This statement was made recently by a passionate speaker during a current affairs interview. It doesn’t matter who she is – she gave voice to a popular point of view. But I disagree.
I think the reason that statement is made is because it seems to justify bullying and people hate that idea, understandably. We don’t want to align ourselves with those who deliberately set out to hurt others.
But there’s a word missing in the above statement, and that word makes all the difference. The missing word is ‘always’: ‘Bullying is not always character-building.’
In other words, our response to the event determines if it will be character-building or not. If we choose to be defeated by the event, our character will not grow; if we choose to deal with it in a more useful manner, our character will grow. It’s as simple as that. Nothing is either good or bad; it’s our response that defines it. Every event is neutral until we place a meaning on it.
Some people will object. They’ll say that cruelty and aggression and violence are always and only evil. But if you can extract some good, some insight, something positive from that bad event, it’s not purely evil.
Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl is probably the definitive text on this topic: if you can survive a concentration camp and come out of it as a richer human being, then the event itself is not the whole truth about it. As this famous quote states:
"We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
Viktor Frankl spent three years in concentration camps and lost his parents, his brother, and his pregnant wife. If anyone has the right to make the claim that a hellish experience can be enriching, it is he.
His conclusion was that life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. If we have a purpose we can live through even the most horrendous experiences, and come out the other end not as a cripple but as a stronger, more compassionate human being.
Apparently one-quarter of young Australians (those aged 14-25) are bullied;
36% of those are bullied online;
16% turn to drugs and alcohol;
23% are in the care of a GP or mental health professional;
six men under 25 years commit suicide each day.
But more people are speaking out. More effort is being made to understand and address these issues. And all of those energies and efforts are the ‘good’ that come out of the ‘bad’.
It seems to me that an important distinction needs to be made between process and outcome. The process of being bullied and dealing with that experience is unpleasant – for sure. But if the right attitudes and actions are taken to it, the outcome can be positive.
A young woman on the same current affairs programs said that when the bullying took the form of writing (online), it was ‘terrifying’ and ‘damaging for a long time’. But the terror and the damage are not inherent in the bullying; they occur in the response.
I deeply believe that Communication and Conflict Resolution Skills need to be taught in schools as a core curriculum subject from Prep to Year 12 because EVERYONE needs those skills, whatever their particular interests and vocational direction. This subject should be taught several times a week. It should take precedence over most other subjects because without these skills we can’t properly maximise our potential.
The widely respected and controversial public thinker Jordan Peterson made the statement in one of his podcasts that we are all responsible for the Columbine shootings. In particular, he said, those who bullied the shooters over the four years prior are also responsible for the deaths of all students and staff in that incident.
We will not resolve the issues of bullying, workplace harrassment, domestic violence or even terrorism if we play ‘Goodies and Baddies’. To say that all bullies are bad and the bullied are innocent victims is a mistake and not useful. What is needed here is skill-development – for both sides of the equation. And a big dose of honesty, since we’ve all played both roles.
Bullying CAN be character-building; it’s up to us to determine its effect.
Please do comment (below) and share (with attribution) if you feel this blog would be useful to others. NB Picture courtesy Visual Hunt.
Last night my husband had a dream about a man whose life goes bad as a consequence of choosing hard drugs. We sat on the couch this morning talking about it, and our conversation brought up a memory of a recent news item about a police officer who had his head repeatedly bashed into the ground after he tried to stop violence at a drug-influenced party. My husband remarked that probably the attacker would get away with a reduced sentence because his lawyer’s defence was that he was ‘on ice’.
You can just see where this is going. Ice (and other hard drugs) will become the new insanity plea. But why is it okay for a police officer to go to work expecting to do his job in service of the community, and instead have his head bashed into the ground?
Perhaps it’s time for crimes like this to be assessed on the basis of prior choices, on the basis of a series of past choices rather than one drug-induced ‘bad moment’. Perhaps it’s more appropriate to view that ‘bad moment’ as being the natural consequence of a series of poor choices, for which the person is accountable, rather than viewing the chooser as the ‘victim’ of his or her choices.
‘Same same’ for all of us. Being interested in health, I immediately find myself pointing to the pattern where people choose to indulge ‘pleasure now’ and then become upset when their bodies and health ‘betray them’ in later years; surely that later ill health is just a consequence of prior choices? Should we feel sorry for the person who is experiencing a heart incident after twenty or forty years of over-indulgence or unhealthy practices, or do we take a more neutral position? Do we instead say, ‘That’s not surprising’?
It seems cruel but life is a cause-effect game. Nothing comes out of nowhere; everything has seeds that are rooted somewhere, and healing requires some degree of responsibility.
When I left my 29-year relationship so suddenly it probably looked like I had treated my long-time partner badly, but that decision was some twenty-five years in the making; it was the outcome of lots of little choices over those years. He had made choices not to create a shared vision for our family, not to participate in various family activities, not to invest more in our relationship… But because there was also a lot of love and affection and honesty between us, those ‘not to’ choices got lost in the tide of events. It wasn’t until life landed a surprise new man at my feet that I had to weigh and evaluate all the moments of the previous twenty-nine years in order to make my decision.
This is an uncomfortable blog to write, and perhaps to read as well. We are biased towards being kind and nice, and towards avoiding confrontation and conflict; but often that means we avoid responsibility, which is one of the most enriching states of mind that we can enter.
