Friday, March 28, 2014

Always Be Ready For Peace

How often does a bully seek out forgiveness and reconciliation with their victim? It happened to me twice in high school with individuals who bullied me in eighth grade. It happened again as an adult professional. And I wonder if it would not have happened if I hadn't been ready to make peace.

In eighth grade, I moved from Pasadena to Glendora. That can be a tough age to enter a new community with no friends. I didn't know the social norms there and felt very out of place coming from an ethnically diverse, working class, inner-city school, going into an overwhelmingly white, and white collar, suburban school.

There was a girl in eighth grade who I thought was the prettiest in the school. In the Library one day, her friends caught me looking at her. One came over and said to me that the girl liked me, and I should ask her out. Based on that encouragement, I did. Then the girl mocked me in front of her friends.

But it didn't end there. When she and her friends saw me in the hallway, she would continue to mock me. That continued for the rest of the year.  Throughout high school I hardly asked out any girls, afraid I would be rejected. Only if I was extremely confident that the girl liked me, would I consider it. There were lots of girls I was crazy about in high school, but I didn't ask them out for this reason.

While this was very unpleasant, I overcame this experience, and I did have a few girlfriends in high school. My last high school sweetheart, I married. So, it's turned out extremely well. If I had dated more in high school, I might not have been available when I met my wife who truly loved me.

I was glad when that girl who ridiculed me did not go to the same high school the following year.  After a couple years or so, she did transfer to the same school, though. I didn't have much contact with her, and we didn't really acknowledge each other. Then, in our senior year, we were both involved in an extra-curricular event. She had an opportunity make fun of me, but she didn't. At one point that day, she pulled me aside to apologize and to pay me a compliment. It was a wonderful surprise.

I had a few other experiences with bullying in the 8th grade as well. The worst physical beating I remember receiving was triggered by a misunderstanding. As kids that age often do, I was experimenting with the use of profanity based on how I'd heard adults use various terms. At the time, I was fascinated by the use of the term, "son of a b****," as a general exclamation of unhappiness, rather than applying it to a person.

One day in PE, I was tagged out during a game of softball and uttered the term. The boy at first base thought I had directed it at him and insulted his mother. I forgot I had even said the phrase. As we were going back to the locker room, a few of the guys kept telling me I'd better watch out.

"[So-and-so] is pissed," said one.

"You'd better watch out," said another. "He's going to beat you up in the locker room."

I said they didn't know what they were talking about. I never insulted him. They must be confused.

So, I walked into the cave-like locker room out of the bright, midday California sun. The meager light from the caged incandescent bulbs was akin to total darkness, and out of that murk came So-and-so's disembodied angry face. Beside it was his disembodied angry fist.

After one punch to the face, and being unable to see clearly, I curled into a fetal ball with my back in the corner. His fists kept coming, bruising my scalp, my hands, my arms. My face, kidneys and abdomen were protected by my hands and the concrete corner of the right-angled locker room entrance. Eventually the boy was pulled off of me.

I can't remember the extent of my injuries. I think I had a black eye from the first strike. I remember being most astonished by the fact that he kept hitting my head. I thought, the head is hard. It's hurting me, but it's not a very effective target. I'm not exposing my vulnerable parts, but he's continuing to beat on me anyway.

As a result of this beating, my dad, who had custody of us on the weekends, enrolled me in Aikido at Pasadena Aikikai. A fellow member of Orange Grove Friends Meeting had been training there and recommended it as a non-violent form of self-defense. This appealed to Dad, who became a Conscientious Objector and pacifist after enlisting in the Army during the Korean War.

This is not like the story of Karate kid. Aikido training is usually non-competitive, so no tournaments, and I didn't go on to fight the kid who bullied me. I don't think I trained in Aikido for more than about six months, then stopped going.

However, I loved Aikido. Also, the confidence I developed from that training helped me to deal with the fear of being confronted by a bully. Every time this happened in high school, I stood my ground. I didn't escalate the situation, and I didn't show my fear. The result was always that the bully stood there facing off with me for a long-tense moment, and then just walked away.

I eventually went back to Aikido (several times) after high school, and one of my proudest accomplishments is my shodan (first degree black belt) that I earned in 2006. While I find it as difficult to regularly attend Aikido classes as it is to attend Friends Meeting these days, I'm far happier for the small ways I have have learned to apply the principles of centering and inner peace that I learned from both practices.

The boy who had beaten me up so badly continued to share a couple classes with me in eighth grade. My mom arranged a meeting for us with the principal, the boy, and his father, and we didn't speak to each other after that. He didn't end up going to the same high school, either. However, at one point in high school, I'd gone to the grocery store with my mom, and there he was, working at Stater Bros., bagging our groceries. I was so surprised and relieved when he looked me in the eye and apologized to me, there in the grocery store.

I've written before about abusive bosses. I've had several over the years, and in each case I have managed to transfer to a different department within my organization. I've then gone on to be successful in some area, and I've always tried to leave behind a legacy of work that earns me respect.

Toxic Bosses in the Military
Toxic Bosses: My own experiences with abusive bosses and a look at the US Army's new 360 review policy that's trying to change the culture of abusive leadership.

On one occasion, I got an invitation for lunch from a former boss. It was awkward, and I did not really want to have lunch with this person after how they had treated me when I reported to them. But, not wanting to be rude, I of course accepted the invitation.

I was blown away when they told me the reason they had asked me to lunch was simply to apologize for the way they had treated me and to thank me for all the great work I had done for them. It was so refreshing, and I gladly accepted their apology. I was also glad to see that this person looked happier and healthier than I had ever seen them before.

In all three cases, the immediate solution involved separation from the bully. I was resilient. I went on with my life, and was pretty well adjusted. The bully then re-entered my life.  I did not cower away from them, and I did not seek retribution. I treated them with civility. In each case, they took it upon themselves to apologize.

I know that lots of people have been bullied worse than I have, and I don't pretend to have all the answers for bullying. However, I do believe that bullying does great harm to the bully, sometimes greater than the harm to the person being bullied, who, like me, might recover and go on to a happy life. The bully goes through life unhappy with their personal and work relationships, unable to experience the joy that comes from being at peace with those around them.

If you have been bullied, I hope my experience can help you find your own way to be resilient and forgive the bullies in your life. If one comes to you, asking to make peace, I hope you will be ready and able to do so, both for your own well being and theirs. A great weight lifted from me when I forgave my bullies. And, while it doesn't absolve in any way their own responsibility for the harm they caused me, I admire the personal growth and courage it took for them to seek my forgiveness.

If you have bullied people, I hope you find the courage to seek forgiveness of those you have wronged. We all make mistakes, and but those mistakes do us much less harm in the long run if we can learn from them. You may not receive forgiveness from those you have wronged, but I believe the act of asking will also bring you a measure of peace.

1 comment:

  1. I was bullied in elementary and middle school and to this day, there are times that I go back to that time and brush aside the good times.

    Your words have given me the encouragement and hope that I need in order to let go of the negative and embrace the positive.