With malice toward none–with charity for all.
Understanding a bully’s behavior and motives serves several purposes, all arriving at the same goal. When children learn to separate their personal worth from the behavior and definitions put on them by “bullies,” they will develop and maintain their self-esteem. A simple thing like teasing and name-calling can have a significant effect on a child’s self-esteem. When a child understands the why of a bully’s behavior, and realizes that a response is not always necessary, then a child gains a sense of freedom.
My ten-year-old son Paul thinks he’s short. Often he gets teased by children taller than he is. I tell him he can walk away, that he does not have to respond, he doesn’t have to do anything or say anything. ‘Walking away’ does not mean he is running away. When he walks away, he is taking the bully’s power away, by not letting the bully have the satisfaction of forcing someone to respond. The bully wants to make himself feel better, to feel powerful, by making others feel small. Paul said that walking away has helped, especially when we moved to a new neighborhood where he was unknown and open to teasing.
When working with a group of children with this program, I noticed that as the children learn the words to describe, understand, and discuss bullies, there are several things that happen:
- You will know if there are habitual bullies in the group because they will usually begin to slouch down in their chairs, and look a bit sheepish.
- You will see looks of “ah-ha!” on some of the children’s faces, along with looks of relief.
- You will see heads nodding “yes,” and some very thoughtful responses.
- Some of the children may quietly approach you later, or race after you, saying things like
…”I’ve been teased and pushed around all my life. Maybe I’m not such a loser.”
…”I thought it was because something was wrong with me. The bully has problems.”
…”Wow! It’s not my fault when my parents are fighting and in a bad mood.”
…”I never understood the bully thing before.”
…”I’m going to stop hitting my sister. She is little. She is afraid of me.”
…”I didn’t realize that sneaky, sarcastic, gossipy people are bullies.”
Have We Accepted Violence As Part Of Our National Heritage?
Our nation is struggling with an acceleration of violent crime, domestic violence, violence in the schools, and on the streets. The growing stress and anxiety of our society seems to be exploding in, on, and through individuals. It is obvious that what we have been doing to alleviate these problems is not working!!! We need to be open to new alternatives.
In the past decade there have been 1.3 million deaths from violence in the U.S. This exceeds all deaths in foreign wars in this century. Our children are fifteen times more likely to be killed by violence than a child in Ireland, Israel, and many of the countries who are obviously politically and actively engaged in hostilities.”
- Gun violence is the third leading cause of death of elementary and secondary school children in the United States.
- Gun violence claims the life of a child every two hours. This is the equivalent of an entire classroom full of children being killed every two days.
- Three million children witness parental violence each year.
- Thirteen million children are sexually and/or violently abused each year.
What Happens When Violence Begins at Home…Domestic Violence
Unfortunately for many children, violence begins at home. In a recent national study, it was found that 37% of the children interviewed have been sexually and or physically abused. 54% of these children had never reported the abuse to anyone. Jennifer Robe, a battered women’s advocate, reports that where there is child abuse there is a 70% chance of spousal abuse. Spousal abuse, the most common crime in America, is the most unreported crime in America. The majority of injuries requiring medical help are not reported to the police. Victims, afraid to report, pass it off as falls, etc. 95% of spousal abuse victims are women, resulting in 4,000 deaths each year. 86% of all murders in the U.S. are alcohol related. 65% of child abuse is alcohol related.
Women in the U.S. are NINE times more likely to require medical help having been physically damaged by their partner at home, than by auto accidents, muggings, assaults, and rapes combined. Our home should be a safe haven and support system for all that live there. Many women are in the most danger in their own homes. The majority of this danger is created by the drug and alcohol use of the partner, or by a “dry drunk.” “Dry drunks” don’t use alcohol or drugs, but they grew up with alcoholism, rage and abuse. They re-enact the behavior of their childhood environment.
50% of HOMELESS WOMEN AND CHILDREN are escaping and/or hiding from domestic violence. They prefer poverty, hunger, illness, and shame to the cruelty and fear in their home.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE DOUBLES THE COST OF HOMELESSNESS, WELFARE, AND PRISONS.
