The Problem with the Anti-bullying Bandwagon

Miss Blackflag via Flickr CC

“If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!” –Brene Brown

The anti-bullying movement is certainly well intentioned.  There is no denying that.  My problem with the anti-bullying parade of legislation, media stories and programming is that there is a self-satisfied bragging about it without any self-reflection.  Look at all the things we are doing to stop bullying!

This post was motivated by a Facebook post from one of my dear friends, who teaches in the NYC Schools.  She told a story about talking with kids in her class.  She created a space where she could safely challenge the kids and they could respond honestly and share stories not only of being bullied; but, occasions when they have actually done the bullying.  Her post responded in a litany of folks congratulating her which is well deserved; but, when I tried to steer the discussion towards how we could model the behavior we expect to see, nobody took the bait and it got me thinking.  My friend mentioned how some of the students who were the biggest anti-bullying advocates were actually bullies.

New Jersey now has the toughest anti-bullying laws in the country and Governor Christie has been quick to congratulate himself for its passage.  But, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that New Jersey is also a state which has a bully for a governor.  Do you think that the children of New Jersey would be better served by the anti-bullying legislation or by adults in their lives who do not bully, judge, gossip and instead choose to cultivate an atmosphere of kindness and compassion?

I think it is safe to say, without referencing scholarly articles, that bullying is a learned behavior.  I’ve seen gossip and bullying in every workplace I’ve worked in.  My school teacher partner comes home and tells me some disturbing stories about teacher and administrator behavior.  In Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: popularity, quirk theory, and why outsiders thrive after high school, author Alexandra Robbins follows several students around at schools in different parts of the country.  In one instance, the reader is a few chapters into the book before you realize that the bullied, weird girl who suffers at the hands of a mean girl and her clique is actually a teacher and is being bullied by other teachers.  Where do you think kids are learning bullying behavior?  From us.    We have created and sustain a bully culture.

It’s all well and good to discourage bullying in children; but, what are we doing about the bully inside of us?  Oh, sure, I’ve seen articles and books about bully coworkers and bosses; but, they are almost exclusively about extreme bullies and fail to capture the subtle, everyday bully.  Ask yourself the following:

  1. Do you gossip?  Do you listen to or spread stories about coworkers, neighbors, or other people in your life?
  2. Do you exclude a person from group activities?  Do you participate in group activities after work when one or more coworkers have purposefully been excluded from invitation?
  3. Do you go home and tell stories about your coworkers that include judging or name calling?
  4. Do you make fun of people in front of your children?
  5. Do you tell mean jokes?  Do you crack jokes about coworkers?
  6. Do you tease any of your coworkers?  Your friends?  Your family?  Any other people in your life?

Are you now thinking, this doesn’t pertain to me, I’m nice, I’m kind.  What are you doing right now to cultivate compassion and empathy in yourself?  Oh, I agree that we need Anti-bullying campaigns and programming; but, it starts from within.  It’s not easy.  People piss us off and do stupid things and sometimes people make themselves irresistible targets.  The library field is saturated with odd folks and sometimes it is difficult to refrain from making an easy joke about a person’s style, personality quirks, weird hobbies or social awkwardness.  I know this because there have been too many times when I have not refrained and contributed to a culture that ultimately I wanted to see disappear.  Can you go one day without talking about one coworker in front of other coworkers?

“What we know matters but who we are matters more.” ― Brené Brown,

My friend, the teacher in the story at the top of this post, is one of those rare folks who is kind and thoughtful and nurturing.  She is not perfect.  None of us are perfect.  But, she gently taught those kids something that day.  She taught them something about assessing their own behavior and how it affects others.  And she gave them a safe place to talk about it.

Do that for yourself.  Is there something in your own behavior that needs to be changed.  Do you act towards others as you wish to be acted upon?  Do you have someone in your life that can be your sounding board?  I have a few people in my life that I trust and feel safe telling things that make me deeply vulnerable.  These are people who are also on a similar path; so, I know that they understand that I don’t want some behavior I’m describing to be easily condoned with a “that’s okay” response.  They also don’t judge or use the opportunity to feel superior.  They are my partners in this quest.

“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”  –Brene Brown

What kind of person do you want to be?  Do you want to be the person people feel comfortable gossiping with or the person people trust NOT to gossip?  Do you want to be the person that makes harsh judgments about people because of appearance or some other detail about their lives? Do you want to be the person who is kind to a person even when they annoy you because you are capable of EMPATHY?  Who erases the annoyance with a gentle attitude?

  • Little by little remove the bully from your heart and mind.
  • Surround yourself with people who want to be better.
  • The Golden Rule is made of awesome.  If it is the only rule you follow, you will lead a good life.
  • Commit.  (I’m yelling, arms raised to the sky)  Commit!!  Commit to the person you wish to be in the world.

Commit to kindness.  Commit to opening your heart.  As you move through this world, leave love in your wake.

Advertisements

Mass Transit Meditation

photo: AZY_NYC via Flickr CC

I’ve been living and working in NYC for 3 months now and I’m still not quite used to it.  It’s a place of amazing chaos and stimulation.  Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work well with noise and frenzy andthe visual assaults of such a large, vibrant city.  I’ve been thinking about different things I can do to lower stress and find some calm in the urban storm.

The other day, tired and slightly grouchy, I stood on the subway car, swaying with the motion and closed my eyes.  I said Metta for myself.

May I be happy.
May I be Healthy.
May I be free from physical pain.
May I be free from mental pain.
May I live my life with ease.

And I began to realize that even when I have not said this prayer for weeks or months, as soon as I begin, I can feel my body relax into it.  I challenged myself to say it on each subway ride and to choose to include the most annoying of my fellow riders.  Last night, I was on the train coming home after a fun evening of The Moth.  I happened to catch the train in the Village with handfuls of Halloween revelers including a woman riding solo.  She was right next to me in a very crowded train.  She was drunk.  She began talking loudly in a confrontational way about the various people surrounding her.  Commenting on people’s perfumes, clothing and perceived promiscuity.  She was looking for a fight.  Everyone ignored her.  I began reciting Metta, silently.  I wished her peace and happiness.  I wished her a safe passage home.  I wished her ease and freedom from her irritations.  I wished her freedom from the fear of suffering.  Over and over for the 20 minute ride, I wished things for her.  It was very calming to me and  I have to believe that all that love I sent her did some good.

 

Everyone is Welcome.

I’m fascinated by the level of security at NYC academic libraries.  Notice I didn’t say disturbed by.  I understand the reasoning on many levels.  Here at Pace, most of the downtown school is housed in the same building.  This includes dorms.  So, you  have to get past two security guards to get to the library or anywhere in our building.  I get this.  There are multiple floors of dorm rooms above us and if I were a parent with a kid here, I’d want the campus to be very careful with my child’s safety.

NYU’s Bobst Library is notoriously tough to get into unless you are a student, staff or faculty member.  I say tough; but, really it is almost impossible.  I have heard Columbia and the various other schools here all have similar policies.

My first job out of library school was at South Dakota State University in Brookings, SD.  Anyone could wander in there and use the resources, get help from the reference desk and generally hang out.  I suppose that still holds true today.  My only rebellious thoughts on the prevalent policies of NYC libraries is that I sense that it sets the library staff up to be suspicious, questioning and stingy with their resources.  I haven’t witnessed that attitude but I have heard some stories, even prior to working in NYC myself.

Even in public libraries that deal with the safety issues that come with urban libraries we must find ways to balance caution with a willingness to help openly.  I think this is most difficult in libraries where there is an expectation of safety and orderliness.  I worked in one urban public library where we all just had a slightly heightened awareness of what was happening at all times.  In an odd way, this allowed us to serve everyone equally.

This open door policy is something about the public library world that I will miss.  While at Middletown,  a man complained to me about another patron because he claimed she was hogging all the newspapers.  I offered to retrieve any issue he wanted and he kept saying, “That’s not the point.”  What  bothered him was that there was a regular patron, who had an appearance and some behaviors that were outside the norm of what he expected in our community and she liked to sit with a pile of papers and read them.  I suspected he felt uncomfortable approaching her for the paper which is why I offered to retrieve it.  He thought she should be banned from the library for paper hogging.  But, he just didn’t want her in the library because she made him uncomfortable.  I was able to gently tell him, “This is a public library.  Everyone is welcome here.”  I’m going to miss that.

Fakin’ It

photo: mmlolek via flickr cc

I recently had an awesome experience.

At our library, we are starting up a wellness team to think up and plan health and wellness programs for staff. Our township does not provide any health and wellness activities so we thought it would be a good idea to start some in-house.

At our Annual Staff Day, I got to introduce the idea of having a wellness team, some of the initial ideas we had, conduct a survey to see what staff actually want and I taught a class on 2 different meditation techniques. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed sharing some of the things I’ve learned over the years about meditation. The theme of the day was “Civility” and I took that idea and applied it to my meditation class by choosing to teach them Loving kindness Meditation. I was a bit nervous at first because I understand that people sometimes don’t like activities which they perceive as touchy–feely. I asked them to open their hearts to the technique and give it a try and I asked them to give me the space to talk about love and kindness openly.

