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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Re-Education

Another problem we have with these bullies:  Unlike Congressmen who get caught tweeting pictures that were meant for porno casting directors, these people NEVER admit fault, even if they're confronted with a mountain of proof.  No matter how judgmental they may be towards others, no matter how much they love pointing out other people's faults and weaknesses, they feign ignorance when shown to their face the many ways in which they themselves are wrong.  Some of them seem to pretend that it's not even happening!

However, I remember a very iconoclastic episode from my youth in which the opposite happened.  Some of you may remember me from college, when I was a member of a co-ed community service organization that attempted to appear similar to a fraternity or a sorority.  One of the leaders of this organization was a bully of the first order.  He/she had all the characteristics I've mentioned earlier in this blog -- he/she was spoiled to the degree of thinking that insulting people in public and behind their backs was a harmless pastime, because they had never suffered any punishment or consequences for their actions.  Even worse, if anyone took the slightest step towards rebuking them, there was an army of followers who worshipped every single thing this postpubescent child had to say!  I'll still never understand how that's ever possible, but it was an unfortunate reality.

I mean, please!  This was a community service organization, and these people behaved as if they were the forerunners to "Mean Girls!"  It's a good thing those "Real Housewives" reality shows had not yet been conceived at the time, because these people would have, unfortunately, become stars!

Finally, after burying their heads in the sand for an eternity (since this man/woman/child decided that he/she loved this illegitimate reign so much, he/she stayed at our school to get a master's), action was taken.  An underground group attempted to report his/her misdoings to the National Office to have him/her expelled as a member.  However, as was often the case, there were no secrets in this group.  Gossip traveled faster than texting, and there was no texting then! 

Nevertheless, a meeting was held, and he/she was finally faced with his/her offenses, and forced to confront them.  As predicted, his/her first response was the plaintive wail of "How could you do this to me . . . after all I've done?!?!?!?"  Yes, he/she did assist in founding the organization.  Yes he/she was a "good leader" (interpret that whichever way you'd like).  And yes he/she did want to do what was best for the organization.  BUT HE/SHE JUST COULD NOT STOP BERATING, INSULTING, BESMIRCHING, OR SLANDERING OTHER MEMBERS OF THE ORGANIZATION WHO WERE NOT HIS/HER CHOSEN FEW!  As predicted, his/her only response to this fact, which became weaker and weaker as the meeting wore on, was "But I'm only being honest!"

And then, before I knew it, I was brought into the fray as well.  One of my closest friends in the organziation rebuked him/her for talking trash about me when I wasn't around to defend myself.  His/her only response was that "But I wasn't speaking to you when I said that!"  And what's more, someone had chosen him/her and me to be co-chairs for a certain committee, prompting him/her to tell anyone who would listen how unworthy and sub-par he/she thought I was, even stating that "When David speaks, I leave the room."  Being confronted with this line actually brought a smile to his/her face.

(By the way, he/she was 24 years old when this was happening.  Scary, right?)

I decided to take the high road when it was my turn to speak.  I did not attack him/her, or accuse him/her of anything.  I did not toot my own horn or make myself sound better than him/her.  Instead, I decided to bring up my own weaknesses.  I admitted that I was not always a very nice guy to the other members either.  I, too, had said the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I, too, was far from perfect.  However, I had also gone out of my way to make amends for those failings.  I had accepted the consequences of my actions, and attempted to replace them with friendlier and gentler ones.  I then told him/her, that if he/she still chose to hate me, he/she was welcome to do so.  However, if he/she could make an effort to change his/her behavior when dealing with me, he/she might be pleasantly surprised.

He/she rolled his/her eyes (again) at the thought of showing me any respect at all.  However, I was the one who was pleasantly surprised in the next few minutes.

He/she said, somewhat begrudgingly, "Dave, you're right.  I have not been fair to you."  He/she then took the time to mention that I, also, had been dedicated to the organization, and put in the time to make it better than it had been.  He/she also stated that he/she would try to work with me on the committee, and would stop complaining about it.

I wasn't sure if this was a "work," as it's called in pro wrestling.  Was he/she faking this just to draw me offsides?  I didn't know.  I did know that his/her followers gave me the dirtiest looks around campus for the next few days.  Who was I to soften up their dear leader?

For the most part, we did work fairly well together as a team.  This sometimes meant I had to let him/her do a lot of things that I would have preferred to do.  But when you deal with someone who's that leadership-oriented (it's OK to read power-hungry), sometimes it's better to do that.  Otherwise, they'll just pick apart and second-guess everything that you did differently that they would have done.

The point of this ancient and dusty allegory is this:
(1)  Although it's not always a successful approach, one of the best ways to deal with bullying is to confront the aggressor with what they do and to explain why it's wrong.  People like this usually lack the humility to understand that anything they do might be wrong.  However, if it's done in a way that is not judgmental or preaching, but rather in a way that shows that we're sometimes as wrong as that person is, there's a better chance of them understanding it on their own terms.
(2)  Sometimes it's not what you do, it's how you do it.  It's not always that you get the job done, it's that you make others happy that you did it.  Or to put it bluntly:

(3)  YEAH, YOU DID IT -- BUT WHAT GOOD IS IT IF YOU'RE STILL A(N) ___________ ?

Feel free to comment -- especially those of you who were there when this episode happened!