As the welfare system investigates why many of the women on welfare have a difficult time functioning with jobs, consistency, or pressure…a pattern emerges. Most of these women have been violently abused and/or sexually molested as children. Most of them grew up in an alcoholic and/or drug environment or with a “dry drunk” adult, habitually raging. These women were repeatedly physically and/or verbally abused.
Victims of domestic violence, both children and adults, suffer the same damage to their immune system, post-traumatic stress and panic attacks, as do soldiers living in, and returning from a battle zone. Their immune system is weakened by the constant surging of body chemicals caused by fear and the “fight or flight response.” They never feel safe, always watching, waiting…they don’t know when, or how or where they are going to get it, but they know it is coming. Perpetual health issues are a result.
More women are killed and injured each year by domestic violence, than the deaths and injuries caused yearly to our soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other recent wars.
95% of domestic violence victims are women. To complicate their fear based emotional foundation, most of these women choose or are chosen by alcoholics, drug users, or “dry drunk” raging abusive partners. This feels familiar to them, it is all they have known, or think they deserve. Most abuse is about control. Women with small children and/or health issues are more vulnerable, because they more easily become dependent.
These women have no idea how to function in a normal, loving, sane, consistent relationship or environment. Women with a history of abuse have low self-esteem, and lack the confidence to follow through or to finish anything. Their lifestyle passes this low self-esteem on to their children and this destructive cycle continues on to a new generation. (Project Charlie: A Program of Youth Action, Intimate Violence, Simon & Schuster 1998, Battering and Family Therapy, Sage Publication 1993, Women Battering: A Major Part of Homelessness, Joan Zorza).
On Valentine’s Day, 1991, in the county courthouse that services Knoxville, Tennessee and environs, there were, on that one day, 30 applications for marriage licenses, 60 applications for divorce, and 90 applications for orders of protection against violent spouses. (Revolution From Within, A Book of Self-Esteem by: Gloria Steinem)
A seven-year old in one of my classes tearfully told me she was very worried about her grandmother, because her grandmother was not well and was getting too old to crawl out the window. I asked why her grandmother was crawling out window. She responded with, “Grandpa has a bad temper. He gets in a bad mood about something and then beats up my grandmother. I’m too little to help her. Sometimes she runs to the bedroom and crawls out the window. She hides down the street in the bushes until Grandpa gets over it. Sometimes Grandma hides all night in the cold. She’s too ashamed to go to a friend’s house or to ask for help. I’m afraid he will kill her if she can’t get out the window.” This child is one of millions of our children who live in fear, in her own home. To look at her angel face, one would never know the nightmare she experiences.
Carol Potts reports that boys who see their fathers battering are 700 times more likely to batter and respond to their emotions violently. Children who are physically abused are 1000 times more likely to repeat violent behaviors. The children growing up in a loving, non-violent home, go out into the environment and are faced with the growing fear and violence in our schools. The bully situation, interferes with the learning abilities of a child, and the effectiveness of the educational system.
Goal setting skills are essential for all of us. Goals allow us to look beyond the moment, especially if the moment feels painful and looks hopeless. Goals are survival tools that encourage us to have hope, to dare to dream, and to plan…our lifeline. I have an extraordinary friend who emerged from long term domestic violence. She has severe panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress. With chronic pain health issues at least 50% of her life is homebound and disabled. She is cheerful, loving and positive. She has a goal that may be shelved for weeks or months at a time and then on a good day, she works on her goal, her plan. She participates in life when she can, and when she can’t, she knows that tomorrow might be a really good day, then she will work on her goal.
Dillon, a 15-year-old boy, wanted to talk about his heavy depression, his decision to drop out of school, his drinking and drug use. After a long silence, as tears rolled down his face, he said, “It hurts! I don’t know what to do! I’ll do anything to make the hurting go away!” He stood with his fists clinched, pounding on his chest as he spoke. He explained how horrible his childhood memories are and that he can’t make them stop. He had watched his father abuse his mother, screaming and threatening her, poking, pushing, hurting her, shaking her … calling her names. He had been too little to help her.
