One glance at the picture above and I am instantly transported to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. As most of you who have followed me for any length of time already know, I am a big fan of that famous childhood program. I still think the self-improvement fundamentals taught on that show could apply to many adults to this very day. Do you know of anyone who could benefit from watching the episode “What to do when you are mad”? It would appear many of us have either forgotten, or could use a gentle reminder of many of the qualities that make us all good humans.
In today’s social and political climate, it is “You either agree with me or you are evil”. It would seem many of us have forgotten how to be civil to each other. Add to that, many of us do the bulk of our communicating behind a keyboard and it becomes worse. It seems without the personal accountability and responsibility of face to face communication, we do not feel constrained by manners. Social media, ironically, has made us forget how to be properly social. There are terrible acts of violence against each other in the news almost daily. Some are politically motivated, some are completely random. When I come across these items it makes me long for a neighborhood like Mr. Rogers had on his program. One of mutual respect and admiration.
Then it occurred to me. Each of us is responsible for creating this neighborhood. It is in not only teaching the fundamentals that were taught to children on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, but even more importantly, living them. Include people who are different. Learn about them and their culture. Not with a motive to judge, but to understand and appreciate. Learn to respect those whose opinions may be different than those of your own. Learn new skills, sing songs and yes, learn what to do when you are mad. A great way might be to check out some episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Yes, the program was made for children, but the values are just as important, if not more, to adults of today’s world.
Many will say this is wishful thinking. They will argue how much difference can one person spreading kindness and compassion make in a world of people spreading hate and judgement. Can you imagine what a difference it would make if every ‘one person’ who was told that would have taken action? There are roughly 8 billion people on this planet. Can you imagine what it would be like if even 1 out of every 10 decided to indulge in random acts of kindness? Think of the ripple effect and how many people that would affect? Do you know where it starts? It all starts here and with you. Be that one person. Start that ripple effect. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Create your own neighborhood.
Many of us have heard that you are, in many ways, the aggregate of the 5 people you are surrounded by most. As much as we strive to be our individual selves, I believe the people that are in our lives have a far greater impact on us than we would like to believe or certainly admit. To me, that is not a liability, but an opportunity. We can begin to focus on surrounding ourselves with people who bring positive changes and experiences into our lives. There is a picture of some wonderful and fun people I am sharing an experience at our local state fair with.
That is not to say we should base all of our interactions on a ‘what can you do for me’ mentality. Just be aware how you feel and act around certain people. I know when I enjoy a walk or a cup of coffee with my friend Nick I end feeling both empowered and inspired. When I walk with my mom in nature we both feel relaxed and grateful for the natural beauty we have experienced. When I spend a romantic evening with Margie and I am always left feeling loved and grateful to have such a beautiful and amazing lady to share life with. Even though these are examples of groups of two, it is important to appreciate the magic that happens when people get together!
Of course there are negative groups of people too. Yes, people who unite behind causes that are at best, less than noble. This was brought to my attention by a coworker of mine who was feeling despondent because, as he mentioned, everywhere he looked he seemed to see some depressing news. “Even on my Facebook it is all negative!” he proclaimed. I have explained how important it is to choose those you include in your social media posse carefully. I have actually dedicated an entire section on how to do this and why it is important in my new book, Living the Dream. I would like to give you a great example of a group I am in and how it affects my life.
I am a big fan of Mr. Rogers, the television show host who taught children valuable life lessons. Many of these lessons, such as the importance of expressing negative emotions in a positive and constructive way, could be used on adults today. I joined a group on the afore mentioned Facebook, that is all about Mr. Rogers and people’s memories of him. In this group people not only share the valuable lessons they learned, they practice them as well. I recall a young man who had autism and wanted one of the puppets like Mr. Rogers used on his show. Not only was there an outpouring of support and encouragement for this young man, but someone also sent him a puppet as well. This holds true for people who lost jobs, are feeling down or could just use a little support in general.
I told this to my troubled coworker who countered with “Yes, but that is just one group of people. Not everyone is like that.” I pondered these words. There was some truth in them, but there was an important fact that he was missing. “What about the groups of people you were talking about before? The negative and angry people.” I asked him. “Aren’t those people just one group of people? They certainly do not represent the world at large.” In this day an age, it may very well be true that negative groups get more of the press, but that does not mean they represent everyone. Just like my group of fellow Mr. Rogers fans, there are plenty of groups who display the good that is inside every one of us, no matter how deep it is buried.
