Sue Shellenbarger’s article in the Wall Street Journal, “Are you a hero or a bystander?” will help you analyze your potential to be a hero. It’ll give you clues as to whether you’re likely to step up in a crisis.
The article is typical of a way of thinking that’s irrelevant, misleading and destructive.
Some of the hidden assumptions behind the article are:
You are who you are; which is a product of the way you’ve been raised.
If you have certain beliefs – the reasons people gave for why they stepped up in a crisis – then that will determine how you’ll act. If you don’t have those beliefs, you’re stuck as a bystander.
If we examine the factors that people give for why they act brave, then we understand heroism and we can replicate it.
That approach is a dead end and a waste of time; it’s all mental and irrelevant in human affairs.
Instead, try a much simpler approach:
Confront your fears.
Decide how you want to act in any 10 recent examples that have made the headlines – the shooting in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, witnessing a car crash, hearing someone scream for help, etc.
Train yourself to act the courageous way you want to without thinking in the moment.
I know that sounds too simple but give it a try.
Remember, that’s the way we train cops, firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, etc. That’s the way we train football, basketball and soccer players. They do the drills over and over and over until they react the way they want without thinking.
For example, only a small percent of us will go to war, but a large percent of us will witness harassment, bullying and abuse. How do you want to respond in the moment? Do you want to be a bystander or spectator? Do you want to be a witness or a defender?
Train yourself – discipline and preparation.
Remember Captain Chesley Sullenberger. He’s the pilot who put that commercial, jumbo jet full of passengers down in the Hudson River with no loss of life. He didn’t crash into Manhattan, which would probably have killed thousands. How did he know what to do? He’ll tell you that he heard of something horrific when he was about 11 years old, when people simply looked away instead of being courageous. He vowed he’d always act bravely and he trained himself to be prepared so he could act effectively. Discipline and practice.
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:
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.
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.
Jane was stuck in an internal war. Every time she made some progress toward goals she’d been pursuing for years – cleaned her house, did things on her to-do list, met people she’d wanted to, signed up for classes toward a better job, courageously risked being honest – she’d start beating herself up in ways she was familiar with since childhood.
A part of her would say, in an old, familiar voice, “Who do you think you are, you’ll never succeed, you’ll fall back into being a failure, you’re fat and ugly, you’re not good enough to stay on track, you’re weak at your core, you’ll never do the right thing, you’ll fail like you always do, no one likes you, no one will love you, you’ll be alone all your life.”
Then she’d isolate herself and start picking on herself physically. That’d only make things worse. She’d feel ashamed and guilty. “Maybe they’re right,” she’d think. “I’m not good enough. I’ll always be a mess. I’ll never change. I’ll never succeed.”
She’d become angry at her parents and all the people who’d taken advantage of her, at all the people who weren’t supportive now and finally at herself. And the cycle would continue; a little success leading to self-loathing and predictions of failure, followed by anger at everyone in her past and present, followed by more anger and self-loathing. After several wasted days, she’d get herself together to try once more, but the emotional and spiritual cost of each cycle was huge.
Self-bullying– negative self-talk, an internal war between the side of you that fights to do better and the side that seems to despise you, that’s full of self-loathing and self-abuse – can go on a whole lifetime. Of course, the effects can be devastating – anxiety and stress, discouragement and depression, loss of confidence and self-esteem, huge emotional swings that drive good people away and attract bullies and predators.
Perhaps the worst effect is a sense of desperation and panic, isolation and loneliness – it feels like this has been going on forever and doesn’t look like it will ever end; every failure feels like the end of the world; like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. You feel helpless and are sure that it’s hopeless.
This is not a war between the left and right sides of our brains. This is usually not our being taken over by an evil spirit that needs exorcised psychologically.
This is usually a battle between two sides of us that split apart because of terrible, overwhelming pressure when we were kids. Back then, we didn’t know how to cope with the horror so we split into two strategies that have been battling with childlike intensity and devotion ever since.
On the one hand, we fight to feel inspired and centered and to do our best; to be courageous and bold and fierce; to try hard, be joyous and hope for success. On the other hand, we fight to make us docile and not try to rise above our meager lot in life, to accept what they tell us and give up struggling against them so they’ll let us survive, to motivate ourselves by whipping ourselves so we’ll make enough effort and do the right things, and maybe then they’ll give us something in return and we’ll have those feelings of peace and joy.
Both voices want us to survive and to feel centered, peaceful and filled with joy. Each takes an opposite path to get there. Instead of a psychological exorcism, we need an internal reconciliation and a release from old battles with our external oppressors and between our internal, battling voices.
The inner goal is clear: We’ll be whole and unified, both sides will be working together toward the same end (http://www.bulliesbegoneblog.com/2008/04/25/getting-over-parents-who-wound-their-children-the-2nd-stage-of-growing-up-and-leaving-home/#more-35): the different possibilities for action will be presented to us in the encouraging voices of coaches; we’ll be inspired and motivated by encouragement, not whipping: we’ll have an adult sense of our strength and capability; we’ll feel like we can cope successfully without tight control over everything and we’ll act in a timely manner; situations won’t put us into a panic; mistakes won’t be a portent of doom.
For example, Jane finally made internal peace. Her warring sides accepted that they had the same outcome – making a good life for her, filling her with the joy she’d always wanted to feel. They realized that neither side could defeat the other; their only hope was to work together using adult strategies of motivating her to take actions that would help her succeed. They saw that her situation now, in middle age, was very different from when she was a helpless child and had to depend on parents who seemed to despise her character, personality and style.
Just as the predatory stepfather has become a cliché, the wicked, greedy stepmother and the colluding father have also become an archetype because so many times the characterization is accurate. So what can you do when your father marries a grasping, bullying, uncaring woman when you’re young? How can you stop such a bully when your father marries one late in life and she wants to get her hands on the family fortune and your most cherished sentimental items?
Of course there are many situations in which a stepmother has loved and enriched the life of her stepdaughter. See “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” by Georgina Howell for one famous example.
But when you’re young and an evil stepmom moves in, with our without her own children, and treats you like Cinderella, you have only one court of appeal, your father. If he won’t see the truth and rectify his mistake, you have only a few options:
Keep resisting, fighting and rebelling; keep trying to make him see the light.
Fly low; be devious, learn to dissemble, lie and hide in order to minimize the damage.
The first strategy usually has disastrous consequences for children. Typically, fathers never get it. Sometimes relatives might defend you, but they can rarely open your blinded father’s eyes. For many reasons, none important for your later life, your father typically won’t accept or value that you’re being mistreated and he won’t get rid of the witch.
Kids who use this strategy usually end up ruining their lives because they’ve only prepared themselves to resist, fight and rebel. All their energy goes into trying to get justice from a stone. They don’t prepare themselves to have wonderful careers and lives.
Kids who use the second strategy often succeed in later life. Don’t waste your youth fighting an unwinnable battle. Use your time and effort to develop skills that prepare you for a good career and a great life.
Of course, a bullying stepmom will harass and abuse you whenever she can. She’ll also try to align your father against you. And if she brings her own children into the marriage, she’ll try to shove you out so hers can inherit the love and money. So what? History is full of kids who succeeded despite the unfairness and injustice of such situations.
Since your father is besotted and blinded, there’s little you can do to obtain justice. When you’re young, you can’t understand how a person can do what he’s doing. When you become older and can see the reasons, there’s still little comfort in that understanding.
In this situation, the key to success is an inner one: keep your spirit alive and burning fiercely until you can get away and make your own life. Of course you won’t have the head start you would have if your father had done better for you. So what? That’s not the end of the world.
Of course you’ll get blamed for everything. Your wicked stepmom will heap shame and guilt on you. Don’t accept it. It’s not your fault. Of course, you did some things wrong, but even if you’d been perfect, it wouldn’t have been good enough for her. You were in her way or she needed a scapegoat or she simply liked to inflict pain. The way she treated you was her fault, not yours.
Stay invulnerable to outrageous fortune; verbal, emotional and physical. You aren’t at the mercy of events. Don’t let them crush your spirit. Your spirit can endure and soar. You can create a great life for yourself.
The other typical situation occurs when your father marries late in life and forces a selfish, greedy, narcissistic new wife into your family. Encourage your father to make a prenuptial agreement to protect the family fortune he had before he met her and specify in his will who gets each sentimental treasure from your childhood.
If there’s no written assignment, after your father dies she’ll keep your biological mother’s things and even your most cherished toys. She’ll make you grovel to get any of your father’s items.
Of course she’ll blame you for why she’s mean and keeps things from you. She’ll say that you didn’t communicate lovingly enough with her, you hurt her feelings or she needs and deserves what ever she wants. And she’ll say that she has a right to it all. She needs it to comfort her for her great loss.
She’ll try to divide your siblings into warring camps; if you’re not on her side you’re her enemy for life. She’ll make you crawl in order to get anything, and then she’ll jerk it away just as you think you’re about to get it. It’s as if she enjoys raising your hopes and causing you pain.