He loved his dad so much, but he couldn’t sort out the love, the anger, the fear and resentment. He felt so guilty for not being able to help and protect his mom. He felt guilty for loving his dad because his dad was harsh and mean sometimes. His dad was also loving, giving, safe, and fun sometimes. He knew his dad loved him. He remembered times when his dad was good and gentle. He felt raw pain, fear, and anger that he didn’t know what to do with. He said he didn’t want to be like his dad, yet Dillon was already acting out his dad’s drinking and abusive and controlling behavior.
I asked his dad to please get the boy some help. The dad said everything was fine and to mind my own business. Dillon was soon in hospital having overdosed with a suicide attempt. Dillon has now dropped out of school, and is living on the street.
Reference “Children and Teens Exposed To Domestic Violence, the Effects” — www.idvsa.org
The Johnson Institute has developed programs to support the educational needs of children living with violence. “Bullying is a significant and pervasive problem involving numerous school children. It involves action by someone that intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict injury or discomfort upon another. They are often characterized by impulsivity and strong needs to dominate others, and have little empathy with their victims. Approximately 60 percent of boys who were characterized as bullies in grades 6 to 9 had at least one conviction at the age of 24. These children are in our schools having problems focusing and learning. The pain of their home-life is affecting the entire classroom”.
One of the Gang
Alec Esparza, Gang Prevention Program Specialist, grew up in the city with gangs and drugs. When he works with children, his presentation is a powerful blend of love, English, Spanish, and a few street terms.
You have the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ You have that power! No one can make that decision for you! In the beginning, a gang feels like a family; then you are in. You are part of what they are doing. Then the hurt starts. It’s hard to get out. It’s hard to break away from them–it’s not impossible! They may not be bad people, but they may be doing bad things.
If you want to help people you love, then make sure you don’t get involved in drugs and gangs. The people you love will see you being cool, being strong, and it will help them to change, to break away.
Another dedicated man in the prevention of drug abuse and crime is Joseph S. Drew, Ph.D. Dr. Drew is a professor of Political Science at the University of the District of Columbia. For the past decade, he has been the Chairman for Evaluation of Washington D.C.’s Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Drug Abuse. Dr. Drew has been instrumental in the development of this program.
As is the situation with drug abuse… gang activity and gang awareness becomes part of our national vocabulary; then, it becomes routinized. It becomes absorbed into the array of events we accept as part of our culture and our life. The horror of it diminishes as it occurs more frequently.
There is a tendency in adolescence to group together, to create a group, especially among boys. These groups can be supportive and harmless.
However, we also see the violent, destructive gangs, usually in lower income circumstances and/or with adolescents who have violence or abuse or neglect in their homes. As for the violent behavior of lower income gangs, this is a reflection of the violence and insensitivity of our society.
Many of these youth feel they cannot compete. To survive gang availability and involvement, these children need support services, early childhood education, medical programs, and cultural enrichment programs.
Dr. Drew and I discussed the issue of extra curriculum cultural enrichment programs. Gang, drug, and crime involvement is dramatically less with children who have an activity or an interest that they enjoy and feel that they do well. It can be a basketball team, music group, church group, swim team, scout troop, cooking class, nature study group, etc.
These programs give youth a sense of purpose, direction, accomplishment, value, and belonging, in their own eyes and among their peers. Programs are not always available to:
- Lower income families, who cannot pay fees, the children are embarrassed to ask for help
- Children with a parent who has health issues and needs care
- Children whose parents do not value extra-curricular programs or interests
- Children whose parents work, are exhausted, commute and/or are too overwhelmed to include any extra activities into their schedule
Value, Attention, and Feedback
He talked about the humiliation of having his face slapped, dodging his mother’s blows, the criticism, and ridicule. His family told him he was worthless, no good, etc. One thing hurt him the most. He looked away with tears in his eyes each time we discussed it. None of his family, had ever attended his special events. He wanted their attention, their open verbal approval on something, anything. He thought if they showed up, they might see that he was “valuable and capable.” He hoped that if they saw him valued by others, they might love him.
