchildren.  But the relentlessly toxic parents don’t care.  They’re sure they’re fine and they’re sure they’ll win if they push hard enough, like they’ve always won in the past.  So they don’t change and we go back to arguing or we give up or we finally respond more firmly.
  4. The next step is to withdraw for a long time, maybe forever – no contact.  It’s sad but we have to protect the family we’re creating from our own predatory parents.  It’s usually both scary and very exciting.  Most people, despite any guilt they feel, also feel a huge surge of relief, as if a giant weight or a fire-breathing dragon has been removed from their shoulders.  Our spouse and children may celebrate.  Get out of town, go on a vacation, turn the phones and email off.

What to expect and how to respond?

  1. They’ll attack when we withdraw.  Expect them to make angry calls and send hostile emails.  Save these on an external drive or a cheap recorder before deleting them.  They want to engage us, so do not engage endlessly and fruitlessly; no return calls or emails, no hateful or vindictive responses.  We’ve only gotten to this point because they haven’t changed after many approaches and warnings.  We might have to change our phone numbers to unlisted ones and change our email addresses.
  2. They’ll rally the extended family.  Prepare by making cue cards of what to say; no excuses or justifications.  Just tell the family what you said and did, and what you plan.  Ask them not to intervene.  Tell them we’d like to see them but only if our toxic parents are not present.  We’re sorry they’re caught in the middle but that’s life.  They do have to choose who to believe and what behavior to support.  Be prepared to withdraw from anyone who attacks or interferes.
  3. They’ll disinherit us.  When they can’t manipulate us through love, blame, shame and guilt, they’ll try greed.  If we don’t do what our toxic parents want right now, they’ll cut us out of the will.  Don’t be a slave to greed; it’s a deadly sin.  If we want to have a bully-free family life, we’ll have to make it on our own.  The real benefit is not merely ending the brutality, it’s the strength of character and the skills we gain when we make decisions for ourselves and chart our own course in the world.  We’ll end the negativity, stress, anxiety and depression usually caused by toxic parents.  We’ll develop the strength, courage, determination, perseverance and resilience we all need to make wonderful lives.  We’ll be able to express our passion and joy without cringing, waiting for the next blow to fall.
  4. We’ll have an empty space in our lives.  Even more than the empty physical space we’ll now have at the times when we used to get together with our toxic parents, we’ll have a huge mental and emotional space.  How many hours have we wasted thinking about our parents, worrying about the next episode, dreading what might happen next, agonizing over what to do.  We don’t have to do that any more.  Of course, being weaned from an old habit takes a little time.  We must be gentle with ourselves.  Focus on the freedom we now have.  Now we can think about the things we want to think about; not about pain and suffering, not about past failures.  Now we have space to bring into our lives people who will be part of the tribe of our heart and spirit.
  5. Our children will wonder why.  Tell the kids in a way that’s age appropriate.  Are we protecting them from the verbal abuse of their toxic grandparents or from lies that paint us as bad people?  They’ll want to know what’s going to stay the same.  Will they have fun, celebrate holidays, get presents, have extended family?

The most important lessons we offer our children are not through books and lectures.  Those are important, but the most important ones are the ones they see in our behavior when we’re models of behavior we want them to learn.

Be a model for them of someone who protects himself and them from anyone who would target them, even someone who’s close by blood.  Being close by behavior counts more than blood.  Show them not to be victimized even by blood relations.

Show them to how to be the hero of their lives.

With expert coaching and consulting, we can look at individual situations and plan tactics that are appropriate to us and to the situation.  We can overcome the voices of our fears and self-bullying.  We can overcome childhood rules to endure whatever bullying and abuse our toxic parents dish out simply because they’re our parents.  We can become strong and skilled enough to stop bullies in their tracks – even if those bullies are blood relatives. “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” has many examples of children and adults getting over their early training and freeing themselves from toxic relationships.  For more personalized coaching call me at 877-8Bullies (877-828-5543).