I suggest we search out these groups and lend our own positivity and compassion to them. Groups of positive people not only encourage and support each other, but working together can make a greater difference than all of those individuals working on their own. Can’t find a group like this to join try searching positive terms online. I belong to groups that have a positive view on motivation, inspiration, fitness and many other subjects. If you are a self-starter, try forming your own group of positive people! I have started one on Facebook called “Fall in love with your life” that not only contains these blogs, but many other positive stories and examples! Find your group of positive people and surround yourself with them as often as you can!
One of my favorite philosophers, Mr. Rogers has a good suggestion when it comes to stress. This, I must confess, sounds easy but is not. When we see others under stress, it is easy to be compassionate and understanding. At least for a person reading this blog I assume it would be. However, if you are one of two or even several people involved in a stressful situation, this becomes quite a bit more difficult. There are two parts of this equation and I think we deserve to look at each of them here briefly.
The first part tell us in times of stress we should listen with our ears and our hearts. This means not only hearing the words the person is saying, but really doing our best to understand where they are coming from. We should never make assumptions and always ask for clarity if we do not understand. We should also be aware that in a stressful situation, most things said that seem angry, hurtful, or just plain mean, can be veiled cries for help. Not everyone is skilled at communicating in regular situations, much less when they are under stress. When we think of listening with our hearts, that involves a great deal of compassion for the person sitting across from us (or on the phone, or in a text or email) This can prove very difficult especially if that person seems to be attacking us or, as Norman Vincent Peale used to say, “Using biblical terms in a very unreligious way.” This difficulty is multiplied several times if we also happen to be under stress. What a difference it would make if we were able to accomplish it? Even putting forth the effort will make a great impact.
The second part is just as important. We must be assured that our questions are as important as our answers. When we provide an answer, we are more addressing the other party’s concern that getting an answer to our own. How great does it feel to know that our feelings and concerns are important to the party we are talking to? How do we think the other party would act if they felt their questions and concerns were not as important as our own? I can’t imagine the discussion would be very healthy or productive. We must not only tell the other party their questions are important, we must also show them. We do so by repeating them back to make sure we are addressing them. By listening, not just to reply, but to understand. This is a small difference that has a huge impact on the conversation.
While involved in a stressful discussion, let us do our best to remember the party we are involved in the discussion with has feelings and concerns that they need to know are important. They need to be heard with both our ears and our hearts. It is not easy, especially if we are also under stress, but it is necessary. We may not succeed 100% of the time, but that does not mean we shouldn’t do our best 100% of the time. It may help to sing this very popular song from Mr. Rogers before we begin our discussion.
What is the one word that would change our world? It is the kind word that Mr. Rogers mentions in the quote above. Would it be fair to say that our ‘neighborhoods’ in which we spend our time make up our world? We have our ‘work neighborhood’ made up of our coworkers, bosses, customers, clients and whoever else we come in contact with. These folks make up our neighborhood 40 hours or more of our week. We also have what some would consider our ‘actual neighborhood’ be that our block, our city or however we choose to define it. We even have our ‘family neighborhood’ that consists of the people we share our household with.
Imagine to what degree we could increase the quality of these neighborhoods not just for ourselves, but for those we share them with? A simple kind word could change a cold, uninviting neighborhood to one filled with love and acceptance. Do you think that would make a difference? Do you think it would change how productive that neighborhood would be? How about how supportive and encouraging? Do you think people would act different when they feel more loved and accepted? I believe they would. I also believe we have a moral obligation to offer words of kindness in all of our neighborhoods and to make them the best they can be.
Do your part today. Take Mr. Rogers challenge and offer a word of kindness in your neighborhood. Do it in all of your neighborhoods! Offer one kind word a week and you can positively affect your neighborhood a little. Offer one kind word a day and you can have an even greater effect. Offer words of kindness to everyone you meet and you can be a catalyst for change in any neighborhood you find yourself in. I would love to hear how you positively affect your neighborhood.