For years, he watched the door, hoping to see them walk in. He watched the bleachers hoping to see their faces, to see their appreciation. He thought it was his fault because he was not “lovable.” He wanted them to come to his events, to say something positive about him. He wanted to feel loved. He was an award-winning wrestler in high school. His family did not value or acknowledged his accomplishments.
When our nation’s children do not lean in a specific positive direction or hold on to a dream, a goal, hope, or a positive role model, they are vulnerable to whatever influence comes their way. Unfortunately much of that influence is by way of movies, TV, and music lyrics.
Unfortunately, the messages our children are often getting from TV and movie violence are:
- Violence is no big deal, it happens. Tough is cool
- Human life has little value
- Death and bodily injury are casual events
At a time when TV and movies have become increasingly violent, the availability of handguns to children has also increased. Child and youth shootings are increasing, both accidental and deliberate.
A TV news story involved a twelve-year-old boy who quietly walked into a bicycle shop and shot the storekeeper point blank. When asked if the storekeeper had upset him, the boy said “No, we had never met. I just decided to do it.” The only reason the parents could imagine was that he was lonely and spent most of his time watching videos or movies. The parents also stated that immediately prior to the shooting, the boy had watched several very violent crime and horror films.
- Gun violence is the 3rd leading cause of death of elementary and secondary school children in the United States.
- 27,000 guns are taken to school each day in the U.S.
- In the U.S. 5,000 children are shot each year…one every two hours.
- 38 states have no laws limiting gun possession by age.
- Every six seconds, a violent crime occurs on or near a school campus.
I was driving a group of 11 and 12 year-old boys to a sports event. They started discussing movies. Ryan is a gentle boy, very well liked and a good student from a stable home. He said, “You know, when I watch movies about killing, shooting, and hurting people, for some reason I just really want to do that to somebody. That’s how I feel. I don’t know why. I just feel like hurting somebody.”
A generation of children are being taught, in mass, by “entertainment,” that force and violence are the way to solve problems and get one’s way. The American Academy for Pediatrics warns that repeated exposure to television violence promotes a proclivity to violence and a passive response to its practice. The average American child has seen 200,000 acts of violence, including 33,000 murders, by the age of 16. The Scott Newman Center reports that after the deregulation of the television industry, the average number of violent acts depicted on television increased from 18 acts to 26 violent acts per hour.
Note: For information on how to develop a local committee to influence the media, please refer to Betty Hatch, media program, page 195.
Senator Paul Simon, Illinois, is a leader against TV violence. He emphasizes that television feeds upon, exaggerates, and re-creates, the violence that spills into our schoolyards and into our streets.
Millions of children have been damaged by what is called “entertainment.” Negative TV shows, movies, and angry, destructive music lyrics are showing their obvious effects. Parents, dumb enough like I was, are being pressured into providing a movie they don’t know.
Violence, and gang activities are accelerated by violent films and music. Many responsible adults are creating positive role models and educational programs, yet the entertainment industry is a tool that has been used to create, expand, and glorify violence and negativity in our society. The people creating negativity are given fame, awards, wealth and power.
We can use this same tool of entertainment in a positive, uplifting, and nurturing way to teach, strengthen, and enhance creativity.
We can choose to stop rewarding negativity! Let’s offer our support to those who are creating positive films, music, and games.
The buck stops here.
Individuals in the entertainment industry who are creating a life-damaging influence, need to be accountable for the negative effect they are having on the structure of an entire society.
Dreams and Goals
The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
We were working with police officers and gang prevention personnel, teaching drug prevention workshops for inner-city elementary school children. We usually ask children about their dreams and short term and long term goals. With this group of children, their long term goals were similar to those we usually hear from suburban children: doctor, professional athlete, lawyer, mom, race car driver, a nice house, cool car etc.
These inner city children had a totally different response to short term goals, than the suburb children. Their response to the question, “What do you want now, was:
- “To not be shot”
- “No drive-by shootings”
- “To be safe to play outside”
- “To not wake up afraid”
- “Not to worry.”