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AuthorBen Leichtling
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What do you do after you’ve been hit hard and knocked down by life?  What do you do after your dreams have been shattered?  What do you do after you’ve been rejected or lost everything?  What do you do when you’ve been defeated?  What do you do when you realize you chose an abusive bully and you don’t know how to protect your kids?  The wisdom of the ages, from all traditions and cultures, gives the same answer, even if the reasons are very different. In “The Ghost and the Darkness,” Val Kilmer plays a British engineer trying to build a bridge across a river in Africa.  Two lions, accurately named “The Ghost” and “The Darkness” begin stalking and killing the men building the bridge.  The lions outsmart every attempt to trap and kill them.

Finally, Val Kilmer develops a brilliant plan to trap one of the lions in a railroad car.  They do trap the lion but he escapes, burning down the car.  Kilmer is devastated and defeated.

The killings mount until the workers start leaving.  They hire a skilled hunter, Michael Douglas, who is also caustic and sarcastic.  At the climax to the first half of the movie, when the hunter sees Kilmer’s dejection and hears of Kilmer’s failed plan, he says, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down.  Then the plan goes out the window.  What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down.  Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”

There it is.  Kilmer faces his plans in ashes and his life as a failure because the men will leave, the bridge will be abandoned and he’ll never get another job.

The tension comes to a head when Douglas has a plan but the lions outsmart him and kill all the wounded men in the hospital.  Douglas, the great hunter, is devastated and defeated.  In total, the lions killed over a hundred men.

Kilmer says to him, “There’s an old saying in boxing, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get hit and knocked down.  Then the plan goes out the window.  What matters is what you do after you’ve been hit and knocked down.  Do you stay down or do you get up and fight again?’”

There it is; the point of the movie; the point for all of us in the real world.  Will we be defeated by defeat, will we give up when we’re back to square-one, will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?

We, who don’t face killer lions everyday, still do face risk and disaster everyday by:

  • Human agency – we get fired, we put our savings down on the wrong stock, we give our retirement money to the wrong Ponzi scheme, some maniac or drunk driver kills people we love, some crazy person kills us and 10 others at work, we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time when a riot, revolution or war breaks out, our parents are toxic, our grown children won’t let us see our grandchildren or our spouse is negative, harassing, bullying and destroying our kids’ self-esteem and confidence, and running away means being broke.
  • Natural forces – tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, prolonged drought or flood.

Even the smaller failures growing up can seem like disaster – we fail a test or a course, we’re rejected or dumped by someone gorgeous or handsome, our secrets are spread over school or the internet, we don’t make a team we’d hoped for or counted on, we don’t get into the school of our choice, our parents don’t or can’t give us the latest stuff, the cool kids scorn us, we do something really embarrassing. Our children face the same questions repeatedly: Will we be defeated by defeat; will we give up when we’re back to square-one; will we give up when life is unfair or too destructive for us or will we get up and fight again, build again?

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” Eleanor Roosevelt.

As adults, our job is to:

Notice, I ignored whether Douglas and Kilmer finally kill the lions.  Yes that’s important to building the bridge and to the material parts of their lives.  But that’s not important to the human spirits of Kilmer and Douglas being great because they’re undefeated by defeat; to them having the indomitable will to continue, no matter the obstacles and not knowing whether they’ll succeed.  Okay; the factual resolution is that the Ghost and the Darkness are now preserved in the Field Museum in Chicago – and they did kill that many people.

“Strength comes not from physical capacity.   It comes from indomitable will,” Gandhi.

Notice, I also ignored the historical implications of colonialism.  Of course, that’s there, but that’s not the main point for my life.

The point is to use the movie to stimulate in me the greatest that I can be.  There are thousands of heroes and heroines, real and fictional, who can remind us to get up off the floor when life has knocked us down.  The point is to use everything I see and hear to inspire me to choose whether to live a selfish, shabby, sordid story or a great and worthy story; to chose to be the hero of my life.

“Glory is not in never having been knocked down.  Glory is in rising up again, each time you are knocked down,” Vince Lombardi.