As I mentioned last post, I recently had the opportunity to speak to several 4th and 5th graders about being a writer and how to improve their school and their community. I approached the day of my talk with some trepidation. How would I take many of the seemingly complex subjects we discuss on this website and in my book and convey them to these young children? After all, many adults take a while to grasp some of the concepts! Then the above quote from Albert Einstein came to mind. “If you can’t explain it simply, you do not understand it well enough.”
These wonderful young people were giving me a great opportunity to learn a new way to convey my teachings in a simpler format. Could that be done? I recall one of my favorite virtual teachers growing up, Mr. Rogers. His children’s television program routinely tackled very complicated subjects such as death and divorce and broke them down to simple ideas children would understand. I would do the same with the issues I believe allow young people to make a big difference in their community. I wanted them to know that each of us has a unique and special talent, different from our friends and family, but just as important. I wanted to show them the different talents people were using to better our community. We have artists painting murals on several buildings throughout the city. Those are artists using their talents. We have engineers that are redesigning streets to make them safer and easier to travel on. Those are people using talents in math, design and many other skills. It is by pursuing what you enjoy and are passionate about that can lead to a better community. A city full of people pursuing their passions would be a great community indeed.
I also wanted to instill the idea of believing in yourself and your dreams, even if others don’t and it may seem as if they are right. My grandfather, the older person in the picture above, only had an 8th grade education due to growing up during the depression. Despite this challenge, he ended up teaching college welding classes. He did so because that was his passion and he invested in teaching himself. In my own journey, as some of you may know, I was told by a well-meaning English professor that I should never pursue a career in writing. The sad truth is many people cannot see what talents may lay untapped inside of us. In fact, it may take us a while to see and believe in those talents ourselves. If I had listened to that English teacher I would have never written my book that has touched thousands of lives.
Bullying. The last bit of information I wanted to relay to these amazing young people was the need to work together. Especially in today’s world, we are connected more than ever. Not a day goes by that we do not rely on others for things we do and use. Anywhere from the engineers I mentioned earlier that design the streets we drive on, to the people who make our clothes we live in and the cars we drive. There is the farmers who help bring food to our table, the garbage men and women who make sure our waste does not collect rats and flies to, of course, our amazing teachers who instruct and inspire our young.
I used an example to speak to children, but I think it can benefit adults as well. Think of the Avengers. It is a group of different super heroes. Each one has their own talent. Spiderman can climb tall buildings where the Hulk cannot. If they were to arm wrestle the Hulk would win every time. Each super hero has their own talent, but they can do the most good when they work together. Each hero brings something different they can do well, even if it is different from what we can do well. We all have our own ‘super power’. What creates great change and a great community is when all of us ‘super heroes’ come together and use our super powers to make our schools, families and communities better.
I am so grateful to the three teachers who gave me the great opportunity to not only speak to and inspire and empower their students, but who forced me to take a new look at what I teach and to be able to pass that knowledge on to young people. If we can teach our children how best to be not only good citizens, but good neighbors and good people, we have done a great gift to our world and to our future. It is with that thought in mind I want to take a moment to acknowledge the effort and difference teachers of all kinds make in the world. They have not only one of the greatest responsibilities and one of most difficult jobs, but one of the most noble – shaping our future through the lives of the young.
Even the casual follower of this blog, not to mention anyone who knows me personally, knows that I am a big fan of Mr. Rogers. A host of a children’s television program, but also a modern day teacher and philosopher who mastered the art of human fundamentals. That is to say he could break down the most complex subject so that children could understand. Divorce? He had a show for that. Senseless violence? He was able to talk to children about that. In doing so, he took subjects that were multi-layered and broke them down to the most basic aspect.
By doing this to benefit children, I think it had the unexpected result of benefiting adults as well. Just as a star athlete will practice the basic moves in which their sport is made of, we as adults must practice basic emotional and societal actions. There are steps such as finding a way to not only express our feelings in a healthy way, but allowing others to do the same that can make a huge impact on the world. Discovering what to do when you are mad. How to help yourself when you feel lonely. These are lessons that Mr. Rogers taught to children every day on his television show but that many of us have forgotten in this crazy work-a-day world.