Recognize as bullies these manipulative, hypercritical, distorting, demanding, lying toxic people who use their hurt feelings and anger to control everyone else. Notice who has all the responsibility for making her be just or generous; she never accepts any blame, never has to please you, never has to apologize. You always have to please her, accept all the blame for any problem and do all the apologizing.
If you try to negotiate with these bullies, you’ll always give up something in hopes that she’ll reciprocate. But you’ll be disappointed. After you give something up, the negotiations will immediately become about what you must give up next.
Accept that you’re in a war with a bitter, relentless and ruthless enemy who won’t compromise or negotiate in good faith. Fight to get what’s yours. Then turn your back and walk away. She wants to trap your energy for the rest of your life; either pleasing her or fighting her; it doesn’t matter which.
Mostpeople are afraid of the economic forecast. Some have lost jobs; more will. Some have lost retirement funds; more will. Some have lost hope; more will. Fear and stress stimulate mostpeople to huddle around the campfire, worrying, whining and complaining about their uncertain future. They convince themselves that they’re too weak and helpless to succeed. They’re victims together.
A long, cold recession or depression is the consensus prediction. But that’s not the prediction for my life and it doesn’t have to be for yours either. And that’s not because I have guaranteed money flowing in or I’m sure my business will be immune to the next little ice age. There’s a different reason.
We each have self bullies.
The little, self-bullying voices:
Know our every fear and weakness, our every mistake and sin.
Demean and ridicule us, discourage and depress us.
Predict failure, as if they want to make us lose hope and give up.
Don’t like us even though they pretend to be trying to help us.
That are so persuasive.
We know where we heard those voices that told us they knew better – our parents, relatives, siblings, teachers, ministers, schoolmates, peers. We know how we made their voices into our self-bullying voices.
I refuse to listen to self bullying. I refuse to be a victim of my times and circumstances. You also can rise above mostpeople.
Don’t be a victim of your past. History is not destiny. Command yourself. Ignore self-bullies. Our self-bullying voices do not know what’s best for us, do not know the future and can’t accurately predict that we’ll fail.
Of course, the economy is lousy and times will be hard. Most of us won’t be able to maintain our previous standard of living. Mostpeople are angry because they thought they were guaranteed increasing wealth and security if they did things right.
We haven’t been trained to survive a depression. So what? We can survive and even thrive.
Think about what our ancestors survived. There has always been rotten weather like recessions and depressions, poverty and war. They’re part of the natural weather cycles – hurricanes, tornadoes, snow and ice storms, avalanches, droughts or floods, earthquakes and tsunamis. There have also been plagues, famine, pestilence and war.
If we let recession-induced fear and self bullying sap our strength and will, we won’t have the right stuff, we won’t act skillfully and the economic tide will pull us under. We have within us the inheritance of an unbroken line of people who thrived. We have within us the seeds of strength, courage and joy.
These economic ice ages have happened in America before. For example, economic crashes occurred in about 1787, 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1897, 1907 and the great depression from 1929-1941. The rest of the world had similar experiences.
What can we do when we get down on ourselves? We need WILL and SKILL.
In order to succeed, we must choose to ignore self bullying, choose to command ourselves, choose to create the futures we want, no matter what the circumstances. As individuals, we must have the WILL to persevere, with grit, determination and resilience.
Call that hyper-critical, fear-mongering side of us a “self-bully” so we’ll react with passion and power against it. So we’ll rally ourselves against its words. We wouldn’t lie down in front of those old bullies and we wouldn’t let ourselves be abused by bullies now.
We need SKILL to ignore our self-bullying voices – turn off the discouraging TV; stop listening to people moaning, whining and complaining; stop listening to victim stories. Walk away politely from mostpeople who wallow in the dumps of fear and panic. If you’ve kept your job, don’t wallow in survivor’s guilt. Get off the emotional roller coaster.
Find friends who don’t waste their time worrying about the economy, but instead handle things in as little time and with as little wasted energy as possible. Find friends with inner lights that give them joy even when they don’t have all the comforts and toys they once did. Become such a friend.
When the self bullying voices start again, tell them we’ve heard all that before and if they want to help us, they can use a different voice and become encouraging coaches that strengthen our spirits. Fill the IMAX screen of our minds with the future we hope we’ll have and the friends we want in our lives. Throw ourselves into activities like physical exercise. Don’t feed our addictions; eat well. Feed our spirits with movies, music and books that lift up our spirits and renew our energy.
