When I think of bullying, I envision a kid at school taunting other kids. Maybe his name sounds strange. I remember a kid in my elementary school whose last name was Tushman and the kids called him “tushie” any chance they had.
Maybe a kid is gay. Maybe he’s handicapped, has a noticeable birthmark, or maybe she tried to stand up to her oppressor and the taunting only got worse. Kids are cruel to other kids and bullying has caused teenagers to withdraw into depression. In some cases, they’ve even committed suicide because their life as it, is too painful and they don’t know how to ask for help.
But what about adults? We get bullied, too. I recently spoke up to a pair of disgruntled neighbors who are hoarders. Their stuff spills out onto the street and they encroach on other people’s space because their extensive parking area in front of their house is crowded with a boat that hasn’t moved in thirty years (literally) and a number of cars and trucks. All the neighbors got together and asked them to please get their van off the street that was filthy and full of junk. They took the van off the street, they were outnumbered, but they struck back, targeting me. Was it because I was a single woman, an easy target? Or maybe it was because the husband came onto me several tines and I rejected him. Whatever it was, they decided to dump their rage on me, giving me the cold shoulder.
I sent three emails suggesting we talk his out, but they didn’t respond. They would rather fight their battles with their cars than look for a way to stop their feud with me.
The point here, however, is not what my neighbors are doing. It’s about how to deal with it when you become a target. At first it felt creepy like they were spying on me and it upset me more than I expected it would. It felt like someone was shooting out rage at me whenever I opened my front door. I didn’t know how to be with it. Until now. My sister was visiting me this weekend, she and I spoke seriously about the bullies, until she walked outside with me, saw the cars, and started laughing. “Is that all they’ve got? How stupid!” she said, amused that these people were so ridiculous, they made their walk to their home longer, just to make a point.
My sister was my hero, hardly for the first time, as I laughed too. I pictured these two people feeling smug, taking the long walk to their house. I recalled someone telling me that when I was afraid to speak publicly, I could imagine everyone in the audience, naked. In this case, I had felt victimized before but suddenly, all I could see were two little gray and aging curmudgeons, trying to convince themselves they had the upper hand.
Finding my sense of humor was the magic bullet. I saw that I was giving them the power to victimize me and the moment I took my power back, the idea that I couldn’t do anything about it transformed into the sense that I was choosing to keep away from them. It was my decision, I didn’t want to engage in warfare and upset myself further. But it took some time before I could wrap my head around it.
Neighbors are people that we wouldn’t necessarily spend time with but we’re brought together since we live in proximity. Most of my neighbors are sweethearts, we get along great and we smile and chat when see each other. But there’s always a bad apple or two on every tree.
The upshot was that as soon as my upset and feelings of victimization dissolved, I felt free, because I was. Now, I prefer to see this couple as harmless and silly and I have a good laugh when I go outside and see their lame efforts to make me feel badly. It’s worth it to keep walking yourself through the problem and you’ll come out the other side. As Michelle Obama so wisely stated, “When they go low, we go high.” And that is how freedom from oppression takes root and grows into something beautiful.