We are all bullies

Columbus Day

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. 🙂

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Showing 26 comments
  • Patty Aalborg-Burcham

    Am a 60 year old teacher in India, and feel inspired to write a workshop on bullying. Have read so many, but when I typed in “I am a bully,” your site came up. Have so much to write, but suffice it to say that, unless we teach our children to see the potential “bully” in all of us, we are ill-prepared to go further with our character education program. Although I am a rather unconventional Christian, I don’t want my workshop to be about religion but about “The Golden Rule,” a precedent that has been held in high regard by most societal structures over the years.
    Thanks for setting me on the path.
    Patty Aalborg-Burcham

  • Sheila Armitage


    This is so on target. THANK YOU for speaking your truth. I, for one, have had enough of the hypocrisy. It starts with we everyday people saying, “no, enough, no more. I refuse to give up my power to you. I choose a new path.” It starts with changing the conversations we engage in, and not enabling dysfunctional corporations, The Media, or individuals with our energy, time or dollars.

    Denzel Washington recently donated a huge sum of money to a Texas military hospital. The Media did not cover this act of generosity, but instead covered other fear- and gossip-generating issues. With social media, bloggers, and the connectedness that technology can give us, we can choose the news we want to read, and do not have to be manipulated by poorly-covered topics that err on the side of money generation rather than illumination.

    Two of my favorite quotes that move me to action:
    “Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” Mother Teresa

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Meade

  • Brittany at Mommy Words

    Wow. I just posted on Love, Hate and Bullying today and how I am talking about it with my pre-schoolers and a reader directed me here. I am blown away by the truth in what you write. It starts so early and so small that it is so easy to ignore. So easy to say things like sticks and stones may break my bones…but words hurt. Bullies can hurt people. We all can be bullies. I love the sense of a powerful love. That is what I tell me kids,. Love is stronger than anything.

    Thank you for this.

  • Cherry Woodburn

    I agree…with everything you said so well. I will do the exercise/meditation at the end – both ways – because, as you pt. out both ways are needed. Especially if I don’t want to be a bully toward the bullier. Cherry

  • Reply

    Very well said Amy! I have never had an issue with bullies and actually never saw it at my school – I wonder sometimes if I was just oblivious or if that kind of stuff was not going on… I don’t know… But I do know that I have NO – ZERO- tolerance for bullies- and I would definitely be there and do all I could to help and person going through those feelings!

    • Amy

      That’s the way well change the world, isn’t it? One person reaching out to another, one day at a time.

  • Casey Friday

    Absolutely beautiful. I really appreciate your sharing.

    • Amy

      Thanks, Casey. I really (and I mean really) appreciate your reading my blog and commenting. 🙂

  • Lisa Merrai

    Amy, perfectly timed. I have noticed this issue bubbling up myself. In the press, of course, and as you point out always disturbing. But, what to do? And then, in my immediate world. New school. New kids. Some very badly behaved boys and girls. My kids (so far) do tell me quite a bit so I have been investigating options.

    I remembered a story about Rachel Jay Scott, tragically killed in the Columbine shootings, another incident triggered by incessant bullying. Rachel wrote an essay about her personal ethics and code of compassion which is the basis for school wide programs to empower students to create the kind of school environment where every kid is safe and free to be themselves. Her incredible family has brought her message of compassion to more than 5 million students and employees. My kids have already mentioned it to the teachers and administrators at their school, in hopes of shifting the wildly insensitive behaviors that they have witnessed in just the first month of school.


    Thank you for sharing this. I posted it on my Amplify page, too. http://vivalabonbon.amplify.com/2010/10/12/we-are-all-bullies/

    • Amy

      Thanks for telling us about the Rachel’s Challenge organization. Those are some courageous parents! Wow.

  • Tom Jones

    You are definitely on to something here. But, are you thinking of just the West, or the US?

    • Amy

      Tom – I’m talking about the US. But I think these issues are affecting most of the world now, the more the media brings Western values, through TV and internet to even the most remote locations.