The quotes in the two pictures I have featured represent 2 paths to changing the world. Sounds like a bold claim. Follow 2 quotes from a man who used to host a television show for children and we could change the world? Remember how an athlete becomes a star. They practice the fundamentals every day until they can do them without thinking. Let us get back to our human fundamentals. At a basic level all of humans have a great deal in common. We all want to be loved. We all want to be treated well. We all would like to be significant in some way. We want to feel like we make a difference.
Let us look at these two pieces of advice. The first one is to “offering, as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.” He implores us to imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like. Can you imagine what your neighborhood would be like if everyone offered just one kind word to another person? If people walking around complimenting each other makes you think of a ‘neighborhood of make believe’, that should tell you how far we have strayed from human decency. How difficult is it to offer a person one kind word? How much effort does that take? Even offering them one kind thought. Is that really that difficult? Of course it isn’t. So why is it that imagining people doing that seems so far removed from reality? What can we do about it? We can let it start with us. When you see your neighbors share with them a kind thought or at least a kind word. Watch the difference it makes. Become that agent of change.
The second quote is a little more complex in both thought and words, but still something even a child could understand and certainly something an adult could do. It really breaks down into 2 sections. The first is, “To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now” A few things I would like to point out. First is the word strive. We may not always be successful in our attempts to accept those who are different than us. It takes a great amount of patience and compassion. Not only with the people who are different, but ourselves who may fail to do so. What is important is that we are striving to do so. If our intent is to love and accept our neighbor as they are, more often than not we will succeed in doing so. In the times we fail, we can apologize and even ask for their help in understanding. The second part is to “go on caring through the joyful times and through times that may bring us pain.” Right now a lot of people are experiencing pain and tough times. All of them for their own reasons. It may be difficult to understand what they are facing if we ourselves have not faced similar situations. It is for that reason it is so important that we go on caring for our neighbors.
It is the basic things that will allow us to become a united people. It is being loving and caring for each other. In this global world and economy that will live in, it is understand that we are all neighbors. We have the unique ability to affect people not only in our direct neighborhood, but in our world neighborhood as well. Will we use that power to divide or will we use it to show love to our neighbor and bring us closer together?
As most of you know, I am a big fan of Mr. Fred Rogers. For the younger generation that follow me who may not have ever heard of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, it was a children’s show on public television. On this show Mr. Rogers taught kids very valuable life lessons. Things like how to express your feelings. The importance of maintaining a positive attitude. He also spoke of complicated things like death and divorce. He discussed these topics in a simple way that children could understand them.
In my mind, this had to be a very difficult thing to do. As adults we tend to over complicate nearly everything we do. Taking a complicated subject, such as divorce, and breaking it down to help children understand what is going on takes a lot of work. Mr. Rogers also broke down many barriers before their time. When people of different races were not allowed in the same swimming pool and tensions were high, Mr. Rogers invited his neighborhood friend Officer Clemmons, who is African-American, to soak his feet in the swimming pool with him. They sat and talked. Not about Racism or even the current pool segregation. Instead they talked about how hot it was. When Officer Clemmons remarked he did not have a towel, Mr. Rogers quickly volunteered to share his.
This may not seem like anything so remarkable on the surface, but in 1969 when the episode aired, it was. People of different colors were not supposed to swim together and certainly not share a towel. Now take time to think that this was on a children’s television show. People in their formative years were watching this. They were not hearing an argument as to what was or should be. They were not being preached at. They were being shown an example of how people should treat each other.
Leading by example was something often seen on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.I recall an episode where he visited a restaurant to show children what that was like. He was courteous, and well-mannered. He didn’t say, “Now this is how you behave here.” He just did. Another thing I recall from both that episode and others, was how he seemed in awe of everything and everyone. Some may take a person making a sandwich for granted. Not Fred Rogers. He genuinely complimented the people throughout his entire visit. He also seemed entirely grateful. He seemed to find joy in the smallest things. From everything I have seen and read, Fred Rogers was this type of person off the screen as well.
