After the horrible tragedy Monday; the hopeless feeling; the sensation that the floor dropped out from under us; the pain in my heart and soul; feeling the confusion, pain, and fear of those there (which I did after Newtown, as well), I asked Spirit for the lesson in all of this. As the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver asked during our neighbor’s funeral, “where is my blessing”?
And Spirit replied, “What is terrorism but escalated bullying?” and pointed me to a Facebook post I shared a few weeks ago (borrowed from my high school friend Margaret, now a hospice counselor):
* * * *
Bullying 101: Empathy
The ability to imagine oneself in another’s place and the thoughts, intentions, emotions and direct experiences of them.
Bullies are challenged by this. Not that they don’t have empathy but rather that their needs, wants and/or emotions are the priority. They have the ability to distance themselves intellectually and emotionally. As we age, the ability to distance becomes more difficult to change. Empathy is an emotion that is taught and can be taught. Remember yesterday when an Alpha Male mostly listens? That is one of the keys. In our brains there are specific neurons that activate during communication and if we are truly listening and attentive, our body begins to mirror the other. Our ability to quiet our mind, set aside our internal desires, emotions and thoughts is directly related to our ability to learn, develop and feel empathy. If you are empathizing with someone you are truly listening. If a bully was truly present and understanding someone else’s pain thereby not self-centered, do you think they would bully? Probably not.
* * * *
My friend Tom added a link to an article on bullying: http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/bullying-phoebe-prince-teens.htm
The gist of the article is that, contrary to popular belief, bullies have average or higher than average self esteem. Now, self-esteem is a GOOD thing, but more importantly, the article also points out that bullies can lose their moral compass when driven by their peers.
Empathy is the key that keeps bullies and their peers (really, the driving force of bullying) from losing their way–and as Margaret’s post points out, it is an emotion that can be taught. If you are here, reading this, you are a likely a parent, grandparent, teacher, or caregiver who already teaches empathy and the sacredness of others. If you don’t make it a focus, perhaps you’ll be moved to do so now. As with anything dealing with the heart or emotions, teaching children empathy is not something you draw up a lesson plan for and say, “Kids, today we’ll be talking about how to imagine yourself in another’s place.” It’s something we model regularly, mention off-hand frequently, and let our children catch us doing daily.
As a believer in creating our own reality, I often stress to Lily that no one can “make” you feel anything. However, we do have intentions behind our words and actions. Using words and actions that are intended to hurt is not being respectful to the expression of God in others. Lily gets that. I let her know my occasional slip-ups of being thoughtlessly unkind, and we discuss how I could have done it better. As she grows and gains mastery over her emotions, she’ll share the same with me. Again, empathy is key–realizing that another person also has thoughts and feelings, as we do.
Those behind the bombings in Boston are bullies, plain and simple. They do not have the spark of empathy inside them that tells them that others’ freedom from pain and suffering is equally or more important than their need to make a statement. That their feelings of pain, of “righteousness,” of mayhem, do NOT take priority over the freedom of others to live their lives in peace. Like those in the news who have taunted and tormented others to taking their own lives, or adults to break down on a school bus, or who make countless children afraid to go to school, those who caused this event have not had someone model empathy to them.
WE–you, me, others we reach out to–can stop this. I see it on my child’s playground. The bullying starts young, and parents stand by. We can reach out to them and to their children and talk about empathy. It can start with us.