There are many methods that even well-meaning parents use to raise spoiled brats instead of wonderful, creative, well-behaved, civil, strong children.  The fundamental factor in raising arrogant, selfish, nasty brats is their parents’ consistency in attitudes, approach and actions. The underlying attitude that creates demanding, bullying tyrants is that if children are never thwarted or forced to do what they don’t want to, they’ll be more creative and happy, and their self-esteem will be higher.  This attitude is very prevalent among the helping professions; especially therapists and teachers.

What I say will anger people who think in black-while, all-none.  Those are people who think that the only choices are total freedom and praise, or total repression and beatings.  How silly to think that way.

What do you see other people doing to train their children badly?

My top 10 attitudes, approaches, techniques to create willful, domineering brats and teenagers are:

  1. Never correct them or say, “No.”  Help them think they’re sensitive, weak and fragile.  Be afraid that if their feelings are hurt, they’ll never get over it.
  2. Always give them everything they desire.  Don’t teach them that they might not get what they desperately want at the moment and that they can still be happy.  Give them control of every decision.  Never force them to do what you want.  Instead, always try to get them to understand that you’re right so they’ll willingly do what you want them to.
  3. Never show displeasure or tell them that they failed to meet your high expectations.  Always tell them that their efforts are always good enough; no matter how good or pathetic the results.
  4. Always tell them that they should succeed instantly or that what they can’t do, isn’t important.  Also, tell them that hard work and struggle aren’t important.  Blame everything that they don’t like on other people (bad friends, bad teachers, bad schools, bad society), not on their insufficient or mediocre effort.  Always tell them that the world is supposed to be fair and make them happy.
  5. Always let them misbehave without correction or consequences, instead of calmly applying consequences whether they like it or not.  Hold your tongue or repeatedly tell them not to do something, but don’t actually do anything effective until you can’t stand it anymore and you throw a fit.
  6. Always give in to their fits and temper tantrums in order to get them to stop.   Train them that you’ll give them whatever they want if they throw fits in public.
  7. Always excuse their bad behavior because they’re “cute” or “creative.”
  8. Always allow them to avoid chores or helping out because it’s no fun for them.
  9. Be afraid that if they’re angry, they won’t love you.  Always try to be their confidant and best friend.
  10. Never smack their bottoms or grab them to make your point or to let them know that sometimes they will do what you want, no matter what.

To raise spoiled brats, consistently give in to them and excuse their bad behavior.  Of course that doesn’t prepare them to succeed in the real-world they’ll face as adults.

If you start these approaches with infants, you can create manipulative, demanding teenage bullies who think that they’re entitled to everything they want and you’re supposed to provide it.  They’re the kind of children who may be living at home when they’re 40.  And you’ll wonder why, deep down, you don’t like them any more than they like you.

But don’t go to the other extreme and beat them into submission.

Think of the qualities you want them to develop and make sure they have many opportunities to practice these qualities.  For example:

  • Will, self-mastery, courage and discipline.
  • High energy, emphasis on action and seeking solutions instead of blame.
  • Grit, determination, dedication, drive, commitment and focus.
  • Persistence, perseverance, patience, endurance and tenacity.
  • Resilience, flexibility and humor.
  • Comfort in ambiguity and productive inconsistency.
  • Heroism in the face of discouragement so you’ll treat obstacles like speed bumps.
  • Learning from great models, heroes, mentors and coaches.
  • Taking calculated risks and making the most of opportunities and luck.

Without your guidance and discipline, they won’t magically develop those qualities when they’re 25.

You’ll find examples in my books and CDs of case studies, “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids.”  Of course, coaching can help you design tactics that fit your specific situation.

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The article, “Workplace bullying rampant Down Under,” is actually has a misleading title.  The studies cited show that not only is workplace bullying rampant Down Under, but so is school bullying, and that the phenomena are not confined to Australia, but are world wide. Some of the statistics cited are: * A recent study of Catholic education teachers revealed that 97 per cent had been bullied and up to 50 per cent of public school teachers had been bullied by co-workers.  More Catholic school teachers bullied than public school teachers – wow!  Just like the doctors I’ve talked about. * A US-based, Trends in International and Mathematics and Science Study found that more than a quarter of all students in Australia had been bullied.  Do you really think that it’s less here? * Although verbal bullying was the most common form among students, cyber bullying through emails and text messaging is also becoming a huge problem.