Here is where you and your job comes in. Mr. Fred Rogers died in 2003. He was a dynamic man with a heart bigger than most people I can think of. His ‘Neighborhood’ was a fictitious place, but it doesn’t have to be. Each one of us can be the Mr. Rogers of our own neighborhoods. We can teach by example. We can treat everyone we meet with reverence and respect. As one of my other mentors, Earl Nightingale, said, “We do this because that is how people ought to be treated.” Treat each day and thing as a miracle – because they are. Foster an attitude of gratitude. There is always so much to be thankful for. When others try to divide us, love one another. A loving example can be just as powerful as a speech, sometimes even more so.
This piece of advice was given by Mr. Rogers during many crisis. It couldn’t hold more weight today. In this social media driven world we can tend to see and focus on only the bad and negative. That is very easy to do, it is plastered all over the place. One way we can be like Mr. Rogers and help us all to have more ‘beautiful days in the neighborhood’ is to look for the helpers, the people who are helping. Find the people helping to clean up the environment. Find those trying to help the old and sick. Find those who are trying to bring people together instead of driving them apart. Join these people. Support these people. Most of all – become one of these people. In short – become the Mr. Rogers of your neighborhood.
Here is one of those fabulous things I happen across on my social media viewing. I was blessed to have many friends who shared this exact picture. More importantly, I believe they also genuinely feel that way. Once again, I must mention how grateful I am to have people in my life that feel and act this way.
In a world where many people may feel confused or concerned how to speak to and treat one another, there is one guiding principle that can make things a little easier and a lot less stressful. That principle is to have a genuine love and appreciation for all of us sharing this planet. It can be a hard thing to do at times, but if you can show love to everyone, including those who may seem not to deserve it, you will have a truly amazing life.
I know you might be thinking, “That sounds great Neil, but how can I learn to do that?” A first great step would be to watch your diet.You might be wondering how watching what you eat can help you to become a more loving and compassionate individual. Your diet is not only the food you consume. Your diet also consists of the music you listen to, the books you read, the people you hang out with and everything you consume not only physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. At the end of this post I will give you a little healthy treat for your diet. Make sure you read on for that.
If you spend your time in fear of what words or phrases may be acceptable these days, or you just are concerned with saying the wrong thing, there is a simple solution to that as well – become an encouraging. This world that can seem crazy and chaotic is woefully short on reasons to be encouraged. Help someone heal. Help them believe in themselves. If this is your intentions, your heart will guide you to the right words.
By having and more importantly showing love for each other, we do something wonderfully important – we help people believe in themselves. There are many great agents of change, spiritual and cultural leaders that have doubted themselves at some point. Without their contribution, the world would have been a darker place. The great thing about this is that there is always opportunities to help someone believe in themselves and in turn help them change the world.
Don’t believe it? Think of some of these examples. You encourage a young lady who is learning the art of cake decorating. Instead of giving up when her wedding cake looks more like abstract art than a culinary masterpiece, she tries again. She remains confident and goes on to create edible works of art. How does this change the world? Imagine the joy that adds to every special occasion her cakes are a part of. They will add something special to every event. A heart-melting sigh when the bride and groom see their cake on their wedding day. The ear to ear grin on the young child when they see their favorite character sitting right on top of their birthday cake.
Perhaps it is a young writer? Maybe pondering if the words he shares truly impact the lives of others. How would an encouraging word help this young fellow and how would it then change the world? Perhaps it would encourage him to continue to develop his craft and keep sharing his words knowing someone is listening. Then those words could reach a lost and lonely soul halfway across the world and bring them joy. Those words could then be shared from Armenia to Zimbabwe. Changing the day for many.
These are totally random and hypothetical examples, but they hold true just the same. We never know what someone is facing in life or where their heart and mind may be at. Maybe it is encouraging someone singing on a microphone for the first time, or the lonely kid sitting by themselves at lunch. Just letting these people know that you have love for them will make their world brighter, the world as a whole brighter and just might save their life.
As promised I am going to give you a little something good to add to your diet and will help you to remember to encourage and have love for people of all kinds. If you click the link below you will be treated to a great performance by the artist Michael Franti. Not only is Michael a great ambassador for love and peace, he represents a lot of us. He was adopted as a young child. His mother was European and his father a mix of African and Native American. He has a sister who is a lesbian and a brother who is a police officer. Well-rounded you might say. I strongly encourage you to click on the link below to listen to this song for yourself. Feel free to leave your comments and suggestions for encouraging and having love for each other below.
