My sixth grade teacher taught me a most invaluable lesson when she said, “Cynthia, you need to grow thicker skin”. I was a super sensitive kid and really needed to stop letting everything affect me so deeply. My knee jerk response was to sway to the other side of the pendulum, testing my forte at being a bitch and wearing impenetrable armor. My shield became so fortified by 8th grade that you couldn’t even ask me for a piece of gum. It took me time to work out the proper balance, but I still get hit with zingers. We all do.
We all have our trigger points — those chords that if you touch, near, poke or call them out will set us right off. What might strike me may roll off your back. What might roll off my back may settle inside you, fester, and ignite a long fuse which will make you go postal one day at the office when your boss calls you the same name. When I picture the typical bully, this is the movie scene that plays in my mind: A large kid on the playground slowly approaches a little kid with glasses and demands his lunch money or his jacket, calls him names, threatens him with a peanut (he’s allergic). All the while a group of kids circles around them to watch, witness, take sides, and egg on, chanting “fight, fight!” The girl the runt likes is there. There’s not a teacher in sight. All eyes are on the runt — how will he respond? Does he take it and wimp out like the doormat he is? Or does he finally snap and unleash wholly hell onto his nemesis? The suspense builds. And scene. It’s a great scene, except when the runt was you, or worse, is your child.
I have also played the role of the bully. I remember being in a position of seeing someone’s “weakness”, calling it out and wielding it as a sword. One particular instance involved a girl with a hearing impairment. We were sitting on the camp bus; I talked to her quite often and considered her a friend. That is, until we had a disagreement and I, in a very “Mean Girl” way, said something like, “Uh, you’re deaf.” No matter what I said or did after that, it didn’t matter. It was out there and I couldn’t take it back; obviously it’s still a regrettable utterance and a very uncomfortably numb moment for me. We all have regrettable moments on both sides of the pendulum. In my high school yearbook I quoted Shaun Prowdzik’s pearl: “I’d always known I’d look back on the times I cried and laugh, but I never thought I’d look back on the times I laughed and cry.” Words can be both your greatest sword and most comforting shield.
It’s the subtle nature of words — how they play on a person and reverberate in him or her. You can fortify yourself with all the comebacks in the world, but ultimately you need a lot more than rubber and glue, especially if you’re allergic to adhesives. Some never learn how to build a shield. For me, my shield was and is reinforced by my family and friends. Yet no matter how strong the shield is at first, it can get worn down after some persistent chaffing. You get pushed down enough, and sooner or later you don’t bother trying to get back up. It’s all fun and games, that is, until it isn’t. It may not be enough for a son who builds up enough courage to share his playground tussle with his father to just get a swat on the back and some insincere advice, “Hey, that’s how it is. Toughen up, kid.” That’s the world my dad grew up in, where being bullied, picked on, and beat up (and vice versa) was a rite of passage. He’s a Brooklyn boy after all. The world now is a bit different — sensitive, if you will.
Any social interaction will test a person’s limits. Just watch toddlers interact and notice when they lose it. Usually it’s pretty clear: “This is mine; he took it.” The playground can also be a breeding ground where bullying tendencies are first tested. Take, for example, the kid who steals the toy to invoke a response from his peer or parent. A parent may intervene, encourage, or be a passive observer. The figurative playground can be a park, a school (elementary, high school, college, graduate), work, home, or the new frontier – cyberspace. The bully can wear many guises and may present himself as a friend, family member, lover, colleague, peer,
employer or a complete stranger.
Is it really our nature to prey upon and exploit the weak?
The bully senses an insecurity — “Ahhh, fresh meat.” They grab a mirror and reflect back to us exactly what we don’t want to hear, what our shadow parts have been working so hard to hide, mask, tuck away. If they play that card, our house of cards crumbles. We all work to feel secure in the skin we are in and with the hand we are dealt, particularly as those cards keep shuffling throughout our lives. We all take our lumps, some, unfortunately, more then others. Let’s say your child, Rudolph, wears the seemingly worst ensemble ever known to humankind — all 52 cards in the good old, abominable stigma deck. Now, imagine him loving himself for all 52 socially good reasons not to, regardless of whether the world understands him. Or better, the world he knows and experiences accepts him just as he is, welcoming him as a participant in the reindeer games. That’s a bull’s eye.
About the Author
Cynthia Litman is a working modern mom with a classic twist. She has two delicious children and is the spiritual and visionary guide of Mommas Pearls. Cynthia began Momma’s Pearls in 2009 when her grandparents passed away as an outlet to remember and pass down their wisdom and integrate it into the quickly passing moments with her young family. Mommas Pearls provides insight and support to other everyday busy parents. Mommas Pearls has since dovetailed into the Mommas Pearls blog, talk radio show and M’S Gems – a blog written by her BFF Melissa who brings the practical, give it to you straight side of Mommas Pearls. Cynthia is also an entertainment lawyer with a niche in spiritual entertainment. Her firm Cynthia R. Litman, Esq., PLLC caters to the spiritual entertainment market. She is a founding partner of The Spiritual Cinema Circle (www.spiritualcinemacircle.com), a DVD club for spiritual films, Executive Producer of the Independent films “Lost In Sunshine” and “Boost”, production attorney for “Conversations With God” (film based upon the books by Neale Donald Walsch) and distribution attorney for Debbie Ford’s documentary film “The Shadow Effect” and Nicole Clark’s documentary film “Cover Girl Culture”. Cynthia is a contributing writer for the online magazine Bella Life and a Lifestyle expert for Skimbaco Lifestyle.