When my son started kindergarten, my biggest trepidation was regarding the bus ride; in my day, buses were hotbeds of bullying and intimidation, especially for the littlest and most vulnerable.
I was endlessly reassured that the kindergarten class was isolated at the front with a monitor supervising their behaviors. Plus, the kid was jazzed to ride the bus! For him it was like a status symbol; so I relented and let him live the dream.
Naturally he was seated next to the worst bully in his class, a child who would continue to plague us throughout his early years of elementary education. My first indication that something was wrong was when he suddenly no longer wanted to wear a knit panda hat that had previously been his pride and joy. It took some digging before I discovered that he was being teased and ridiculed.
Of course, like any normal mother, I wanted to wring the neck of the little assh*le who was torturing him.
But because parenting from prison is a tough gig, what I did instead was explain to my boy that MEAN PEOPLE are UNHAPPY PEOPLE. And that instead of feeling angry that someone is mean, we should feel sorry that they are so unhappy that they are lashing out at others.
My kid, being the sort of kid he is, took this information to heart.
Unbeknownst to me, he took money out of his piggy bank and bought a gift for the brat at the school store. He wanted to help make him feel happier. I was secretly aghast that my lesson had prompted him to reward his tormentor, but you know what?
It actually worked. Temporarily, but that was good enough at the time. I did tell him that it would not have been my advice to act as he did; but I also realized that MEAN PEOPLE are EVERYWHERE and he is going to have to learn how to deal with them in his own way.
They had another run-in two years later when the bully stole something off of my son’s desk and then flaunted it as his own. By that time he had become a professional tough like Draco Malfoy, complete with a set of Crabbe and Goyle-like mouth-breather sidekicks. Apart from the heartbreak of having his small treasure lifted, my son and I actually enjoyed a good laugh at this cartoonish display of villainy. We eventually just referred to the kid as Draco and his sidekicks as “the Henchmen”. Draco’s exploits became legendary, at least in our home. He went from being a problem to being a source of entertainment.
Obviously anyone who follows the news knows that bullying is an epidemic and that technology has made it easier for children (and adults) to be cruel to one another while maintaining a safe distance from the emotional consequences of looking someone in the eye when you spit on them.
We all know intellectually that bullying is for weaklings; the insecure, the lost, the angry and yes, the sad. We understand that bullying is wrong; we also realize that as long as humans exist, so will bullying. It’s part of the human condition.
My son is in a new school now with different children; near the end of his first year there, the class bully asserted himself. Although his existence was inevitable, I still felt myself getting tied up in knots about the fact that MEAN PEOPLE feel the need to be MEAN to my only child, who is an easygoing, flexible and respectful person. But rather than figure out a way to pinch that kid’s earlobe until he screams, (as Harriet the Spy would suggest) I instead embarked on part two of my son’s lesson in bullying.
Yes, MEAN PEOPLE are UNHAPPY PEOPLE. But you cannot fix someone else’s unhappiness for them; not with gifts and most likely not even with kindness and respect. Because MEAN PEOPLE are not MEAN in response to YOU; they are MEAN in response to their own inner turmoil. In other words, you are not responsible for anyone else’s unkindness, one way or another. In fact, you are not responsible for anyone else’s behavior in general, so my advice in dealing with this new tormentor has been one sentence long: just be yourself.
In life, the most important lesson we can learn is that we are responsible TO and FOR ourselves.
Many parents delay the impact of this truth by trying to shield their children from the consequences of their behaviors. But consequences are the number one teaching tool the universe has to offer in helping us become our best selves. As a parent now observing the parenting of those who are (quite unintentionally, I’m sure) raising bullies, this is the consistent mistake I am seeing. Children who are never forced to “face the music” for their actions stop hearing the music at all; instead of joining the symphony of life, they remain isolated outside of its natural rhythms and out of step with other dancers.
MEAN PEOPLE SUCK.
And they are a part of everyday life, so we must learn how to cope with them. Also: sometimes WE are THEM. Somedays it is our own inner turmoil that causes US to lash out at others, even people who have been kind to us, even people we love, and most especially at OURSELVES. So not only does the anti-bullying campaign start at home as we teach our children to face consequences for their behaviors, it starts most profoundly with our relationship to our self.
“To thine own self be true and it must follow…Thou canst not be false to any man.” How about to thine own self be KIND? When we practice kindness and compassion with ourselves, it MUST FOLLOW that we are better able to extend these behaviors to others.
So the next time you catch yourself being MEAN to YOU, remind yourself that MEAN PEOPLE SUCK.
Make a better choice and start a revolution.