One writer said, “What’s the use of stopping school bullying when your sports people bully, or your politicians are bullying.  Parents don’t really have the skills to teach their children not to be bullies or not to be targets.”

First, the “use of stopping bullying” in our individual space of the world – home, family, work – is that it makes the living there so much more fun.  Don’t accept bullying in your personal environment even if the rest of the world does. Second, forget generalizations about parents.  The only thing that really matters is you and me.  No matter what the rest of the world is doing, our primary task is to protect our personal ecology.  We can stop bullying in our environment and act as models of effective action to our family, friends and coworkers.  We must teach our children to be strong, courageous, resilient and skilled enough to stop the bullying in theirs.  If you don’t have great skills now, learn better ones.

All bullies are not the same, but their patterns of behavior, their tactics, are the same.  That’s why I’ve found ways to stop most of them.

Yes, it’s good not to show that verbal bullying or cyberbullying has hurt our feelings but that’s only a small, first step.  We also have to take strong action to stop bullies or get them out of our faces.  If we don’t stop them, they’ll think we’re easy prey.  Like sharks, they’ll just go after us more.  Sometimes, fighting is the key to success.

Begin with the books “How to Stop Bullies in their Tracks” and “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids,” and the10-CD set.  You will probably also need practical, pragmatic coaching and tactics designed to resolve your specific situations.

My last post was about adults who carry to their graves the wounding and scars they got from their parents.  These adults never grow up mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  They never leave their parents’ mental and emotional homes, even if they leave physically. While watching the John Adams mini-series, I saw a classic example.

Whether the program was factual or not, the picture it showed of John and Abigail’s youngest son, Charles, was so typical and true that I’ll comment as if it was factual.

Because John was gone during the Revolutionary years for long periods of time in Philadelphia and Europe, and Abigail also went to Paris, Charles did not get as much of his parents’ love and affection as he wanted.  Charles especially wanted his father’s approval.  But John would never approve of Charles’ lack of serious, studious devotion to a stable career dedicated to building his country and supporting his family.

Forget about what John and Abigail should have done.  We can feel sorry for Charles, but the obvious reality is that Charles was never going to get what he wanted from his parents.  And the more Charles wasted his life in whining, drinking, frivolous daydreams and squandering his talent and money, the less likely that he would get what he wanted from them.

Here’s the key: Charles is faced with an emotional reality that is as real as rain or snow or hail or drought or flood or grasshoppers eating your crops.  What is Charles’ task?  No matter what, Charles has the same task we all have.

We each and all must suck it up and succeed.  We must take responsibility for creating futures that are wonderful, no matter what our givens are.  In my forthcoming e-book on how to stop school bullies in their tracks, you’ll find a case study of a teenager facing this decision.  But you know it’s true.  You had to face it.  Everyone has to face it.  Charles’ brother, John Quincy, had to face it.  And John Quincy sucked it up successfully, despite not liking it.

As Jawaharlal Nehru said, “Life is like a game of cards.  The hand that is dealt to you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” 

Charles ran from the difficult responsibility of being in charge of creating a wonderful future.  He blamed his failures on his parents’ lack of giving him what he wanted.  As if he was the first person not to get enough from his parents.  Do you really think that if John had come home from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia and said that he thought Charles was a delightful, sweet, charming and lovable fellow, with good stuff buried inside, Charles would have become strong, responsible and successful?

Charles wasn’t resilient enough to succeed in the face of the bad weather in his life.  He couldn’t put his parents off to his mental and emotional side.  He wasn’t courageous, strong and hardworking enough for himself, his wife and his child.  He failed.  And history rolls over the failures.

Charles shouldn’t have let his parents’ deficiencies be more important in his life than his future.  His parents – our parents – are not excuses for failing.  Why let people ruin your future if they didn’t give you what you need when you were young and still don’t?  Move beyond them.  Find other parents (older people) who will love and appreciate you.  Find models to inspire you.  Succeed, despite the harsh weather.

What else is worth doing with the energy and days given you?

