I just watched the movie “Bully” on Netflix [strongly recommend it] and am thinking about the phenomenon of standing up and how to nurture this quality in our young people. So many of us do nothing when we see bullying. I think this lack of courage is at least in part a result of punishing young people when they stand up to adults.
I remember my mom hitting my older brother when I was about five. I ran over to my mom and started hitting her and telling her to stop. She and everyone else in the family then switched targets and yelled at me. It took a long time and I mean decades before I figured out how to stand up for people. Likewise for my expectations of anyone standing up for me.
I think they missed an opportunity. When children take a step towards taking on an injustice, however flawed that step, we need to support it. Even when that step is in stopping us when we’re acting in ways that are less than stellar.
Before I discovered Patty Wipfler and that lot, I yelled at my children. One day, as I was yelling at my son, my husband came over to me, hugged me saying, “You’re a good mother.” I just cried. I didn’t want to act like that; I was just ineffectively trying to unload some old unaware feelings. My husband stopped the behavior without in any way making me feel defensive or ashamed and I got to let go of some of that tension without harming the young people.
Some years ago (who knows when, the years all seem pretty indistinguishable at this point), I made a commitment to always do something to interrupt parents acting oppressively to children. One day, while shopping, I heard a child’s loud cries and its parents panicked and harsh efforts to stop it. I walked over and said, “I want you know that I don’t mind that your child is crying. It’s a natural and healthy thing for a child to do.” Their three other children looked at me in wide eyed wonder and I added, “It’s really hard for parents and children at grocery stores. The children want so much and the parents can’t pay for it all. Hard for everyone.” They profusely thanked me and even chased me down as I was leaving to thank me again, saying that usually people get angry at them when their children make any noise.
On another occasion, as I was walking to the library, I approached a large man and a young, maybe seven year old child. She was walking along a brick wall while he bellowed, “What don’t you understand about the word no!!” I went over, put my hand on his shoulder, and said, “I’m an elder mom and I know it’s hard for parents and children.” (Do you detect a theme here?) And he almost started to cry and told me how he didn’t want to yell but sometimes couldn’t help it. Boy, did I understand.
Not all my attempts were that good, or even successful, but I think it’s worth the try.
Got some examples of your own?