Most of us have to deal with bullies at some points in our lives and careers. More often than not, the bullies we face tend to be male, but females can be bullies, too. Bullies range in age from toddlers to retirees, and every age in between.
Some of us try to give beastly people the benefit of the doubt, assuming they are just having a bad day or are in a uniquely bad situation. Then there are some people who simply seem to get their kicks from being a bully.
Even at my age, as practiced as I am and with all the insightful coaching I get from Dr. Mark on the subject, it can sometimes still be a challenge for me when I’m confronted by a bully. Yes, it still happens, but over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at dealing with most of them fairly effectively. Guess you could say “Practice Makes Perfect”, but I must admit, I’m far from perfect at dealing with some bullies. Sometimes I still get surprised. Maybe it’s because bullies don’t come in “One Size Fits All” packages and some tactics don’t work in every case.
What is a bully anyway? According to Webster’s Unabridged New International Dictionary, as a noun, a bully is:
“A blustering fellow, more insolent than courageous; one given to hectoring, browbeating and threatening; one habitually threatening, harsh or cruel to others weaker or smaller than himself”
As a verb, to bully is:
“to intimidate by an overbearing swaggering demeanor or by threats; to domineer”.
No doubt you can think of more than one person in your life or your career who fits these descriptions.
One of the first times in my life I remember being bullied was in the first grade. Being of Irish and Welsh descent, I come from a long line of small statured people (to this day, I tell my sons we were descended from leprechauns). With a birthday in late October, I was always one of the youngest kids in my class. That fact, confounded by my heritage, meant I was usually the smallest kid in my class. I was always the last one to get selected for any field sport team, and I was an easy mark for the bigger kids, especially boys, to tease or make fun of.
My first recollection of being bullied (by a boy) was on the elementary school play yard at recess. I can remember exactly what I was wearing because my attire had something to do with the incident. I was wearing my very favorite pink dress decorated with pretty red printed roses around the bottom of my poofy “Betsy McCall” skirt (those of you over 50 certainly remember the days when school dress codes required girls to wear skirts or dresses). My dress had a matching pink cardigan sweater with a red rose embroidered on the left front shoulder, to match those on the skirt. Even better, I also had a beautiful artificial red silk rose pinned on the other side of my sweater, of which I was so proud. I thought I looked great. Even way back then, dressing for success was important to me.
At recess this one morning, I remember two boys from another class, who I did not know, coming up and asking me to give them my beautiful red silk rose pin (who knows why). I refused. One boy got a bit huffy and threatened to take it from me. As he reached for my rose pin, I spun around and ran away as fast as I could.
Being a small, skinny girl, I was no match racing against two taller boys. They caught up with me in no time and I was scared to death about what might happen. Not having any better ideas, I quickly took off my sweater, but rather than handing it over, I held onto one of the sleeves and swung the sweater at them with all my might, like a baseball bat, hitting one grabby boy in the face with it, in attempts to defend myself. He immediately cried out at the top of his lungs.
With this, the teacher overseeing the school yard blew her whistle long and loud, like a policeman. All the kids on the playground froze in place, as we had all been taught to do. The teacher briskly marched straight over to us and grabbed me by the shoulders. Surprising, I was the identified criminal. The schoolyard “cop” gave me a stern lecture about the seriousness and inappropriateness of hitting other children. I was then made to stand against the schoolhouse wall, in solitary confinement for the rest of the recess period, on display for all the other kids to ridicule, for having been a “bad girl”. I was humiliated.
It sure didn’t seem fair to me to be the one who got in trouble. I didn’t start it, but looking back on it later, I realized I had reacted wrongly which escalated the situation. While I didn’t see it that way at the time, it was actually a good thing that the teacher intervened. Who knows, with our childish minds and behaviors, how the situation might have turned out otherwise. From where I stand today, I now know that escalation usually begets further escalation from the other side, and on it goes until someone (or both parties) ends up as the clear loser.
One thing I learned that day, at the tender age of six, was lashing out and fighting back with a bully didn’t pay. As I stood against the wall, waiting for recess to end, I figured out I would have to find another way to defend myself in the future. I’d have to find a way to use whatever other talents I possessed…it wasn’t going to be my size or my physical prowess that would get me out of a potentially explosive situation. I’d have to resort to something more cerebral.
Believe it or not, we all have the talent to effectively deal with bullies and the situations they throw at us. We simply need to understand the talents we possess and how to best leverage them. And just like CPR, to use these talents effectively in an emergency, when your adrenaline is running (and someone's life may even depend on you), it takes practice and routine refresher training.
I’ll talk more about this in Part II. Stay tuned.