How to deal with bullies

I am dealing with my 12 year old son’s bullies right now.  For many weeks, I have not seen him smile and he looked tired all the time.  He was being bullied with physical, racist and homophobic (yes, even that age, bullies use all sorts of excuses) abuse in school.  Initially I told him to ignore it and deal with it with humour.  After he was set upon by the gang of boys last week, I was livid and complained to the school.  I also found out that my son hadn’t told me about the attack because he was ashamed.  Here is what I have learnt in the last ten days-

  1. Bullies, like other people, change when they want to.  They won’t change because you want them to.  Don’t stay with a bully thinking that they will change.
  2. Bullies cannot be appeased by good humour and manners.  This brings out more of their ugliness. Do not associate with bullies- get away from them and leave them to deal with the emptiness of their lives.
  3. Bullies only listen to fear, so put fear into them by reporting it.  Transmit it widely because the only thing the bullies care about is their image and their power.  Bullies do not like reciprocal or equal relationships.
  4. Let children and all vulnerable people know that bullying is never okay and never to sit in silence.  Bullies love it when people take it without complaining. Never be ashamed of reporting bullying.
  5. Build up the broken self esteem of the bullied person with love and support.  Find other people who can support the bullied person. Build a fortress of love and teach that person to always respect themselves.

Small wins

I did couple of things last and this month that I would have never considered doing before.  These are small things and perhaps not very significant to anyone else.  But for me doing these opened my eyes to the possibility of change in my physical and emotional life.

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The first was climbing this hill in Edinburgh.  The guidebook said that it would take 20 minutes but it took me over one hour, that too after resting many times.  There were people climbing- some women even wore heels!  For me, getting up Arthur’s seat (250 metres high) was a major challenge.  I was so tired after that that I have taken three weeks to recover. Probably I won’t ever do something like that again but I have done it once. That was so empowering!

The second thing was I cut my own hair. I watched endless videos of hair cutting and steeled myself for how I could end up looking as the result was right there for everyone to see!  I realised I had to have this courage and belief in myself- the same as climbing that hill in Edinburgh.  Both are different things and yet are very similar in their emotion.  Both felt very empowering.  Everyone is different- and for everyone, there are new things to try out.  Now every month, I have decided to do one new thing.

Moving away

Our early and later relationships in life can be shaped by our childhood.  People we are attracted to could be either opposite or similar to our parents or any significant person in our early lives.  It is only when we begin to move away from these ‘types’ and start to look for what makes us happy, then only we find people and things that do.  Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising expert, has started a trend to keep things that only ‘spark joy’ rather than concentrate on throwing things that we don’t like.  It is always better to go to things we love rather than run away from what we don’t like.  When we run away due to fear, we do not notice anything else- even things that might be good for us.  Its like we are running in a dark forest without the ability to pick or choose our paths.  This is a fight or flight reaction. Note that it is a reaction rather than a pro-action.  It is a situation where we are not in control.

But finding that calmness where we can decipher what is good for us or not, can take many years and decades to find.  It is only now, I find that I am much happier and able to find things and people who ‘spark joy’ in me.  It is not that I am not my parent’s child any more but it is more that I refuse to live by the past.  Of course, I wish that this had happened much earlier but then that is life. This is when it was meant to have happened and I am grateful that at least it has happened.  Now days, I am quicker to find joy and move on quickly from people that don’t bring me joy.  And strangely enough, I find that even people who I did not get along with in the past, are people I can now tolerate or even like.  By finding joy within, I am finding joy outside.

A hero

I have not been to any David Bowie concert but his music has existed alongside my growth as a person. His talents, not just as a ground breaking musician but as someone who is as a holistic as an artist can be (poet, actor, director, producer, writer, dancer, etc), has been so inspiring. Bowie was a well-read and informed artist who drew upon a wealth of influences such as Tibetan Buddhism, German Expressionism, Mime, Japanese culture, history and Jungian psychology. He has often described himself as a ‘magpie’ and he was able to synthesise diverse ideas and use them in his art. Coming from a poor working class family, it must have taken immense courage to proclaim his ideas and intent. As the philosopher Michael Foley says, ‘Appreciating art is not passive but active, not reverential but familiar, not a worthy act of self improvement but an audacious and cunning ruse. To seek out what stimulates and makes use of it- this is the work of art.’ And Bowie was a master at this and so his entire life became a work of art.