  • Shareen

    Thank you so much for this post. The timing of it couldn’t have been anymore perfect. Coincidence? Not a chance. Earlier this morning, after I sent my kids off to school, I stood in my living room and asked out loud to be lifted up, to feel empowered. And I asked it for my oldest son, who has experienced his share of being bullied. I have been thinking recently that I needed a shift in my thoughts about his experiences, because I realize that the more I focus on them the more of them I see. Do I perpetuate these situations for my son because it is all I can see? Maybe. It certainly isn’t what I intend to do. So I decided I needed to be clear about what my intentions are. And feeling empowered is high on the list – for both of us. Feeling the victim, being the victim isn’t a very fun place to be. Plus, if I make us out to be the victims then that means I have made someone else our oppressor. That doesn’t feel very loving. To any of us.

    I need to stand back and look at my son for who HE is, not what I or anyone else says he is or isn’t. Then I need to do the same for myself. Only I get to say who I am. After that, I need to look at our “oppressors” and see them for their true beings – not what I or anyone else say they are. Feels much more loving. And a much better starting point.

    Wow! I suddenly feel lighter, yet empowered at the same time. Interesting.

    • Amy

      Oh, Shareen – I love this. It was just what I hoped would happen as I wrote this post. Thank you for telling me – and for your loving heart. What a lucky son (and a lucky community) you have.

  • Janet

    Great post! You hit the nail on the head!

  • kim

    this is beautiful. and very clearly written with love . . .

    • Amy

      Thanks, kim. 🙂 So glad you stopped by.

  • Dian Reid

    Amy, wow. Powerful. This made me think of growing up in my family. A bunch of bullies. Holy shit. And just as I unravel a bit of the truth, I come a little unraveled myself. I realize why I don’t like American Idol, especially in the first few weeks: all the bullying, the unnecessary and mean critiques of others in the name of doing the humane thing by telling these bad singers the “truth”. And it makes me sad that someone being civilized just isn’t good TV. And that’s just a show about some singers trying to catch their big break. And that’s just about others … the more important thing you get at here, is what about me?

    How have I contributed to this society of bullies, and what am I willing to do to stand up to it now? Truly, I don’t know what my contribution has been, but I’m on the lookout. Reading your post makes it crystal clear why I am fiercely opposed to making judgment, especially against oneself. And what am I willing to do to stand up and shift the conversation? It’s a little foggy right now, but creating awareness is the first step.

    This sheds such light on much of why I do the work I do. Thank you for so beautifully articulating what many of us have probably been trying to get a grasp on (possibly for many years). Love and light to you, my dear.

    • Amy

      I think that, “What is my part in this situation or circumstance?” is a question we could, and probably should, ask about anything that comes toward us. Bracing but rewarding work.

  • wholly jeanne

    you’re right, amy: we do have to take a stand. and it’s not enough to just talk about it amongst ourselves. i was bullied by this one girl throughout elementary school. i recently gave a speech to a group of women who knew this now-woman, women who taught both of us. when i got to the part that alluded to this bully, the women laughed and laughed and laughed. later, i asked them why they didn’t do anything, and they said they were scared of her mother. it’s not okay to make yourself feel more powerful or more important or more whatever-you-are-lacking by belittling and bullying (and more) others. it’s never been okay, and it’s never gonna’ be okay. enough.

    • Amy

      Nope. Never ever been okay. (May I make a suggestion? It may help to do the exercise at the end of this post on that bully. Imagine the bully, instead of the bullied child. See what happens.)

  • Stacey Curnow

    Amy this is such a gorgeous post – I particularly love the meditation at the end. The bullying stories in the news lately are obviously so heartbreaking, but it is so heart*lifting* to see so many people taking a stand and really thinking about the reasons behind our obsessions and bullying. Thanks for writing this. Much love – Stacey

    • Amy

      Thanks, Stacey – and thanks for visiting my blog. I, too, am deeply moved by all the action around this issue. To me, it’s the best way to honor the kids we’ve lost – using our outrage and sorrow to create the determination to make a more loving world. And understanding that that world begins right where we are standing.

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