A few of them said things like “toys,” but they mentioned these as an after-thought to safety and survival.
When asked, “What do you want to have or be now?” usually children in safe environments say things like:
- “a Nintendo“
- “a TV in my room“
- “to go to Disneyland“
- “to be real big“
- “as many toys as I want.”
About Abuse Recovery
An abusive person frequently says to the victim, things like:
- “You made me do it!” “It’s your fault!”
- “Don’t make me angry.” “Don’t make me hit you”
- “Don’t make me hurt you” ”I will give you something to cry about!”
- “Why do you make me act like this?” “Why do you make me scream and call you names?”
- “You will get my respect (or love) when you have earned it or deserve it.”
These statements put the responsibility for the abuse on the victim. It is a manipulative type of control. The abuser is not accountable and does not take responsibility for his actions or words.
The word ‘love’ is never spoken in our house. I have never heard the words ‘I love you.’ The only time my father touches me is when he hurts me. He never takes my hand or puts his arm around me. Sometimes my mother stands off to the side and asks him not to hurt us, then she leaves the room saying it upsets her to watch. She has never tried to stop him. I have asked other adults for help. No one believes me. No one wants to know or to get involved. My aunt told me that what happens in a family is that family’s secret, and she did not want to hear any more about it. I see other girls with their fathers. Their fathers tell them how pretty they are, and how smart they are. Their fathers hug them and say ‘I love you.’ I’ve always felt so ashamed. I feel so inferior to everyone because my father hurts me and doesn’t love me, and my mother does not protect me. I feel like a gross, dirty, ugly animal. I am not good enough to love. I am not good enough for gentleness or kindness.
Sometimes the abuser, the bully, creates and maintains a public and social image of being calm, quiet, likable, stable, even sometimes shy individual. It’s important to the violator to make the victim look unstable, weak or troubled to onlookers. This is an attempt to confuse and invalidate any complaints the victim may make. Fortunately, law enforcement and the courts are now alert to this pattern of behavior.
A cycle of co-dependency can begin to be broken with the understandings that:
- The behavior of the abuser, and the labels and definitions used by a bully, are separate from the value of the victim.
- Whether someone loves us or hates us, may have absolutely nothing to do with us.
Some people have warm, open, appreciative hearts. Because they can love themselves (have high self-esteem), they have the ability to love and appreciate others. They are like sunshine. Whoever crosses their path is seen with love, and is loved. On the other hand, some people have been emotionally damaged. Because of emotional scars and undeveloped habits of appreciation, they don’t like themselves. Due to high stress levels and low self-esteem, their positive feelings are blocked. They are not capable of loving. They cannot see the good. If they do see the good, they negate it, or destroy it. Their behavior has nothing to do with the victim or the victim’s lovability. The bullies have been hurt and they can be helped when they decide to stop pretending they do not need help.
Have you heard?
A bully’s behavior can be violence, threats, physical power, open criticism and put-downs. There is another aspect of a Bully’s behavior, which for some people is more painful and destructive to emotional wellbeing. It is the toxicity of gossip, used for attention, control or power.
We have all seen the effect that habitual gossip can have on an entire community, organization, a school, church, a playground, a business or a family. It is different than tattling. It is not the usual, “Johnny ate all the popsicles” or “She hit me back.” Gossip damages the victim’s self-confidence, self-reliance, emotional wellbeing, health, and the will to live…resulting in suicide.
The person gossiping creates an illusion of making himself big by making others small, and making others wrong so he can be right. Fortunately, what goes around comes around, and the “gossip bully” reaps the harvest of the seeds he planted. People begin to see through it, and it all tumbles down around him…
In a soccer practice, one of the players started going from boy to boy saying how Jesse couldn’t run fast and was ruining the team…Jesse had a fat stomach, couldn’t kick, etc. This quickly got back to Jesse. He started to cry, walked off the field, and went home. (Predictably, the boy doing the gossip had a bigger stomach than Jesse, and ran slower too.)