We need SKILL to make plans to keep our jobs or find others, to spend less while still treating our spirits better. We need skill to get over our feelings, plans and expectations. Loss of riches, comforts and dreams is not really the end of the world. Get going again.
While the growing recession is the world in which I function, it’s not the world in which I live. I invite you wonderful people to enter the world that is waiting for you, if you but have the courage to take the first steps.
"What lies behind us and lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us." Ralph Waldo Emerson
The success of Mahatma Gandhi and non-violent protest or non-violent resistance is often cited as absolute proof that such non-violent methods can defeat oppression and stop bullies. That idea is often linked to the assertions that the world was a simpler place back when people came together face to face, a small group of committed people can change the world and there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.
As much as I almost always try non-violent techniques first, I disagree strongly. You’re better off thinking of non-violent protest as a method, a strategy or a tactic; not as a philosophy.
Let’s examine non-violent protest as if its truth as a philosophy can be tested against history.
Gandhi-ji was successful against the British and I wouldn’t argue that any other tactic he could have employed would have succeeded. But his success only proves that in that particular circumstance, lead by that unique individual spirit, the tactic of non-violent protest was successful in getting the British to leave India. Do you think that non-violent resistance would have been effective in India in 1857? Or that it would help the Indian people now against Pakistan (or vice versa) or against the Muslim terrorists who recent launched their attacks in Mumbai?
I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. I was actually in Chicago when he led the march and rally. Do you think he would have succeeded in leading a march in Chicago in 1920 or New York in the 1830’s (read about the mass atrocities and killings during the riots there)? Do you think the movement would have succeeded integrating schools in the South without the Federal troops willing to shoot?
Gandhi and Dr. King were in the right places at the right times for the methods they chose. Would either have even gotten obituaries in the newspapers if they tried non-violent protest in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur, or against the Ayatollah or Sadam Hussein, just to name a few?
The wisdom and lessons of history are clear, whether we like them or not. They’re found in the great literature of the world, as well as in the facts we know:
The world was never a simpler place. Try living your life on a self-sufficient farm, especially when the locusts or drought or flood or fire comes. Or when a conquering horde comes over the hill to kill all the men and take the women and children into slavery. That was dealing with problems face to face. Remember in the Iliad what happened to mighty Hector’s wife and son. No unemployment insurance, retirement funds or welfare.
A small group of people can change the world. Usually that’s what has happened, whether they start a Renaissance or a dictatorship or they’re called the Founding Fathers or Mothers.
Although there are many things we’ve accomplished through science and technology in the physical, material world, there are many things we can’t accomplish in the organic, living world. We will never have world peace. We will never have a global society that encourages and makes possible everyone’s individual freedom. Power is a reality of human nature, not freedom (as much as we Americans value it). Protecting me and mine against you and yours, or people grabbing what they want is a reality of human nature.
In response to a question about peaceful, non-violent protest being effective when facing Chinese soldiers with machine guns, the Dali Lama said, about two years ago, that had we stood there and prayed and chanted and reasoned, they simply would have shot us all. Similarly, the Quakers in Pennsylvania were barred from holding office because their peaceful methods did not protect the colonists they served from Indian attacks.
History shows that, for the most part, those who succeed practicing non-violence live in caves, deserts, misty mountains or monasteries. Usually, they live on practically nothing or are supported and taken care of by people who brave the world in which violence is a probability. For example, Gandhi could live poor and politically active because, in part, he was supported by the efforts and money of one of the richest women in India.
To think that we can have sustainable world peace is to indulge in childhood, magical thinking – very 60’s and 70’s.
Start with your personal world. Deal effectively and individually with the bullies you find, whether they be face to face or cyberbullies, bullies at work, home or school. Help make laws against those behaviors, but if you want society or the government to actively guarantee security, you will create Big Brother and you won’t like the consequences.
Think of non-violent protest and reasoning as initial tactics to employ. Sometimes they’ll be effective. Bullies will show you if non-violent protest enough to stop them. But if non-violent resistance doesn’t stop a bully, you have to be more clever and firm. History actually shows that usually the best way to prepare for peace is to be strong enough to wage war successfully, despite the seductively catchy bumper sticker to the contrary. Remember, no method succeeds everywhere and every when.
If you can’t be happy until the world is totally peaceful and all the problems are solved, you’ll have a lousy life. That would be a waste of your potential for wonder, awe and joy, as well as for effecting change … even knowing that change won’t last beyond your life span.
