Maya Stiles Parsons SpierColumnist, Editor-in-Chief
- March 21, 2013 in Columnists
Compassion for a bully: Reclaiming power through love
“Compassion is not a virtue — it is a commitment. It’s not something we have or don’t have — it’s something we choose to practice.”
Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame
I have a family member who used to insist that we choose how we react to the difficult things in life —whether they simply happen or are perpetrated on us. For some time, it brought a surge of irritation-bordering-on-fury in me, which, of course, motivated me to rummage around my psyche to see what was up with that. I allowed Younger-Self/Wise-Child/Right-Brain to cogitate on this and it wasn’t long before she whispered me the answer.
No, we don’t choose how we react to the challenges life and other people throw at us. Initially, we will react honestly to whatever has happened to us – grief, anger, hurt, confusion – or a blend of that and many other genuine and unplanned reactions. To say that we are choosing this response, particularly when the accusation is thrown at us by the one who hurt us, has always struck me as a form of blaming the victim — and that’s inexcusable.
What we can control is what we do with it and how we choose to react once we’ve had the chance to process. For example, I have been bullied since the age of 7 and it has continued fairly continuously with few gaps for fully half a century. Case in point is a period of bullying that happened at a place I worked. I am not going to identify who it was or how this individual did it, but it was someone in a position of some power over me, and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I did mention it to the person above both of us, who asked me what I wanted done, but to take it on would have destroyed my work unit and there were more people at stake there than me. However, it was duly noted and no attempts to deny it was happening were made.
This bullying wore on and on and on. It was so disheartening and I have never been in a financial position to simply quit a job. So what was I to do? I wasn’t going to change this person’s behavior. This person, when challenged, was generally willing to take it to unpayable levels. So how was I to deal with it?
The only thing I could control was how I felt about it and how I dealt with it. I began to consider what it was to be this person, to carry the ability to be so cruel, to humiliate another person without apparent remorse – these seeds of unkindness must surely be like having barbed wire wrapped tightly about the heart. It must seriously be painful to be this person. What true joy would a person like this ever experience, when I experience joy frequently? How much love could this person truly allow in, when I love and am loved so profoundly that sometimes I must surely be levitating from it?
What an awful place to be in, I thought. I’d rather be me. Imperfect as I am, I don’t bully. I try to be loving, supportive and kind and if snark sometimes gets the better of me, I at least don’t pretend that it was just fine to have done it. So what could I do for someone who would not accept my kindness, who would smack away (with all due contempt) any attempt I made to build a bridge of reconciliation were I foolish enough to try? Easy answer. I could pray to the Divine Sentience that this person would get all the good things for which they yearned. That this person would be surrounded by a glow of love and kindness and be met with gentleness and welcome everywhere. I prayed to the Divine that this person’s heart would be healed and that this person would be happy. I did not pray that I would no longer be bullied since I had been praying for this for the entire half century and it hasn’t made much, if any, difference so far. But I could pray for my bully in hope that a healing would quiet the pain that had to be the source of this.
I don’t know if it did a damned bit of good, although the bullying has largely stopped. I do know that when I realized this person was far more a victim of a cruel heart than I ever was, and when I began to feel compassion instead of fury, I was able to allow this person’s actions to roll off my back far more easily than I dreamed I could. It’s not forgiveness – not quite – but it’s peace. And that will do for now.
(And yes, these are my drawings…)