The Value of Role Models in Bully Prevention
Mike Burkett’s roles and titles are quite diverse. At the Idaho Legislature he is Senator Burkett. To his peers and clients at his law firm he is Mike or Mr. Burkett. To his wife, Sharon, he is “Honey,” and to his four children he is “Dad.” To some, he is “Coach.”
We met Mike when he was volunteering as coach for his son’s junior high basketball team at the YMCA. He has been an incredibly positive role model for the boys, specifically in one instance.
The team with Mike coaching was winning their game against a team that had not lost a game all season. The coach of the losing team became increasingly belligerent, offensive and disruptive. He kept stomping up and down the sideline to occasionally stand in front of Mike while complaining loudly and waving his arms in Mike’s face. Mike politely and calmly acknowledged him but chose not to argue with him or to return his anger. Mike focused on the boys and the game. The boys on both teams were looking distracted and worried by the other coaches’ loss of control.
When the buzzer sounded the end of the game, and Mike’s team had won, the other coach completely lost his temper. He followed people around angrily explaining why he was right and others were wrong. He even followed people to their cars in the parking lot loudly defending his point of view.
Mike chose not to be harassed into an argument. He thanked his boys, praised their hard work and good sportsmanship, and went home. The interesting outcome was the attitudes of the boys. They were dismayed and offended by the behavior of the other coach. The boys on Mike’s team turned to Mike’s son, Ike, and said, “Your dad is so cool!!” “Yeah, he’s just great!” The team was proud of their coach. They learned that it takes strength, integrity and dignity to choose not to respond to anger with anger.
Had Coach Mike joined in the shouting, blaming and shaming, he would have lost the respect of his team. He would have taught them a negative style of responding to life’s disappointments and problems.
The highest goal for a parent is to teach a child individual integrity and the personal skills required for them to be satisfied with themselves and to understand their purpose in life. More than anything, parents need to give children the example of responsibility and integrity. My wife and I recognize and acknowledge integrity and positive attributes when we see them in our children or someone else. We also say positive things about our kids that we know they overhear. For example, we get on the phone and brag about them. They listen when they know they are being discussed on the phone or elsewhere. We focus on something exceptional about who they are and/or what they have done. This technique is especially effective when they overhear us telling someone for whom they have respect.
For a child to have a sense of security and stability, the first thing needed is a good relationship with at least one responsible adult. Kids need to experience more good relationships with responsible adults in their families, their extended families and in the community. They must feel connected to someone significant in their lives. As a community we can facilitate activities and institutions that can allow this to develop. One point of view is that it’s important to keep kids busy. I believe it’s much more than that. The value of these programs is to create quality relationships between the kids, giving them a sense of belonging, and quality relationships with adults in the community.
Conquer: Does It Mean To Destroy?
“Conquer: to be in charge of, to control, and to win. Some of the greatest human beings throughout history used the tendency called aggression, this desire to conquer, in an intelligent, creative and humanitarian way. To conquer does not mean to destroy. A creative, intelligent mind will use this need to conquer, this tendency to be aggressive, in a positive way. Be aggressive against poverty, disease, famine, child abuse, anger and violence. Whenever a vision of possibilities is minimal or non-existent, when one does not believe in oneself, when creativity and intelligence are blocked with stress, the word “conquer” is distorted and becomes the attitude of “destroy.” Violent destructive behaviors control others with threats, pain, anger, deprivation and rejection. Behaviors that deny personal freedom, dignity, peace and choices are destructive.
- Mahatma Gandhi was aggressive against war in his own way. He conquered a form of violence that would have damaged the lives of millions and destroyed a nation.
- Mother Teresa was aggressive against disease, loneliness and the abandoned elderly dying in the streets. She is determined to conquer suffering and indifference with kindness and love.
- Martin Luther King Jr. was aggressive against the oppression of African Americans. He directed his energy to conquering discrimination and hatred.
- Jonas Salk was aggressive against the crippling disease polio; by perfecting the polio vaccine he conquered polio.
If we find ourselves accepting violence as “human nature,” if we find ourselves thinking that it is normal to destroy, to fight, to behave aggressively toward one another, then perhaps it is time to re-evaluate, check our stress level and look for stress management programs.