My advice was asked on this situation on condition that the author remains anonymous. What would you do if you faced a two-faced coworker or teammate who treated you civilly in public but attacked you when you were alone? And no one else in the office knew or would believe you.
In public, Bart (fictitious name) smiled and seemed helpful to Fran (fictitious name). Even though he didn’t know her specialty, he started offering polite, detailed suggestions in an authoritative and convincing way about how she could improve her performance. Fran felt like she was being micro-managed in a way she couldn’t resist or argue back. It would take too long to show why his suggestions wouldn’t work and she didn’t think everyone else was really interested. Other members of the team started to think she was pretty incompetent since Bart knew so much more.
In private, Fran asked Bart to stop being so controlling and making her look bad. He agreed to, but then he continued to subtly demean her in public. In addition, he started ignoring her, leaving her out of the information loop, and putting her down subtly in front of others. Fran again asked him to stop. Bart said he wanted them to have a good working relationship and suggested a meeting to clear the air. Fran was initially wary, but he persisted and she agreed.
At the private meeting, Bart told Fran she was the worst person he'd ever worked with. She wasn’t completely bad professionally, but she had the worst personality he’d ever seen. He wanted her to treat him with as much friendliness as she treated other people in public. Fran was mystified because he didn't say who these other people were and she thought she already treated everyone politely and professionally.
He said Fran was bullying him, he couldn't sleep at night because of her, she was just as hostile and nasty as another girl he used to work with and his girlfriend agreed that Fran was bullying him, even though Fran had never met her. He said he’d been verbally cruel to people in the past, but he didn't want to be with her. He said Fran was the worst person he'd ever worked with and the worst thing about his otherwise perfect job.
Fran felt scared because nothing like this had ever happened to her before and because Bart said everything very quietly and calmly with a twisted look of pure hate on his face. He seemed to be enjoying it. Fran had never seen him look or act this particular way before, so she thought others wouldn't believe her.
He carried on this way for an hour and Fran felt like she was in the presence of a psycho. She apologized profusely. He kept twisting the knife. She said she was sorry for “bullying” him. He kept twisting the knife. She asked how she could make things better between them. He kept twisting the knife.
Since she had to work with him closely, Fran pretended to be his friend from that day on. She followed up two weeks later to see if he was happier. He said he no longer thought of her at night, but added that he hated her because of the way she treated him. He didn’t stop correcting her in public and he continued to sabotage her work.
Don’t waste time psychoanalyzing Bart and Fran or thinking that some trust building exercises, communication techniques or skillful conflict resolution will bring them together. Fran should realize that she and Bart live on different planets. She thinks she’s okay and he’s a scary psycho. He hates her guts, thinks she bullies him and that professional behavior allows him to vent his feelings and hatred.
In her world, she’s faced with a relentless, crazy person who blames everything on her and is out to get her. In that office, she’ll always feel his hatred shooting into her back. She’s also afraid he might blow and physically harm her. She must be willing to skillfully fight a work war against a fanatic or have her credibility and reputation destroyed. Or leave. For example; see my article in the Denver Business Journal on winning a work-war.
Notice that every time she tried to please him by taking the blame or being nice, he only twisted the knife more. Fran’s comment that she never met his girlfriend probably shows that she thinks she can prove her case with reasoning, logic and good will because everyone will listen and be objective.
There are many other variants of the two-faced, bullying colleague. Some stealth bullies spread rumors and lies behind your back. Some cut you down behind your back. Some drive a wedge between you and other people by telling them that you said bad things about them. These back-stabbers always work in the dark and can’t be pinned down
What did Fran do? Fran secretly hated Bart for what he had put her through. She didn’t want to become buddies with him. Also, she didn’t want to waste her time proving to everyone how mean and crazy he was. Three month's later, she secured another job and left. Since then, she’s been happy at the new job.
That’s one effective solution to deal with people like Bart, but what will Fran do if she encounters another one. For example, if she’s highly skilled and competent, she’ll make someone else jealous, scared and angry. If she’s beautiful, she’ll arouse these same feelings in some other women.
Are your children and teens resilient? Do they bounce back after they’ve been disappointed or faced hostility, bullies, abuse or trauma? Are you resilient? Do you know how to resist a hostile, abusive, controlling or bullying husband or wife? Can you resist your self-bullying tendencies? How about abusive, controlling or bullying friends, relatives or neighbors? How about at work; hostile, abusive, bullying bosses, managers or co-workers? Do you bounce back from getting passed over, terminated or fired from a hostile workplace? You know – lies, yelling, cursing, back-stabbing, verbal abuse, demeaning insults, harassment, false complaints or accusations.
