Considerable attention has been paid to bullying of late, especially regards kids. One of the things that we tend to overlook, however, is that those playground bullies grow up and, as people are nothing if not consistent, they tend not to change a whole lot. The boys who picked on the retarded kid down the block and the mean girls who didn't invite the plain girl to the party grow up to be just as bossy, condescending, arrogant - and frightened - as they were as children.
Our culture trades on fear. This struck me - again - when I was in the gym the other day and noticed an ad on the television for a company that would, for a fee, protect you from "wage garnishments, property liens and [some other stuff]" if you owed money to the IRS.
Here's the thing - those consequences are the natural and logical by-product of owing money to the IRS. So, why the scare tactic? Because when people are afraid they tend to make irrational, uninformed, impulsive - and usually expensive -- decisions. Therein lies the makings for a mighty manipulation.
This is just one of a thousand examples that we confront every day of things that are meant to rattle our cage. Did you get your flu shot yet? Sowing the seeds of fear to gain some illusory sense of control in the face of someone else's fear and feeling out of control; now, there's a system that works well. Harrumph.
When we confront the seeds of fear on a personal level - when we are bullied - the underlying ethos is something more subtle that speaks quite pointedly to an overall lack of sophistication and emotional intelligence on the part of the bully. This failing leads, subsequently, to that overarching need for, and exercise of, control that the bully, often much to our chagrin, plays out.
All of which, then, begs the question, "Who's more afraid - the bullied or the bully?" It's the bully, of course, because the last gasp of anyone with a limited skill set - social, emotional, physical, or otherwise -- is to lash out.
We are all driven, at some level, by ego. Even the most adept of spiritual masters cannot be said to operate in a wholly altruistic manner. Take, for instance, the bodhisattva. Here is a being whose sole intent is to forgo the culmination of their own enlightenment and remain on the Wheel of Life until all other beings attain enlightenment - a wholly egoless act, no? Not so much - there is investment (get everyone enlightened), no matter how altruistic and so there is ego ("I'll do it!"), no matter how good the intent.
The bully's ego is artifice. His arrogance is a hollow confidence. His condescension is a need to belittle. His rage is a need to control. This ego for him is a fragile thing, driven by fear and narcissism, not by power, nor by the power he wishes so desperately to possess. In fact, the bully is actually quite powerless, for he is only as powerful as the power we give him. He feeds on our fear, but his hunger is driven solely by his own.
The key for the bullied is to recognize that the bully's bullying is not about us -- it's about him, and his weakness. It's about his sense of being threatened, and his horror at being found out as an imposter or a poser. He is afraid -- quite afraid - and all the time. With this recognition that it's not about us, we can then stand firm, or even push back; thusly not get lost in the self-doubt and self-victimization that potentially perpetuates for us the abusive and socially sadomasochistic relationships in which we might find ourselves by accident, by choice or by default.
The bully is always the weakest kid on the playground. Push back, and watch with compassion as he collapses into a pale reflection of whom he pretends to be.
© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved