Today, my friend posted a link on Facebook to an article about a 15 year old boy who tried to commit suicide because of bullies at his school; he is still alive, but not expected to live because of his self inflicted injuries. I wanted to let my friend know that I saw her post and had read the article, that I was feeling sad about this and wishing I could do something; but clicking the "like" button seems inappropriate, so I started thinking of what an appropriate comment would be. The more I thought about it, the more complicated and circular my thoughts became, and I decided to write about it in an attempt to find a way through the maze.
My first thoughts were along the path laid out by my friend when she posted about the article, "Heartbreaking story out of my hometown. I wish so much that we could focus on how we're alike and not different." I was thinking about ways that we can teach ourselves, each other, our children, to focus on how we are alike when it occurred to me that perhaps bullying doesn't always stem from differences, but sometimes from seeing something of ourselves in someone else. Something that we don't like about ourselves or something that scares us. In this culture of ours, so obviously flawed, do we need to learn to look within more effectively when we notice that someone else is aggravating us? Do we need to teach kids to love themselves, even the scary parts of themselves, so that they can accept and be kind to others?
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us
Not everyone who is irritated by the mirror turns to bullying, although, sadly, increasingly, we see this response in our teens. And sometimes, even more tragically, someone's irritation and angst turns to rage and instead of bullying they pick up a gun and start shooting. How do I respond to those that aggravate me? Do I lash out at them like the bullies in this story? Sometimes. Do I do something to hurt myself like the teen that turned to suicide? Often. Do I try to see the likeness that is triggering the response? Increasingly more often. Am I able to love that part of myself? Rarely. Do they continue to aggravate me? Of course, because I have not positively resolved how I feel about myself. As a 44 year old evolving, emotionally aware person, I am still learning these things. It is hard work slowing down to examine our feelings and learning new ways to express them. How do we teach these skills to children, to teens, or to young adults if we don't have them ourselves?
On the other hand, what about difference, true differences causes us to bully? Is there something else, other than seeing ourselves that causes us to lash out? Fear? Fear of what? The fact that someone's skin is different than ours, or they are smarter, or have different interests or religion, or have a disability has been the cause of bullying for hundreds of years. This is so common, it can't be ignored. I like to think that I don't treat people badly because of these types of differences. Am I better than people that are part of a hate group? Or just blind to my own prejudices and unkind actions? I think I only treat people badly because of their actions or attitudes (I'm not saying this is a good thing) but maybe I need to watch out to see if I'm excluding those who are different, just because they are different.
On the topic of exclusion, a specific concept has come to my attention through several avenues over the last few years. The concept is that ignoring someone is the worst thing you can do to them. I know it is true for me. Nothing makes me feel worse that when someone looks right through me. It really hurts and can stick with me for days. Yet, I do it all the time. I hate confrontation so much that sometimes I ignore someone to avoid confrontation. Sometimes I ignore someone because I really don't know how to deal with them. So, basically, to make myself comfortable, I wound someone else. Is it worse to be bullied or to be made invisible? Probably neither. They are both painful and can lead to reactive behaviors when the victim tries to find balance, lashing out at the perpetrator or others, innocents, in their lives. Who doubts that the teen bullies in La Grande learned this behavior by being bullied themselves or hurt in some other way? But this story isn't just about the bullies; it is about a sweet boy who turned to suicide when he was mistreated. What leads a person to self injure or to give up? If we get everyone to stop bullying, lashing out, treating those who are different and uncomfortably the same with love and kindness, will suicide decrease? Or is suicide just another side of the same coin? Is it that we are unhappy because we don't love ourselves and we choose to either bully or to punish ourselves? So, this is circular, but I feel that the key is learning to love ourselves. Obviously, I'm not coming to this conclusion logically, or through years of study on behavior and psychology. But I feel it. And if it is true, then fixing this problem in our society begins with me, with each of us loving ourselves first and then those with whom we interact, and eventually that love will radiate out into our communities, our schools, our cities...the world. If you've read this rambling, thank you. I'd really like to hear your thoughts in the comments here, via Facebook message, or e-mail message. I'm off to try to love myself. Here goes...