October 13, 2021

Kindness & Bullies

The first time I remember experiencing a bully was in middle school. Let's call him Jerry.

Jerry was athletic, popular, and girls liked him. He also found it extraordinarily funny to take things from weaker kids, make fun of them, and then throw the object back at the kid.

Because I moved around so much during my childhood, I saw lots of bullies. I learned to stay out of their way — lay low, don't draw attention to yourself, and they'll leave you alone. But one day, Jerry saw me scowl at one of his shenanigans and the game was on. From that point forward, he would find any small way to needle me — knock food out of my hand in the lunchroom, body check me during games in PE class, and take my clothes in the locker room and then make fun of how I looked or talked.

To me, Jerry was the worst.

But here’s the thing...Jerry seemed to have friends. And if anyone picked on Jerry’s friends, he would go into full protector-mode. At the time, I rolled my eyes at the sheer hypocrisy of it all. But secretly, I wondered what it would take to become his friend.

One day, after gym class, I noticed that Jerry had left his nice leather jacket in the locker room. I went and found him, and returned his jacket. He looked at me absolutely puzzled. No jokes? No mean words about being stupid? Nothing. The fact was, I was too scared to say anything. I just literally handed him his jacket and started walking away.

And then the craziest thing happened, he said, “Thanks.” And in that moment, my relationship with Jerry changed. We didn’t become best friends, and he still needled me sometimes, but from that point forward, things were lighter between us.

I don’t know what Jerry’s life was like, but I know that he was missing something. And he found it when others were kind to him.

Take away the “middle school” brand of bullying, and you just have people who’ve been hurt. They’re acting out of fear and pain. That’s why they are the way they are. The same goes for the biggest bully in your life, the one inside your head.

You probably know this figure well — telling you that you can’t, you shouldn’t, you’re not good enough, you’ve already tried and failed too many times, you should just stay down. That voice is no different than Jerry.

Maybe it’s time to get to know that bully. Where did they come from? Why do they exist? When do they show up and why? Bring the bully to your table. Be kind to them.

Remember that anyone who's been hurt and disowned is a threat — wandering throughout the world seeking revenge, power, and a new place to call home. That’s especially true for the voice inside your head when you’re seeking to learn, grow, or navigate new spaces.

That voice doesn’t need to be avoided or shoved away, it needs a dose of kindness. And the kinder you are to that bully, the more space you’ll create to do the work you care about most.


Illustration Credit: The talented Emanuele Colombo

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