According to numerous reports, a teenager was bullied at West Middle School in metro Denver.  The boy had pencils, markers and a calculator taken; he was called fat; he was called “gay” because he was involved in musical theater; because he was from musical theater, he was called a “Nazi.”  Eventually, he tried fighting back against his tormentors.  But he wasn’t big or strong enough and was beaten severely.  He suffered a broken collar bone and head injury.  The published picture of him is self-evident.  Now that the case has become public, the community is in an uproar and the Cherry Creek School District has responded by expelling the bully.  The bullied boy has reported that the bully threatened to beat him more when he returns.  Three other students, who also threatened to beat up the victim, have been required to sign contracts that they won’t harass the boy.  That’s nice of the school district to go that far. Of course the legal wrangling will go on for a long time.

There’s so much to say about this example of hostility, abuse and brutality.  I want to comment on only a few areas.

The adults failed.  Whether they blame the legal system or say they didn’t know; they failed. Since the severe beating happened at the end of November, don’t you think that every student in school knew what was happening? 

The parents of the bully and his collaborators failed.  They are supposed to know their children’s character and to stop their children’s bullying.

The teachers failed.  They are supposed to know who torments, abuses and bully’s another student and they are supposed to stop it.  They allowed a hostile, abusive environment to continue.  If the typical educational approaches don’t work rapidly, they are supposed to intervene in other ways.

The principal failed.  The principal is supposed to set a tone of zero tolerance.  The principal is supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullies.  If the teachers don’t stop it, the principal is supposed to stop it and then get rid of those cowardly and/or ignorant teachers.  The worst beating happened at the end of November and the principal did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.

The administrators in the school district failed.  The administrators are supposed to be courageous enough to cut through the legal red tape and somehow stop bullying.  If the principal doesn’t stop it, the school district administrators are supposed to step in and then get rid of that cowardly and/or ignorant principal.  The worst beating happened at the end of November and the district administrators did nothing effective for three months until the story became public.

How can we hold up these teachers, principal and school district administrators as models for children?  They have failed as models.  Despite, or maybe because of, their colleges and universities, their degrees and certifications, their possible expertise in some course matter, they have shown themselves to be ignorant or cowardly or inept or all three.  They have failed the public trust and are unfit to be teachers, principal or administrators.

They should not be allowed to hide behind a poor legal system.  We all know that there are schools in the most violent locations in which courageous administrators, principals and teachers bullying.  And they do it in the face of the same.

The 14 year-old boy who was bullied has shown himself to be courageous.  He has succeeded.  At first he did what we all try to do.  We try accommodating in hopes that the bully will move on.  We ask bullies to stop; we take the bullying; we try to understand what lousy home lives we think bullies must have; we try to rise above it.  These tactics may stop many kids who are temporarily trying on bullying to see what it feels like, but those tactics don’t stop dedicated, relentless bullies.  They are not effective for teaching children to stop bullies at school.

Eventually that boy fought.  I say he succeeded because, even though he was severely beaten he did what was necessary to try to stop his tormentors.  He lost the fight but he emerges as the one person who is not a coward in this affair.  He can hold his head up high all his life.  He can keep his self-esteem.  He can judge the adults as cowards and failures.  I hope he is resilient enough to bounce back  and continues to resist to bullies the rest of his life.  I hope that when he becomes an adult with more choices, he creates a personal life that is bully-free.  Sometimes, a tormented teen can fight back and win – as in the case of the “Teen acquitted in punch.”

Of course, bullies will always exist .  America is not unique, nor are we the worst people in the world.  We are outraged and we will try to make better systems.  And more important, we still must train , seek and hire people who can act effectively, no matter how poor the system is at any moment.  And we must educate and prepare individuals to be as courageous as that 14 year-old boy.

Among other places, this story was carried by the Denver Post (Bullies called teen “Nazi” and “gay”), 9news (Student says he was bullied, beaten because he’s German), the Denver Channel News (Boy: School Bullies Harassed Him Because Of German Ancestry) and the Denver Post Neighbors Forum (Article Discussion: Cherry Creek teen may face bully in court).

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