Harassment Part 2 – Don’t stand up TO others, but stand up FOR yourself

This is Part 2 of the previous article entitled, “What’s the matter? Don’t you have a sense of humor?” In it, I dealt with the causes of bullying and intimidation. Now it is time to discuss the options that are available to us when we are the victims of aggression. Let’s say a co-worker, schoolmate, or neighbor makes fun of me and treats me with disrespect. What can I do about it? Let’s look at three options.

1. When insulted, our first instinct may be to fight back. The confrontational approach is emotional, not rational. It is never the correct answer. All it does is escalate the tension and anger. It makes all future dealings with the same person that much more stressful. But what if, after being insulted, I punch the bully in the face and win the fight? If I do, doesn’t that make ME the bully? Besides, people don’t change their behaviour because of force or intimidation, but because of example. So, don’t try to right a wrong with another wrong.

2. Our second option is to walk away, ignoring the abuse. This choice can be correct or incorrect, depending on the circumstances and our motivation. If the only reason I walk away is because I’m passive, unassertive, and unjustifiably fearful, it is the wrong choice to make. For once I accept abuse, I invite more of it. Don’t become the type of person the bully is looking for. That is, don’t become an easy target, one who will not stand up for their rights.

Yet, sometimes, accepting defeat gracefully is the better part of valor. What’s the point of standing up to a thug if he shoots or stabs me to death? Neither the fact that I was right nor my heroic actions will serve as consolation to my widow and fatherless children. If we have reason to believe the abuser is violent, it makes sense to walk away. No one likes to be viewed as a coward, so it takes courage to admit defeat and walk away.

There is another reason for walking away. Perhaps I have pity for the bully who is desperately looking for attention and the control of others to hide their own feelings of inadequacy. In other words, I walk away in compassion and forgiveness. I rise above the pettiness of it all. That’s what Rene Descartes (1596 ~ 1650) did, for he wrote, “Whenever anyone has offended me, I try to raise my soul so high that the offense cannot reach it.” There is also a commonsense aspect to this method, for if I do not accept the insults of another, who is there that will be offended? The spiritual approach of ignoring the insults and treating the abuser with respect can lead to their transformation. So, it’s worthwhile giving this method a chance.

But what if the abuser is coldhearted and doesn’t respond to my unconditional acceptance? Then it’s time to rethink the proper spiritual path. Consider the following two spiritual choices. I can retire to an isolated cave and meditate for ten years. If I were to do so, it may be helpful for MY spiritual development, but how much help would it provide to a troubled world? A second approach is the way of Mother Teresa. It is active involvement in the world, offering assistance where it is needed. Isn ’t that a superior way?

How does this point apply when dealing with bullies? Well, if I walk away in forgiveness year after year, my actions may be fine for MY spiritual development, but what about the other victims? Perhaps their hearts are not filled with compassion, but filled with anguish. Why are there bullies in the first place? Isn’t it because not enough of us stand up for our rights? Therefore, the ideal action to take, which is not always possible, is to defend ourselves. This is the third option. It is the superior choice, for when we follow it, we help ourselves, help the other victims, and help the abuser.

3. The third option is not about standing up TO the bully. That is, it is not about becoming aggressive. Rather, it is about standing up FOR our rights. It is about being assertive. Failure to defend our rights has severe consequences. It leads to more abuse and causes us to experience the toxic emotions of anger, resentment, anxiety, frustration, and depression. We not only lose control over our lives, but also lose our integrity because we conceal our feelings. And we lose trust in others, lose self-confidence, and lose the daily pleasure of life. So, we have plenty of reasons to agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 ~ 1882) who wrote, “One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!”

All right, a co-worker constantly insults us and we’re unhappy about it. How do we act assertively? We do so by following the four steps below.

1. Begin empathetically. That is, show you understand their feelings and are not trying to argue with them.

2. State the problem by giving the reasons why the bully should end their poor behaviour.

3. State what you expect.

4. Ask for feedback or confirmation.

Now, here’s an example of the four steps in use.

1. “I understand you just want to have fun and don’t have any bad intentions, but I don’t want you to have fun at my expense.”

2. “When you joke that way, it offends me, encourages others to act disrespectfully, and breaks team spirit.”

3. “So, I would appreciate it if you stop the name-calling. There’s no reason why we can’t respect one another.”

4. “Do you understand what I mean?”

As you can imagine, it takes time to arrive at such a thoughtful response. So, take the time to think things through. Write down what you wish to say, and practice saying it firmly, but not threateningly, in front of a mirror so you will be properly prepared. Are there other steps we can take and points to be aware of? Yes, there are. But guess what? Once again I’ve run out of space. So, I will conclude this topic next week in Part 3.

Words may not break bones, but they can break a person’s spirit, so when you see someone being abused, step in, if you can, and come to their defense, but without becoming abusive yourself. Team up with like minded individuals and support one another. Also, never lose sight of compassion, for in the end, the best way to destroy your enemies is to make them your friends. (See https://personal-development.com/chuck/harassment3.htm for part 3).