So how best can we support each other in being responsible, in making the choices that best serve us and the people around us? We will not suddenly, magically, create a world in which everyone makes the best choices all the time; but we can create educational models in which life skills are prioritised. (My old hobby horse.)
We can insist that our schools prioritise life skills such as communication and conflict resolution skills and financial management; we can expose our children to the real-life stories of people who made poor choices and people who made good choices; we can rank this sort of education even more highly than other subject areas simply because everyone needs to communicate and everyone needs to be responsible for their choices, no matter what their vocation.
Let’s give our children a fighting chance against the scourge of unhappy consequences. Let’s empower them with the sort of education and support that enables them to make the small everyday choices that lead them in the direction of an inspiring life.
We all know that the internet is a two-sided beast: it’s just fabulous to be able to connect with people all around the world, to uncover news and information that might otherwise be difficult or even impossible to access, to make unexpected friends and find new clients…
AND it’s an overwhelming pressure to stay up with all the e-information, to not be constantly comparing our lives with the golden lives of others (or at least, the golden bits they share), to resist nasty comments if we’re the subject of cyber-bullying, to not get sucked into buying everything we don’t need because of the exciting offers that land in our inbox, etc. etc. And I’m just scratching the surface of the pros and cons!
The darker side of Facebook loomed closer as we began to recognise those pressures and learnt about privacy and security leaks and other significant issues. The Boomers among us, for example, are concerned that our young people are growing up in an exceedingly public era where everything they think and feel and do is announced to the world, whether their big successes and failures, or what they ate for breakfast.
So what could be the silver lining on that constant public exposure?
These ‘soft lens photos’ are of me presenting at Rosemary McCallum’s ‘Christmas Spectacular’ a few weeks ago.
BIG THANK YOU to Rosemary for inviting me back to share my story and books. I felt very at home among her clients and friends and followers, who all share my values on growth and fun – and we broke a record in sales!
This lady has such a big, faithful, devoted following that she must be doing something right. As my NLP teacher used to say, ‘Success leaves clues’…
If you’d like to experience her wisdom, playfulness and grounded guidance, consider attending the Introductory evening to her Course In Life Mastery in January.
Years ago I read Getting the Love You Want by therapist and educator Harville Hendrix, and was really impressed. His book guides couples through a ten-week course designed to resolve their relationship problems. As the blurb on his book explains, Hendrix ‘shows how your frustrations originated in unmet childhood needs, and how you are unwittingly trying to resolve them with childhood tactics.’
Have you heard about Leigh Sales’s new book? Any Ordinary Day is about the ABC TV host’s experiences in going from what she describes as a ‘charmed life’ to a string of crises that have left her feeling fearful about the future.
Most of us have a personal story that we re-energise regularly by telling others. Sometimes it’s an empowering story but often we repeat tales of our bad luck or flaws or how things aren’t working out for us. Since ‘what we feed, grows’, it makes sense to be telling stories about our character strengths.
During my novel-writing course one student explained her absence the previous week with the excuse that she had ‘the plague’. Quite acceptable in the middle of winter.
Another student justified her lack of writing progress with a blush and the comment that a past lover had come back into her life – they’d been burning the candle at both ends. The whole class thoroughly enjoyed this excuse – there was lots of laughter and envy.
I had an unexpected realisation today. A friend has been taken ill and it struck me that a pretty good detox would probably handle much of the issue. This person is a meat-and-potatoes kind of guy who has only lately begun to eat a few vegies. He’s dealing with a case of severe inflammation.
A mutual friend asked me what I’d recommend for him, and while I’m no health practitioner, I know from experience the cleansing effects of a plant-based diet - and getting those old offenders out, at least for a period. (I.e. meat, dairy, sugar and soft drinks, alcohol, coffee, refined carbohydrates…)
I thought I’d weigh in with some thoughts about the cricket ball tampering issue. Given my value on 'The Whole News’, I’ve been pleased to see that the latest conversation about this issue has questioned the punishments imposed on the ‘guilty trio’.
I don’t follow cricket at all, and I’m no sports pro but I do have an appreciation of universal/natural laws and I don’t believe that any event is one-sided - either good or bad. It seems to me that there’s quite a bit of scapegoating happening here because we humans, we Australians, are loath to be completely honest or completely responsible.
On Boxing Day we had lunch with friends and one woman, who had just read WANTED: GREENER GRASS, commented that my new novel would be a raging bestseller if it weren’t for the ‘personal growth bits' in the book.
‘People don’t want that sort of thing,’ she said.
If you’ve ever received a Christmas or birthday gift that was wrapped so beautifully that you didn’t want to disturb the packaging you’ll know that, much as you admired the presentation, you wouldn’t dream of keeping the thing sealed and intact – you just naturally rip into the sticky tape and open it up.
It struck me, as I was wandering around Woolworths this morning and listening to Christmas carols, that intuition is like a surprise gift.
We’ve been keeping an eye on terrorist activity in the northern hemisphere because our three children are travelling through Europe at the moment. It’s quite unsettling as news of these crises emerges, sometimes only a day after our kids have been in one of those locations; I have to remind myself to trust that they have much too much living to do for their numbers to be up yet…
That might sound irrelevant considering that plenty of children die in these attacks, but I remember my editor Tim Marlowe saying that if you really looked into it, you’d find that those who passed had chosen that at some level.