The class went well and there was a lively discussion. One of the things that kept coming up for people is that it is hard to do loving kindness meditation for someone who is their “less than favorable” person. One person asked me point blank how I do it for someone who has angered or hurt me. That it is impossible to be sincere. What do I do?

Fake it. That was my answer and I think it was a pretty good one. Repetition breeds habit. I also said that I sometimes need to try it on, to think about WHAT it would really feel like to have these wishes and love and compassion for this person. I think faking it is also part of that process. But what about the insincerity of it? If the intention is sincere, the motivation behind the practice is sincere, then I think faking it is just practice. Practice that eventually leads to meaning and sincere feelings. Even if you are thinking of the worst, violently abusive person, you can wish them health and happiness. Why? Why would you? Because if their suffering is lessened what would their impact on the world be?

Plus, I think faking it, practicing it, leads to a softening of your heart and that benefits you and lessens your suffering.

I think this technique is particularly useful in the workplace. If you do loving kindness meditation for a toxic coworker and your heart softens towards them, you are helping to heal the workplace and that is always good. I guarantee that there are NO negative side effects to loving kindness meditation!

Yesterday, one of my coworkers called me on the phone to tell me that she was thinking about the empty boat story and that it was hard but she was going to help me carry the torch.  This is win/win all the way around.  She will have less suffering. She will provide better customer service.  She will spread joy to other people.  I feel inspired by her.

Your Heart. Your House.

I watched Meditate and Destroy this week.  It is a documentary about Noah Levine and his Dharma Punx movement.  He is the child of prominent Buddhist teacher Stephen Levine.  Noah, a self described punker and heavily tattooed former drug addict is now a well known teacher in his own right.  He is frequently cited for connecting and speaking to people that traditional, Western Buddhist teachers and organizations have failed to reach.  The movie itself was not that enlightening.  I have read Noah’s memoir and knew much of his story; but, somewhere in the course of the movie I heard the following (or some variation…you know how memory is sometimes tricky):

You can invite someone into your heart and not into your house.

This is something that is essential to learn and grasp completely.  You can open your heart to someone without opening your house to them.

You can open your heart and treat them with kindness and compassion without allowing them to have a position of influence in your life.  This concept is one that is frequently misunderstood.  I’ve briefly touched on this discussion before.  Many people mistake having compassion for someone as a weakness, especially if that person has a negative history with you. I have a Buddhist friend that comes from a difficult childhood.  In adulthood, she has created many boundaries of just how much certain family members are invited into her life.  She has very clear boundaries about how much contact and what type of contact there will be.  This does not mean she does not treat these family members with kindness.  This does not mean that she does not hold compassion in her heart for them.  It does, however, mean that she sees and knows what she needs to maintain a balanced and happy life and reduce the suffering that can be caused when her house has an open door to these folks.

She does not judge them or criticize them.  She accepts them as they are and with that acceptance come limits as to how much access they have in her life.

I think what she is doing is difficult.  Everything in our society is pointing her to either have them in her life running willy nilly or to cut them off completely.

We can carry this lesson into our work lives.  Let’s face it.  Sometimes, we work with toxic people.  I have worked with and for people who yelled, threw things, looked the other way when really horrible things were happening, polluted the work environment with their constant stream of negativity and I have worked with bullies.  I think the negative folks and the bullies are the most damaging and dangerous to work culture.  Every place I have worked had at least one negative person who spent a good portion of the day complaining about something.  I find these folks extremely damaging to morale and general work atmosphere and I think they should be stopped and if that is not possible, they should be highly discouraged.

The funny thing about complainers is if no one listens to them spewing their negativity, they spew less and less.  I have seen this happen.  They need an audience; but, we don’t have to give them one.  The first time I boldly told a person that I didn’t want to participate in a conversation, my hands were shaking.  It is hard, especially because most of us like to avoid confrontation.

By letting these people go on and on unchecked, we are letting them into our houses.  We do not need to do this.  You can be kind and compassionate and still limit the contact you have with certain people at work.  You can be kind and compassionate and still confront the person if they start a conversation that makes you uncomfortable.  In fact, confronting them quietly and calmly is far kinder then just ignoring them, avoiding them or letting them go on and on.

I know it’s difficult.  I still find it difficult.  Use phrases that are very clear and finite:  I can’t participate in this conversation.  I feel uncomfortable talking about a coworker behind their back.  I’d rather not have this discussion.  I don’t want to hear this (said when I had to share an office with several people and two coworkers were bad mouthing our boss).

