It feels like yesterday that I was sitting in the middle section of the school bus feeling so uncomfortable. The bullies sat in the back, the majority of the kids were prey in the middle, and the most vulnerable sat up front. It’s a universal seating arrangement known to all kids in any suburb of the United States.
I was not a target on those long bus rides, but I was scared. I was scared for myself and I was scared for the kids that got picked on everyday. I believed that the bullies were strong and could hurt any of us. I bought into the entire power play that they were somehow more sturdy and resilient than me, if only because they seemed to understand how the world works and could control everyone around them. I remember that they yelled and screamed loudly and laughed at other kids for everyone to hear. I was intimidated and that made me feel weak and doubtful.
I never expressed how I felt to anyone when I was young. Perhaps I just felt that was the way of the world or maybe I didn’t understand my feelings. But interestingly, as I aged, bullies still brought out those feelings of inferiority. Whether in a college sorority or a conference room at work, I still felt doubtful and insecure around loud, mean and forceful personalities. Although on the surface I seemed okay, I did not always voice my opinions, even when those opinions were strong. I feared retribution and I doubted myself against what I perceived as power. The grown-up bullies seemed as self-assured as the young ones, able to put others down so easily and manipulate most in the room. I was still buying into the power and control of the bully hook, line and sinker.
As my spiritual life grew over time, love became more important than fear, and fear began to melt away. I started to automatically focus on the true strength of kindness and compassion. I saw that getting angry, lashing out, denigrating and attempting to control other people are products of weakness. It is much harder to consistently respond to all others with love and understanding.
I realized that someone must have hurt the bully very much for him or her to act that way. Maybe there was a mean parent or sibling, maybe a tragedy at a formative age – who knows? But the bully is, in fact, really scared. The bully has shut his or her heart and is cruel to the world so the world can’t hurt the heart again.
Here is a set of rules that I teach my children to remember what real strength is when faced with a bully:
It takes more strength to stick up for someone than to put them down.
It takes more strength to compromise with a friend than to force your way on someone else.
It takes more strength to listen to someone with whom you disagree than to ignore them, yell at them or scorn their ideas.
It takes more strength to understand someone that is different and try to include them instead of excluding them from an activity.
It takes more strength to express yourself with your words than to resort to physical force.
It takes more strength to be peaceful, loving and kind in the face of adversity than to yell and scream and hurt the ones around you.
It takes more strength to be humble in the face of triumph than to recklessly brag.
It takes more strength to act on what you know is right than to follow the crowd.
Real strength does not need to prove anything. It can stand on its own without a word spoken and that is the real power.
With these rules of strength, it is my hope that my children will not give their personal power away to the loudest voice or the child with the most controlling personality. It is my hope that they will be able to see the truth behind the bully so they don’t feel intimidated or doubt themselves. It might not dictate how they will deal with the bully on the outside, but it does allow them to keep their inner world strong and intact by seeing the truth of what they are experiencing.
My hope is that true strength will follow them through life so their success won’t be determined by the bully in the room.