It is a good thing to treat everyone the same, to respect them as equals and as experts in their fields of expertise, and forgive whatever they do that annoys, offends, or disrupts my work, my relationships, or my life. It is how I can move on and live the best life I can have for myself.
Right? Well, maybe. It depends.
Let's use bullying as a framework to unpack these ideas of equality, respect, and forgiveness -- especially as these ideas relate to our wellness on every level. Your life could depend on it.
Equality is a proud "American" cultural belief, even though we know that women get paid less for the same work. We believe that all citizens deserve to cast their vote at election time, even though we may secretly believe that some of them are crazy.
From this idea of equality flows respect for others as fellow human beings. Other types of compliance include respect for elders, or for an expert's opinion, or for an authority figure whose responsibility is to teach, protect, or direct in some way.
Forgiveness, defined in very distorted ways, to the point that it means a woman who survived a beating from her significant other "should forgive and return to the relationship." Told real forgiveness is to forgive and forget. We can never know how many women died after following the advice to go back to their abusers and didn't survive the next attack.
However, we know intuitively that forgiveness is a good thing, if only we could have an understanding of it that makes sense, and feels life-giving instead of oppressive.
Bullies appear in many forms. I have had to deal with more than a few in my life. Whether they were male or female, and no matter how old they were, and whether I met them at work, in school, or as friends, they challenged me to re-define what equality, respect, and forgiveness meant to me.
There was recent research showing that bullies grow up to have higher than average levels of self-confidence, and their targets grow up to have lower than average levels. Social scientists suggest it, bullies are not bullying because of low self-esteem, as previously thought. They bully because they believe others are better than their targets, which explains the cruelty and contempt with which they operate.
In dealing with a bully, I have learned to not see them as equals at all. They are not less than I am as a person, but they are lacking key traits that make us human: empathy, kindness, generosity, a sense of humor that connects people instead of cracking jokes by using others at their expense. Bullies are lacking in their humanity and must regard as emotionally disabled to some degree. They are damaged goods, and they can cause much harm.
Because of this, people do not treat them as equals. I have found that it is best to keep a healthy distance from them as much as possible, which can be difficult if they are a co-worker or family member. Sometimes the only distance possible is an emotional distance; not taking anything they say or do personally, and focusing your mind on people who do love and respect you.
It flows into treating a bully with respect, but not the deferential kind that you give your grandmother. I would describe it as the respect we would give poisonous snakes and sharp knives: understand how they are, what they can do, and handle them accordingly. However, even more, important is the respect you have for yourself. Reach out to folks you trust to ask them for support and advice in dealing with the bully. Having a social network is essential in helping buffer the abrasiveness of a bully. There is no point in trying to change him or her. Respecting a bully means accepting them for who and what they are, and loving yourself enough not to be an easy target.
Finally, forgiveness is the key to moving forward. However, I define it with an active element of boundaries. I forgive the bullies who have targeted me, but I have also put up walls to block them from my current life experience whenever possible. If I must still interact with them, I make sure that others on my team know what is happening. It is a big step for me personally because it is natural for me to suffer in silence. I do not do that anymore.
I forgive them for what they did, but I do not welcome them back into my life. They are shown the door and sent away to target someone else because that is their nature.
As the door closes behind them and they are out of my sight, I can then use my tools of meditation, visualization, and commanding to update my life to a higher quality level, now that they are not part of the equation. Out of sight, out of mind.
There. Doesn't that feel better? Now, try making a list of encounters you have had with a bully and re-framed your relationship with him or her. You may find that it is easier than you ever thought possible.
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