- Violent behavior, or the acceptance or indifference to it, appears to be directly correlated to stress levels, in the individual, in society, in a nation and in the world.
- It is stress that blocks creativity and intelligence, potential and taking the high road.
- Creativity, energy and intelligence activate the desire to achieve and accomplish.
- With high stress levels, this desire to “conquer” becomes distorted and translates into “destruction.” There are stress reduction programs that are medically and scientifically researched and proven and recommended by the A.M.A.
War begins in the minds of men.
The song “What Is a Bully?” (Song #6) begins and ends with the chorus, “What is a bully? Boo! Boo! Let’s decide not to be one, me and you.” This lesson and this song culminates with the concept of choice. It is standing in the rose garden choosing a bouquet… aware of the thorns, working your way around them, and choosing your beautiful roses.
“Sometimes life doesn’t seem fair,
But when I fall I’ve got the power to bounce.
The point is not what life gives to us;
It’s what we create from life that counts.”
When I think of conquering negativity I am reminded of my editor and friend, Ronda Gibbons. She and I met after we had each married, become mothers and returned back home to Idaho.
We were each in the midst of life-altering changes and choices when we met. We agreed to call our challenges “opportunities to learn.” Ronda says, “Boy have we learned a lot!” We ask each other when a challenge arises, “What am I supposed to be learning from this?” When Ronda was going through her chemotherapy and sick as a little pup, she’d laugh, give me a hug and say, “I had some opportunities for learning today, how about you?”
While she was editing this chapter on Bullies, we had some great discussions. We discovered our similar ranching, country-girl, cattle-drive, and sharecropping childhoods. As we discussed the issue of “control freaks” she told me the following story.
Ronda’s Control Freaks and Critters
When I was ten-years old, we lived on a very old ranch in Northern Nevada, called the “Bull Head Ranch.” My Father worked for a ranch-boss and his wife; I call her “Boss-Lady.” She had a habit of reminding others how much control she had and how vulnerable they were working for her husband. She wasn’t overt in her power; it was more of a subtle look, tone, or a word that would affix it in your mind.
During the summer of 1970, my father was fixing the water well casing so we could then have proper running water into our house. During this upgrade, the waterline below was exposed from above by two small openings near the ground surface. Make note that these two openings were large enough for small critters to fall into. The project took about a month, as my Dad was busy with other ranch work as well. Also, during this time frame our Siamese cat came up missing. We thought her demise was probably due to coyotes or the crazy, mean gray cat that lived under the ranch house. Even though we were experiencing some slight issues with our water quality we did not connect her disappearance to the phenomenon.
Several weeks went by and the smell of the water became offensive. We would take baths in the bathhouse and end up smelling worse than when we went in. My Mom began to insist that there was something in the well. Our facet traps were filling with a smelly, unappetizing substance, when my Mom insisted that Dad check it out. Before he made the time to investigate the water, we had the buckaroos pushing a large herd of cattle through the ranch with the Ranch-Boss and Boss-Lady. I remember my Mom always being a little nervous around the Boss-Lady. At ten-years old I could see that she bullied my parents.
After the cattle came through we had prepared several large pitchers of Kool-Aid ready for the cowhands. I remember watching the Boss-Lady take a long, cold drink of the Kool-Aid and then ask for a second glass. She told my mother, ‘This is the best Kool-Aid that I have ever tasted.’ I cringed. I thought of the water problem that we had been experiencing and felt a little devious in not telling her that it might be our Siamese cat that made it taste so good. However, my Mom and I looked at each other and never said a word. Then we said good-bye and wished her well on their long, slow push back to the Grayson Ranch.
The next day, my Dad rigged up a long, long pole, wired with a coffee can that he had poked holes into. We all stood in anticipation while he slid the pole down into the well. He said he did see something down in the water, as my Mom shined the flashlight for him. He fished and struggled with the pole and pulled it upward, hand-over-hand. He then prepared us; it was most likely our Siamese cat and that we shouldn’t watch if we didn’t want to see her in this state.
