Were you ever bullied, humiliated, harassed, or treated with contempt? Were you ever called names, such as fatso, baldy, geek, retard, or ugly? When you tried to fit in at a new school, job, or neighborhood, did someone or some group make racial slurs, belittle your religion, make fun of your appearance, ridicule your opinions, mock your speech, or deride your beliefs? When you tried to express yourself, did they show appreciation or show disdain? When you arrived, did they cheer or jeer? Did they celebrate you or denigrate you?
If you spoke up after being taunted, did they try to blame you, the victim, by saying, “What’s the matter? Don’t you have a sense of humor? Don’t be so sensitive, I was just kidding. Don’t be a sissy!” When you complained to your boss, parents, or teachers, did they help? Instead of doing so, they may have compounded the problem by brushing it aside and saying something like, “Don’t let it get to you. You’ve just got to learn how to get along with people!” I wonder which is worse, to be made the brunt of jokes or to have one’s pain trivialized?
Intimidation of others takes many forms. It could be physical violence or verbal abuse. You may be prevented from doing what you want to do or forced to do what you don’t want to. You may be shunned, ostracized, or given the silent treatment. The abusers may steal your property or your reputation. You may be criticized, insulted, or threatened. The result of it all is considerable emotional and physical pain.
What can we do about such abuse when it happens to us? First, we can learn to understand the causes. Once we do, that may be enough to, if not end the pain, at least lessen it. Understanding the causes will also point out options and possible solutions. So, why are some people so belligerent?
They ACT tough because they’re WEAK. They have little or no confidence. They feel like losers. They feel unsuccessful and incompetent. They feel that they have no power over their lives and are desperately looking for a method of filling this vacuum. Then along you come. If, somehow, they can make you feel bad; if they can control your emotions, they will have redeemed themselves, for now at last they will have some CONTROL and POWER. True, it is destructive rather than constructive power, but any power is better than none. Granted, it is control over the lives of others rather than over their own life, but, again, some control is better than no control.
Because of the complexity of life, there is not one explanation of hostility, but many. However, there is a commonality. In all cases the aggressor is weak. He or she may wear their belligerence as a shield. They may be afraid of being laughed at because of their own incompetence, so they lash out at others in a preemptive attack. Also, because of feelings of worthlessness, they seek ways of becoming the center of attention and ways of gaining popularity. After all, if Jay Leno can earn millions and win respect by insulting the President of the United States, why can’t they become a local ‘hero’ by making fun of you?
Other reasons for indulging in malicious behaviour include peer pressure, jealousy and envy, not knowing any better, and the glorification of violence on TV and in the movies and video games. The instigators themselves may also be victims. Perhaps they’re being abused by a sibling, a parent, or a neighbor and are now striking out at others to release some of their pent up hostility. Politicians sometimes exemplify yet another reason for insulting others: manipulation. Candidates running for office with a weak platform will often slander their rivals to divert attention from their own lack of ideas.
It is also helpful to understand that the pain we feel when insults are slung our way, is not caused by the insults themselves, but by our internal reaction to them. This important lesson, (that it is not outside events, but our reactions to them that causes our suffering), is a major tenet of modern psychology. Yet, this teaching is hardly new. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Epictetus taught, “It is not he who gives abuse that affronts, but the view that we take of it as insulting; so that when one provokes you it is your own opinion which is provoking.” We may not be able to change the abuser, but we can change our mind. We can decide that the frail attempts of a weakling trying to hurt us can be ignored. What better revenge can you enact than to deprive the abuser of the satisfaction of seeing you get upset?
Another point to ponder is a harasser cannot change the truth. A shrill little man may call Luciano Pavarotti “fatso,” but does that diminish in any way the quality of Pavarotti’s voice or his magnificent accomplishments? Of course not. Here’s how Samuel Johnson (1709 ~ 1784) advanced the same argument, “A fly may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.” So, why let the pathetic attempts of an insecure person irritate you? In fact, try to feel their pain. Who knows, if you act compassionately, you may be able to heal their wounds as well as your own.
Did you know that Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Tom Cruise, and Michelle Pfeiffer were all bullied in school? Who’s laughing now? Doesn’t this demonstrate that things change? Just because you’re in an unpleasant circumstance today, doesn’t mean that it will remain that way indefinitely. Also remember that bullies are not really attacking you, but attacking events that occurred in their lives.
Can anything positive be said about insults? At least it is far better to have someone hurl insults at you than to stone you to death! Which is why Sigmund Freud wrote, “The first human being who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.” Changing from physical abuse to verbal abuse may be a step in the right direction, but it offers little consolation to those suffering mental anguish. Aren’t there other things that can be done to eliminate or lessen the impact of bullying? Yes, there are, but I’m afraid I ran out of space! So, tell you what, I’ll share the second part of this article with you next week.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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