People laugh when I mention that Mr. Rogers is one of my favorite philosophers. They say things like, “You mean the children’s television show guy?” While it may be true that Fred Rogers was the host of a television program meant for children, I am going to show you an example of why his knowledge is just as good, if not better, for adults. We are going to explain this fact using the song that was sung at the conclusion of every episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.
We will start with the first line. It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive. How many of us start the day like that? When we wake up, what is the first thought in our minds? Is it “Another day of work again?” or “I would have had much better sleep had they just stopped snoring?” When really these are all great gifts. Many people would love to have a job. Sure, the one you have might not be your dream job, but you are getting paid and in many cases have things like insurance or retirement. Snoring might not be the best sound to fall asleep to, but it is also an audible reminder that you have someone who loves you enough to not only sleep next to you, but accept you with all of your imperfections. To lastly, the greatest gift of all, the gift of being alive. Our lives, bodies, relationships and jobs may not be exactly what we want, but by waking up every morning we have a chance to improve them and to bring joy to others.
Now let us tackle the second line. It’s such a happy feeling you’re growing inside. One of the people who started my journey into self-improvement was Tony Robbins. He says that happiness can be summed up in one word – progress. When we feel like we are progressing, or better put, growing inside, we feel happy. This brings us a sense of pride. What many of us fail to realize is that we are always growing inside, or at least we could be. Everything from painful experiences to the mistakes we make can help us grow. This is only true if we learn from them. Next time you find yourself feeling bad, just ask, “What can I learn from this situation?” By doing so you will be progressing to become a better version of yourself. You will not only feel a sense of pride, joy and accomplishment, you may actually feel yourself growing inside.
And when you wake up ready to say,”I think I’ll make a snappy new day.” I love this line! I once did a video for my YouTube channel (Neil Panosian) called waking up in Neutral. One of the most important things we can do when we wake up is set a positive intention for the day. What do 90% of us do, however? We wake up in neutral. That is we let the world decide what kind of day we are going to have. If we are late, spill our coffee, get stuck in traffic or a million other little things go wrong, our day is shot. How different would it be if we woke up and said to ourselves, “I am going to have a great day no matter what!” or more simply “I think I’ll make a snappy new day.” Even though those other things may still go wrong, they will not affect us as greatly.
It’s such a good feeling, A very good feeling, The feeling you know, that I’ll be back, when the day is new. The last part of that is very important. I’ll be back when the day is new. Having something to look forward to is a key ingredient to having a happy life. Knowing that you will have a friend (or television neighbor) that will return to your life is a very intense joy that many of us fail to treasure as much as we should. After waking up and deciding it will be a snappy new day, the very next thing we should focus on is what we have to look forward to in the future. It could be something that afternoon or further in the future When the day is new.
And I’ll have more ideas for you. New ideas and thoughts are also something we should both be grateful for, and look forward to. Perhaps the solution to a question that has been bothering us may come to light. Maybe a wonderful poem or lyrics to a song? Perhaps, like in our household, an idea for a new flavor of cake and cupcake or idea for an intriguing blog post. Hearing new ideas from our friends can be exciting too. They have a completely different life and way of looking at things. By listening to them we expand our own world in ways we never could have imagined. I hear from people and Online Neighbors thanks to this blog post. I am blessed enough to hear from people across the country and the world. I may hear from someone in Italy about a great hard rock band I have forgotten about or someone in Peru with a delicious recipe I would like to try. Their ideas make my life better.
And you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about, I will too. Much like the previous line, I am so grateful for the wonderful neighbors I have met through this blog. Having conversations with different people helps me think and know what to write about. A conversation with a good friend can make us feel better when we are feeling down, can help us become inspired when we need to be and can even give us some helpful advice and encouragement when we need it. Realizing everybody has things they will want to talk about can remind us that we should spend equal amounts of time listening as well as sharing.
I hope by breaking down this song from the program has given you a glimpse into why I believe Mr. Rogers can be a blessing and a teacher to all of us. His ability to break down and teach what I like to refer to as Human fundamentals is a rare and valuable gift. How many adults do you encounter in a week who could stand to watch episodes that teach ‘What to do when you are mad’ or just gain knowledge of how to be a better neighbor? Pull up the video of this song online and play it whenever you need a reminder of how to have such a good feeling!