We didn’t have television, so this was the most excitement we had had in a while. We all waited for Dad to pull out the culprit of the stinky, funky, water experience. It was a very large pack rat, probably 5 pounds, or so, and at least twelve inches long. It was very ripe, to say the least, and ghastly looking. I remember his eyeballs were just hanging out of the sockets.
We were repulsed and shocked that we had been drinking and bathing with this for several weeks. Mom was immediately angry with Dad that he hadn’t responded to her pleas. We all felt a little ill.
During our moaning and cringing, all of a sudden, Mom brought up the Kool-Aid and the way that the Boss-Lady loved the flavor. Mom began to laugh. Then my Dad, my Brother, and I all joined in.
We all knew she would be horrified, more than us, with the idea that we had served her up some lovely, cold, pack-rat, grape flavored Kool-Aid for her hot summer cattle drive home.
I am certain my Mom felt a small degree of guilt, but also a sense that she had assumed some of her power back from this bully. I know that I did. Years later we still talk about it, now and then, and laugh at how gross it was, as well as the fact that we never did tell the Boss-Lady what had happened.
The bottom line with habitual “control freaks” is that many of them are bullies. They crush the very life, energy, creativity, and spirit out of those who live with them, or work for them. They may imagine that they are a team player or that they have a team. They do not have a team. They have tired, frightened, resentful, unmotivated, discouraged people… trying to survive. The imagined “team” knows that they will never be right, they will never be good enough, and they have no chance of winning. There will be consequences without compassion for anyone who disagrees, questions, or challenges. Criticizing and micro-managing others creates apathy, depression, illness, rebellion, and sometimes a desire to get even or to sabotage the bullying bosses’ efforts.
I invited a young friend to lunch for her birthday. She chose the restaurant. The waiters kept bringing extra food, elaborate appetizers, specialty items, and deserts, while saying “Trythis, it’s on the house.”
After we had left the restaurant, I asked her why most of this very expensive meal was on the house? She said, “Because the restaurant owner is a big jerk!” She went on to explain that he humiliated, abused, and bullied the staff in front of each other and the customers.
She said that his employees hated and resented him. On the days when he was especially mean, they gave the food away without charging, to hurt his profits. He lived the illusion that when those around him silently absorbed his moods and meanness, that he was right. And that he was winning. He mistook fear, silence, and resentment for respect.
A few months later, I drove by that restaurant. The large parking lot was full of weeds, and an “out of business” sign was across the door.
Julie Dietz and I met at the “Ada County Juvenile Detention Center,” Boise, Idaho, where she is a detention officer. She and I were working with young girls, teaching this program. I was impressed by the way she really listened to the girls as she examined with them, the concepts of choices, accountability, attitude and bullies.
They in turn listened to her with mutual respect. She cared about them and they knew it. Later I asked her, “How long have you been here?” She said “Since I was 15, off and on.” (I meant how long had she worked there.)
Julie then said, “I had a hard time as a teenager. My mom was a good mom in so many ways, but our life was difficult. She had to do it all alone. I was 15 when I was first locked up.
I turned my life around because I had a few people who cared about me. One was my coach. He was a father image. He made me show up for practice and play. He never gave up on me. In addition to him was a staff member, a teacher. They held me accountable when I messed up and they openly believed in my potential. They noticed, and they asked my opinion. They may not have agreed with my opinion, but what I felt and thought mattered to them. Because they listened to my opinion… I listened to theirs. My senior year at “Mountain Cove,” I received “The turnaround student of the year award.” At one point I was three years behind in credits and yet was able to graduate only one semester late.
I can relate to the kids in detention. I understand the challenges of being locked up and on probation. Some people don’t expect much from these kids, some did not expect much from me. It’s easy for me to see their potential. I try to get them to understand that their life is their choice and their responsibility. I try not to focus on the bad behavior, and to use positive reinforcement. I wanted to do something for these kids.
It took Julie, as a single mom, five years to work herself through school and graduate with a degree in “Criminal Justice.” She is continuing her education to complete her master’s degree in Social Work.
Excerpt from Bully Prevention Character Development Program © – Dianna L. Pappas-Marchese