We are all bullies
Everyone is talking about bullies right now. I would like to put this conversation into a larger context. And then, I would like to talk about love.
Today is the day when, in the US, we ‘celebrate’ Christopher Columbus, one of the most renowned bullies in history, It is also the day after the birthday of John Lennon, one of the history’s most outspoken defenders of love.
Given this dynamic tension – this dance of opposites and illusions, I am just going to put it out there: You are a bully – so am I.
But don’t beat yourself up about it. This isn’t a post full of accusations or blame. This is an invitation to have a conversation with your soul.
Our collective culture
We are raising our children in a culture of bullying where celebrity gossip, nasty politics and heated, repeated arguments over invented ‘facts’ flood the commons.
Talk show hosts instigate and incite outrage over trivial, often falsified nonsense that leads our all-too-easily captivated attention away from the important and pressing issues of the day onto gossip, lies and innuendo about personal lives and faux-pas that make absolutely no difference but somehow, seem to occupy all of our conversation.
Paparazzi stalk celebrities hoping to catch a glimpse (and a photo) of an indiscretion; and then, once their prize has been snapped and splashed across the covers of the dozens of magazines that feed this monster, the same paparazzi hound their heels to capture exclusive footage of the head-shaving nervous breakdown their behavior helped cause.
And we call this entertainment.
American Idol’s four-against-one panel of ‘judges. Gordon Ramsey, red in the face, screaming at his chef-contestants in front of an audience. This is bullying. And do not tell me, “The contestants (and the politicians and the celebrities) know what they are getting into.”
It’s still bullying, it’s still mean-spirited and it’s modeling this behavior for our children.
And when we buy (or even read) the magazine, when we listen to the talk show, when we laugh as one person humiliates another in a public forum, we, too are contributing to bully culture.
We, too, are bullies. You and me.
There has always been social terrorism. But now, with the magnifying lens of the media and social media, the harm is also magnified. This is our dark side, the shadow side of the collective consciousness, and we are watching it play out in garish, clown-white neon light right before our eyes.
That’s why a couple of college kids can imagine that it would be funny – FUNNY – to videotape a roommate’s sexual encounter and post it on the Internet. As the mother of two recent teenagers, I gasped with horror when I heard this story.
At the same time, I could almost understand how it happened. In the blue glow of the computer screen, in the middle of the night, I imagine those two future tabloid reporters were thinking: Cool, maybe this will go viral. I wonder how many hits this will get!
It was a bar room snicker transmitted to a bar room that reaches a billion people.
This happened because we taught those kids it was okay.
Oh not the specific action they took. We all agree that was wrong. But in the hall of mirrors and light we are living in, our values are distorted. We are all confused – mistaking snark with humor, cruelty and social terrorism for entertainment.
Evidence of the unraveling
This week, we spectators are gathered around the stadium once more. Another terror has unfolded – this one in a New York City apartment, where a gang of nine hoodlums terrorized a 30-year-old gay man and two young boys for hours.
I read this story on Saturday night, in an early edition that was delivered to my mother’s apartment.
I have not been able to stop thinking about it.
For too long, claiming sensitivity to violence and frightening news stories, I’ve turned it off, turned away. I have buried it in the closet where I keep all things unpleasant, pretending that if I don’t think about it it isn’t there.
It’s there. It’s here. And I can no longer sit silently, doing nothing, adding my silence to the collective shadow. Today, awake, eyes open to the suffering, I say a firm and straightforward: No, thank you. I do not want to live in this kind of culture any more.
And I can no longer do nothing, effectively adding my silence to the collective shadow. Today, awake, eyes open to the suffering, I say a firm and straightforward: No, thank you. I do not want to live in this kind of culture anymore.
And then, I look in the mirror. And even though it breaks my heart, I keep looking.
In the mirror, I find my silent collusion, my own part in the collective epidemic of social terrorism. (Click here for a quick reminder of what bullying is.) I find my blindness, and how, sitting in the comfort of my living room, I somehow took in the stories of these real-life events, this suffering and sorrow, as if they were just another reality show.