From becoming totally immersed in his various personas- Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke, etc- to his campaigning for others- from Tibet to physically disabled children and to his perceptive thoughts on the internet, death, illness, etc. he comes across as a total person. He acknowledged his mistakes without arrogance or defensiveness (watch his interviews on Youtube) and his fears and died a hero. There was no drama about his death unlike his pop personality life. He even made his death into a work of art and then took his bow, humbly and quietly. I never realised how much influence he had on me until last Sunday when it was announced that he had gone. He wasn’t perfect but he was a hero. And most importantly, his life has taught us that we can be heroes too.  Here is a video of him tapping out his song ‘Heroes’ using a bottle cap on his shoe, raising money for physically challenged children at the Bridge School concert, 1996.

Cut yourself loose

Recently I was involved in an argument with a person who had been bad mouthing me and was saying even worse things to me on my face.  I knew I wasn’t going to win this- the person was adamant that I had been disrespectful to them.  I did not say what I knew, just shrugged my shoulders and walked away.  This person followed me, astounded that I did not want to argue my case or even protest. I just said, ‘If that is what you want to believe about me, that is fine.  I will simply walk out of the door into the sunshine and forget this conversation happened.’  So I did. I had a lovely walk in a park and reflected on my situation.  And I realised that by coming out of this argument, I had actually been respectful to myself and even better, had now time to pursue more constructive and creative relationships.  It was as if a balloon had been cut loose and was now drifting in the blue sky- I felt so happy and light.  Sometimes we do not realise what life gives, what gifts we receive.  Instead we hanker after what was and try to keep in relationships that have no meaning, friendships that are toxic and harmful.  Cut yourself loose and find that creativity, joy and connectivity- there will be other balloons loose too that you will see when you find yourself in that blue sky!  There is nothing good or bad, only the value you make out of the situation.  It reminded me of this Chinese story that I had heard Mark Tully, former BBC correspondent use in his book, although it is attributed to Anthony de Mello here.

There once was a simple farmer who lived and struggled alongside his neighbours and friends, trying to exist and fulfil a peaceful life. One day news arrived from far away, that his old loving father had died. His neighbours gathered to grieve, but the farmer simply said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

In time relatives brought a very fine horse of great cost and fine breeding, left to the farmer by his father. All the villagers and neighbours gathered in delight with him to celebrate his good fortune, but he just said, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

One day the horse escaped into the hills and when all the farmer’s neighbours sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

A week later the horse returned with a herd of wild horses from the hills and this time the neighbours congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg they let him off. Now was that good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

An ancient Chinese story as told by Anthony de Mello in The Song of the Bird

The mirror

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How we see ourselves is very different from how others see us- this continually surprises me.  Do we really see ourselves as we are or see ourselves as powerless, ugly or even useless?  Or, do we see ourselves as powerful, beautiful and creative?

This week I have been down with several health problems to add to my chronic illness.  I have felt let down by the medical system which prescribes drugs without checking the effect on a patient with long term conditions.  And I have been angry and felt useless- unable to work.   I felt ugly too.  At times I sat and stared at the screen, or at a piece of paper without as much as typing or writing a single word.  To inspire myself, I wrote to a colleague who is struggling with cancer which seems to come back again and again.  She has to wear a ‘bag’ to drain liquids and go for chemotherapy at least once a week.  Yet to me, she looks lovely and elegant.  I asked to interview her about how she balances work and health and looks so fabulous. I thought this might inspire ( or even kick) me back into work.

My jaw dropped when she wrote back to me, ‘One of the things that I would love to talk to you about is how you balance being a high-achieving woman with your health issues.’ What, me?!  Was she really talking about me?  It took me some time for this to sink in.  I wanted to protest- ‘No that is not me, you’ve got it all wrong!’  Then it occurred to me that perhaps she might have thought the same way about herself when she got my email.  That she looked at me very differently from how I saw myself.  That we might be seeing mirror images of each other- each person thinking that the other was somehow better or more fortunate.  Yet we are both powerful, beautiful and creative.  That I had done for her what she had done for me.

So this is what I now do.  I keep a small pocket mirror near me and whenever I feel down, I look at my reflection say,  ‘You are powerful, beautiful and creative!’  This is very powerful and magical!  As Nichiren says, “When you bow to a mirror, the reflected image bows back”.