We can’t bar toxic coworkers at the door; but, we can set clear limits of how they can interact with us.  We can be kind and compassionate and still not invite them into our house.

Recital Nice

Lauren listens good naturedly through my pointers during a non-recital related jam session.

A few weeks ago, I went to my niece’s violin recital.  Lauren is a willowy mellow musical 17, but her teacher takes students from ages 5 on up, so the program would feature many skill levels.  Our family arrived early and so we spent quite a few minutes waiting for it to start.

I looked around and eavesdropped (I’m an introvert and eavesdropping is the carrot that brings me out in public). No matter what they were talking about, people were looking to the door where the performers would come out to the stage.

Finally the door opened and the audience drew in a collective, calming breath. The first student was a little girl. She carried her half-size violin (Ever seen one? Cute as a kitten) awkwardly.  Little coos, sounds you make to a kitten, came from all over the audience.  Either her family had planted itself apart for some reason or many people were charmed by her.

The teacher, who hadn’t looked like King Kong until that moment, took the half-size violin and put it on her shoulder to check the tuning.  People checked their programs, whispered, pointed and I was enveloped in a cloud of positive anticipation.

Of course she played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  Of course she did.  Of course it was squeaky and somewhat scratchy.  Then she burst into a huge grin. And I knew with absolute certainty who her people were, and not just because of the familial eyebrows.

But we were all her fans.  Her family clapped the loudest, but we all clapped hard. And the cloud was now one of positive relief.  She had done it. And think of how much we, the audience, helped.  I wasn’t just being polite, clapping for this little girl, hoping her family would clap at least as hard for my niece.  No, I was Recital Nice.

I assumed the best intentions of each violinist.  They weren’t going to step out on stage and try to sound terrible.  They may have flowed to this evening  on various currents of willingness, but now that they were here in front of me, I could help them and I hope I did.

I wish I could be recital nice without thinking about it.  I wish I could always, on the most basic level, assume best intentions.  We are all here, jostling into each other on the planet.   But too often, I’m just in my bubble, worrying about if I have the right change for the bus or remembered my  lunch.

When I get to work and the phone rings, am I automatically ready to help whoever is on the line?  Am I willing to assume their best intentions?  Do I assume my own best intentions?  I will try.  The next time I know I’m losing perspective. I will close my eyes and conjure up Twinkle Twinkle Little Star played very badly and very sincerely.

Love, Courage, and the Eye Roll

I had a conversation recently that disturbed me.  It reminded me that many people think striving to be kind and compassionate is a weakness.  That people who devote energy into spreading a little love and joy into the world are somehow simplistic and/or suspicious even.  But, I have always been a believer that it is far more courageous to express love and far more courageous to show empathy and compassion.

Expressing love, affection, kindness and sometimes even compassion can make you feel vulnerable.  I think it’s a weird power thing.  If you tell a friend that you love them, it opens you up for rejection or slight.  You are putting yourself out there, hanging without a net beneath you.

If you think of sharing feelings as a gift, it becomes much easier.  It’s not about you really.  It’s about having this love to GIVE to someone.

Showing compassion, especially to a difficult person, is also perceived as weakness, as if you were a sap….or letting someone get away with something.  I don’t agree with this.  I think you can have and show compassion for someone without letting that person hurt you further or take advantage of you in some way.

There is a rawness and a bareness to speaking aloud the words that express your emotions.  Generally this is not something done in the workplace!   But, when you take these sorts of risks in your personal life, it only helps to make you a more grounded, honest and expressive person at work.

I can actually remember deciding, in my twenties, to give more compliments.  I don’t even remember why I thought this would be a good idea.  I just decided to do it.  I started complimenting people at work and in my life.  I began thanking people more and it made them a pinch more happy and it made me happy too.  I think this is also part of a weird power struggle for people.  I suspect people think things like:  if I give them a compliment they’ll have one up on me.  I have also encountered people so unused to getting compliments that they get embarrassed by them.

What harm does it do to let someone know you are grateful for their efforts or you just enjoy their presence in your life?  Who wouldn’t want to hear that?  It can be scary to share your feelings; but, really, when it gets down to it, what is the worst that can happen?  What is the worst?  Rejection?  That is a possibility; but, you’ll never know if you don’t take risks.

I’ve been thinking and thinking on this conversation that disturbed me and I’ve written a few posts about it which I then erased before publishing.  Perhaps the conversation has knocked me off my game a bit; but, I want to leave you with some wisdom that I like to use to remind myself I’m on the right track.

Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. . . . It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don’t risk everything, you risk even more.

—-Erica Jong

Compassion is the radicalism of our time.  —–14th Dalai Lama

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.    —-Henry James