Steen mug shot

Steen

“Let me live in my house by the side of the road — It’s here the race of men go by.

They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,

Wise, foolish — so am I;

Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat,

Or hurl the cynic’s ban?

Let me live in my house by the side of the road

And be a friend to man.”

— Sam Walter Foss

She had come home from a stay in another town. They were doing things differently there and were having positive experiences regarding “the virus.”

Sharing her fond memories of the visit, along with an occurrence at a local establishment that wasn’t as favorable in her opinion, she found social media was not her friend. The attacks came swiftly. She should return to where she had been, they said, not mincing words.

Her efforts to be helpful were unappreciated by most (and perhaps misplaced on a public page), and watching the scene unfold indicated to me that the world in which we live is full of opportunities — for kindness and for bullying, for compassion and for ridicule.

Foss’s words are also a good reminder of who we all are (at one time or another) and who many of us might like to be — a friend to man.

In looking to define what it means to be a friend (close or distant), there is no definition nor description anywhere that includes abusive behavior. I did find it included with another type of person, though: a bully. As a child, you might have found yourself on the worst end of a bully’s behavior, ridiculed or physically picked on. It’s also possible you might have been the bully. In neither role are we too old to change.

The only real difference between why children bully and why adults do is, well, there is no difference. Adult or child, bullies bully because they feel a lack of power in their own lives and are afraid of being perceived as weak.

We see it in every part of our lives: a faculty member at our kids’ school who thinks it’s cool to belittle us for being (perhaps overly) interested parents; in many medical offices when a doctor feels threatened by a patient who asks questions based on their own research; in politics when people have decided it is better to malign to build themselves up by tearing down the character of a worthy opponent; and in our own families where members, afraid of looking weak, waste no time breaking down everyone around them.

Bullying can happen almost anywhere, and otherwise nice people might be the bully. Empower yourself instead of allowing someone to lock you into victim thinking. When someone shoots down your idea, maybe making a joke in front of coworkers, it isn’t because your idea is necessarily bad, but because they are afraid of looking inferior for not offering the idea themselves.

When someone calls you names on social media, it isn’t that you are a horrible person, but that they are afraid of what you bring to the conversation. Sometimes, the bully on social media might pit two people against each other.

Professionals recommend we:

1. Avoid the bully. On social media, block them. In real life, avoid them whenever possible. Bullies have a radar for people they think might cower or who’ll they’ll get a reaction from. Walk in the other direction.

2. Ignore inappropriate behavior. Easier said than done (for me), but if you cannot respond or react in a way that gives the bully satisfaction, there is a chance he or she will eventually find another target, though it would be better to help them change their behavior.

3. Play along. If ignoring isn’t helpful, try playing along and diffusing things that way. If they say, “Susan, your photo is hideous!” I might respond, “Thanks for the feedback,” or “That’s just the look I was going for, thanks!” It still stings, but hopefully takes the fun out of it for them.

4. Speak up. If you feel safe talking to the person privately, try that. If you have a supervisor, a parent, or someone else in an authority role, speak to them for support.

What research teaches us, most importantly, is it is most likely not personal. It feels personal when you are the one being attacked, but the bully is more than likely actually unhappy with himself or herself. Remember that.

“Are many people still bullied as adults?” you might wonder. Yes. 31 percent of adults (who responded to a survey) say they’ve been bullied as an adult. That’s a lot of people, and it is disheartening to realize bullies never grew out of the behavior, they only grew up to be bigger and badder it seems.

The problem isn’t just that it’s crummy to be bullied. The bigger issue is that when people are bullied and are unable to get it to stop, they end up with other issues. According to the survey by the Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, these victims:

  • · suffer from stress
  • · experience anxiety/depression
  • · report a loss of confidence
  • · suffer from sleep loss
  • · have headaches
  • · experience muscle tension or pain
  • · reported a mental breakdown
  • · noted an inability to function day-to-day, i.e. calling in sick frequently

If you notice that people avoid you, ignore your “funny” remarks, or give it right back to you, you might take a minute and a lot of humility to decide if you are the bully in the story.

With so many problems plaguing humanity on a good day, couldn’t we stand to be a little kinder? As I watch the race of men go by, I see good, bad, weak, strong, wise and foolish, and I hope that I am more often good, strong and wise.

It is never too late to undo who we’ve been, never too late to stand up for people we see mistreated or even for ourselves, to be a friend to man, even as we live quietly in our house by the side of the road.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others.

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