I see how numbed and dumbed down I have become, and how, in that state, I am primed for any bully (aka radio talk show host, politician, social media leader) with a loud enough microphone to drown out my inner guidance; with flashing colored lights to distract me long enough that he can push my hot buttons and send me leaping into action spouting canned slogans that I don’t really understand.
In the mirror, I stand in the midst of my own suffering over all of this – I feel the loss of the little pieces of my soul I had to leave behind to live half asleep. I feel the relationships I have turned from, the experiences I have missed.
I see all of this and I firmly and lovingly refuse to bully myself.
And I realized: Every conversation about bullying is a conversation about love.
The love we did not get from our peers, from our parents, from our siblings, from our teachers, coaches, and community. The love we did not get from ourselves.
The love we did not get from ourselves.
I forgive myself for all the ways that I am still so far from perfect.
And that’s when I take a stand – right here, where i am already standing – at the center of my own life. Not in some abstract “over there” where I don’t really have to do anything about it .
I take a stand for love.
At the same time, I do not let this experience – this outrage – shift me away from my own nature, my own humanity. I do not attack the attackers. I do not call for the heads of those two college bullies, those nine wicked gang members.
I refuse to let my outrage make me into a terrorist. I do not use this horrific story as an excuse to channel my own shadow energies, my own frustrations about my life into violence, carrying on, misbehavior.
I choose love. But this is not a wimpy love, not a bleeding heart, Pollyanna love.
This is a fierce, determined, standing tall, will-of-iron love. Gandhi facing down the British government love. Martin Luther King facing down racism and pure hate kind of love. Princess Diana breaking ranks with the royals to embrace a child or an AIDS victim. Mother Teresa loving and loving and loving the most marginalized people in the world.
What choosing toward love means
It means saying, “I believe you,” when a child tells us, “Someone is being mean to me.” Calling a meeting with the parties in question. Asking, openly and directly, “What’s going on?”
It means meeting the other parties in a dispute with open hearts and minds – whether that dispute takes place in the board room, the bedroom or in the public arena of television, radio or social media.
It means not forwarding that hateful email, that salacious video, that off-color joke. It means reaching up and reaching out. It means changing our habits and our thinking.
And then, it means taking hold of the exact same forum – seizing the microphone, the platform, the pulpit – and shifting the conversation – and the energy – toward light.
Start conversations about love
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. What goes around comes around. Karma. These principles lay at the foundation of every faith tradition on the planet and a couple of scientific foundations as well.
Cause and effect And even, gravity. That force that holds our feet to the ground and keeps our planet spinning around its sun. The magnetic, attractive gravitational principle that is really, no different from the force that keeps us circling each other, circling the commons for a way in: Love.
Knowing this: We choose toward gravity – toward coming together, toward community, toward inclusion. We stand up for love.
Here is a practical, spiritual way to stand up for love:
1) Sit down.
2) Close your eyes and relax through deep breathing. Calm your body down.
3) Begin to visualize a particular victim of bullying. But instead of seeing him being beaten, taunted, teased, see him as healed, whole and glowing with life, love and light. See him sitting in a circle of acceptance, part of a community that cares about him, respected and held in high esteem because he has been able to shine his real gifts into the world.
4) Notice what some of those gifts are. Let him surprise you. Look at all he has to give, if only he could be left alone to develop, to shift, to grow. See him working, participating in the life of your community. Making friends and contributing the things he has to give.
5) Now, see him as healthy, whole and strong. Because he is – he can be – if you and I simply see him this way and do what we can to support it – and him.
6) Now see him as you. A loving being who only wants to live, to love, to experience the world his own way.
7) Now, open your eyes and stand up.
Knowing what you now know, seeing what you now see, go out and help shift the conversation – and the world – toward love.
For extra credit: Do the above exercise again, replacing the bullied child with the bully. Watch what happens. 🙂