When I look back at my formative years, I am not sure there is too much that I am extremely proud of. As the years went by a lot of things seemed to change as happens with most people. Some seemed to improve, such as my ability to use humor in a constructive and healing way. Some things seemed to go in the opposite direction. When I was in third grade the teacher kept my stories when the year was over because she liked them so much (This is true. My mother will vouch for me) By my senior year in high school my English teacher informed me she prayed to God I would never have a career in writing. Some things didn’t change. Once, on a Facebook post people were asked what they remembered about me. A lot of them said my hair, but some said that I always seemed positive and nice. (who would have guessed I could’ve turned that into a career) In my yearbooks people made mention that I was always questioning everything and that I asked too many questions. I guess that didn’t change either.
One thing I am very proud of is that I never heard I was a bully to anyone. In my memory, I never thought of myself above anyone. There was enjoyment to be had in the company of almost everyone I am came in contact with. The same holds true of me as an adult. I do my best to find the good in every person I meet. There are a few who make me work harder than others. If I can’t find something to like in someone I find that to be my failure, not theirs.
Growing up all kids were not like me. I am grateful for that or it would have been pretty boring. Unfortunately, some kids were bullies. Especially when I was very young, there were kids I would dread even seeing and do my best to avoid. As I grew older I realized the best way to avoid having to deal with bullies is confront them. Not in a physical way, but by realizing bullies are generally people who have more problems than those they attack. It is by accenting the flaws of others they hope to hide flaws of their own. In many ways their insults and hurtful behavior are nothing more than a cry for help. This is hard to imagine, especially as a young child whose last name resembles that of a Disney character. When I would confront them it would usually be with a question as to why they say such unpleasant things. I would often follow that up with a compliment, which is what most bullies crave most of all. I would say something like, “I really admire your _____ and can’t understand why you feel the need to be so mean.” Even if that didn’t stop the action at that moment it usually provided food for thought at the next encounter.
As I started to mention earlier, I did not have much trouble with bullies. In part, I guess that was because I genuinely cared for everyone, even most of the bullies. When I ask you how things are going, I stop and listen to the answer. It was hard to pick on someone who cared about your well-being. I also understood that usually their cruel actions were nothing more than a thinly veiled mask for their own insecuries. I would usually find something good about them and pay them a compliment. Many times instead of picking on me they would open up and share some of their issues with me. I enjoyed helping even if it was just really listening to what they had to say. I truly hoped by relieving some of their pains, it may reduce the pain they inflicted on others.
Well, that is all done and over with now that I am older right? Wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. I recall when I first started working for the United States Postal Service. In the office I worked there was an undertone of anger and hostility. Some of the rudest most insulting people were sad and lonely. In the world of being a DJ, I see it every night. Add alcohol to the mix and people’s insecurities are heightened that much further. The more insecure they feel? You guessed it, the more they seem to take it out on others. Some do not even realize they are doing it.
The sad part is they never healed from childhood. What they have failed to realize is that the pain they are inflicting cannot help them at all. Sure it may feel good in the short term. It may even hide some of their flaws they are so afraid of revealing. What it will not do is help them heal. Sadly, the effect it has on those they act out against can also be negatively life-transforming. It also trickles down. When they hurt others, those people either withdraw or then go on to hurt others. If you extrapolate this over time, the trend and amount of bullies will only increase.
Why are some children and some adults so mean and cruel? I believe the answer can be found in two words – fear and ignorance. It can be scary to face our own insecurities, much less share them with someone who may be able to help us. That takes a great amount of courage. What takes less and almost no courage is to find someone we perceive as weaker or in a lower social standing and put them down to make ourselves feel better. At the end of the day when we are in our beds, those actions will only intensify our feelings of guilt and inadequacy. The other side of the coin is ignorance. Even if we develop the courage to express ourselves, to show others our faults and be very strong as to ask for help with them, how do we do that? Those answers are best left to professionals and can be as complex as the people asking them and the problems. What we can do to help stem and stop the spread bullying is to be kind to everyone we meet and make an effort to listen to and provide a safe space for people to share their feelings and problems. I am going to leave you with a quote from one of my favorite philosophers to end this on an uplifting note.