According to a Newsweek article written by Mary Carmichael (The Resiliency Gene: A genetic variant may protect some abused kids from depression and other long-term effects) the National Institute of Mental Health is funding studies to find the genes associated with resiliency to hostility, abuse and trauma. As a former practicing biochemist, I can say that, of course, we’ll find genes associated with almost every pattern of behavior.
But, I think it’s a dead end if we focus merely on the genetic expressions of what’s going on.
Why do I think it’s a dead end? Because you end up thinking that either you have the right stuff or you don’t. That belief won’t help your children develop strength of character or as much resilience as they can. For example, contrast the behavior of the teen in cyber-bullying suicide case with the teen who was acquitted of punching a racist tormentor .
Worrying about the resiliency gene won’t help you be courageous either. You’ll remain a victim; hoping the system can be made 100 percent safe and fair. You’re better off thinking that you can develop the right stuff to protect yourself, to create a bully-free environment. That approach to make the world totally and completely safe is being tried right now in our schools .
Resiliency is something that we’ve seen and studied throughout history. For example, in their elegant studies of about 700 famous men and women (“Cradles of Eminence,” 1962), Victor and Mildred Goertzel, called the eminent survivors of childhood abuse and trauma, “The Invulnerables.” Our history is full of men and women who failed and then bounced back, struggled and succeeded.
In my coaching of adults (including parents wanting to know how to help their children), I encourage them to focus on the “free will” aspects of their lives. You have much more control over what you create in life right now, than you do over your genetics. No matter what life throws at us, whether we’re subjected to natural disasters, large scale human destruction or individual family brutality and trauma, we all must struggle to rise above those events in order to create as great a life as we can. We can take charge of our efforts even though we can’t control the results.
Inspire your children by them to look back at their inheritance. Think of what their ancestors must have lived through. No matter what their ancestry, they come from an unbroken line of men and women who survived drought, flood, plague, famine, disease, war, uprooting, slavery, rape and every other form of disappointment, hostility, control, abuse, brutality and trauma known. Everyone one of their ancestors survived long enough to make a baby who grew up to make a baby who grew up to make a baby … until they were born. If one of their ancestors hadn’t grown up to do his or her part, they wouldn’t be here. They have a legacy of survivors.
Also think of their mental and spiritual inheritance. There must have been people who took in some of their ancestors and nurtured, encouraged and stimulated them; even though they weren’t blood relatives. Despite all the abuse and trauma, here they are. They have the legacy of survivors. Stop worrying about their genes and start training them to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong. Start helping them develop the discipline that’s worthy of all the struggle and effort that went into getting them here.
I remember the stories of what my grandparents went through in order to get here. They didn’t have credit cards, cell phones, health insurance or own their homes. How can I let them down by not living as gloriously as I can? How can I let them down by not encouraging my children to do the same – no matter what their genetics has given them?
Here in Colorado, the big news today is about a black teen acquitted for punching one of two teens who were taunting, harassing and threatening him. See below for details from some of the news stories.
Good for you Randall Nelson.
For parents of young children and teens, I'm commenting on one aspect that I often hear from well-meaning parents. They tell their children not to fight; fighting is wrong, it only leads to more fighting. They tell their children to understand that bullies have suffered and to forgive bullies. They tell their children that forgiveness, kindness and negotiation will solve every situation peacefully. As Randall Nelson's case illustrates for every teen, of any color, race, religion, sex, that's nonsense. So, what do I think Randall should have done?
I think Randall did great; just what he should have done. Randall Nelson tried not fighting back. That's a good first approach. He got the authorities involved. That's a good second step, but they didn't stop it. If those two steps don't work, you'd better have an effective back up plan. Randall had the right back up plan.
Parents, if you coerce your children and prevent them from fighting even as a last resort, you leave them like defenseless sheep in a world that has wolves. As I said about work bullies in a recent article in the Denver Business Journal (January 11, 2008, page A28),
"Bullies will interpret [your] reasonableness as weakness … They will remain hostile and righteous. They will escalate their emotional abuse into a feeding frenzy."
Teach your children and teens to protect themselves. Don't encourage them to endure verbal abuse or emotional intimidation. You'd be encouraging them to become insecure victims of bullies and predators. Instead, help increase their self-reliance, confidence and self-esteem. This theme of teaching children and teens to face the real work also mentioned in the blog entry, "Cyberbullying suicide case."