It takes no strength to be a bully. That said, to call those who bully, villains or bad people, misses the mark entirely. Hold people accountable, certainly. But accountability does not mean compassion has no role. When possible, it does. Very much so.
Bullying itself is a distance maker as far as I’m concerned. A way of keeping people backed off. Distance makers, as I’ve been bold enough to name them, consist of some behavior, attribute, environmental reality, that keeps people at a distance. Distance makers come in many forms. A former colleague of mine who dealt with a weight challenge told me that some folks put on weight as a way of keeping people away.
It was pondering that observation that led me to recognize the presence of distance makers and the sizable repertoire of distance makers alive and well in the human family. In short, distance makers, healthy or not in form, are meant to protect us, keep us safe.
Distance makers are everywhere. Yelling, nastiness, sarcasm, name calling, threats, all forms of violence. I can attest to the fact some perfumes and colognes are distance makers. The first time I smelled musk I thought the end of the world had come.
I had a spectacular dance teacher at the Joffrey School of Ballet named Perry Brunson. He taught, Men’s Class. In all my time as a dancer I never met anyone who could teach Men’s Class as brilliantly as Mr. Brunson. On top of that, he was a nice man. A nice man who, before each class, dipped himself into a vat of English Leather, a cologne capable of repulsing anyone who got within a yard of the man. That said, Mr. Brunson was no bully. He was, in truth, a lovely man, and a teacher I remember with gratitude and great fondness.
Back to bullying. Bullying does not take strength, in my view. I’ve heard some theorize that some bullies are, underneath, cowards. I don’t agree. To call a bully a coward is to inflict judgement, and judgement, when applied in the arena of understanding human beings, distorts reality.
It may very well be true that many bullies live with fear, a primary antecedent to the bullying in some cases, I would think. But to engage in bullying behavior, while managing fear, is anything but an act of cowardice. In truth, it takes strength to manage both at the same time. And, of course, when you bully, you run the very real risk of someone striking back. Such moments can result in some tough emotional quagmires that can often be worked through, with therapy.
I’ll tell you now, the therapist who guided me through the end of my first marriage, getting shot, the suicide of my mother and my daughter’s suicide attempt is a New York-based certified social worker.
Bullying is a distance maker. As long as it is present, no human-to-human connection can be a healthy one.