Nick had only finished his sandwich a few minutes prior, and it was already beginning. The bullies were swarming over him. He reached to grab his apple, but was too late. Someone had reached over his left shoulder and snatched it. He turned to face his rivals and wondered why it took 12 of them to harass one 95-pound, 5-foot-nothing high-school freshman.
Natalie stopped in the convenience store on the way home from school. Yeah, she had a good breakfast, and her mother had packed a hearty lunch, but she was still hungry. She bought a bag of chips and a cupcake. As she walked towards home munching away, she heard some girls across the street giggling in her direction. She knew they were making fun of her weight. She had to admit she had gotten too big over the summer.
Bobby’s asthma was really acting up, so he pulled his inhaler from his book bag and sucked in deeply. He kicked the dirt in front of him. Why couldn’t he just be regular like everyone else? Then he shook his head. The doctor had told him to walk in the morning and evening to condition his lungs to be open and more functional. But Bobby had been too lazy to respond to that advice. When he showed his gym teacher the notes from his mom to get him out of class, he saw the guys were rolling their eyes and shaking their heads. They shouldn’t tease him. He can’t help it. Or could he?
My youngest son spent the first decade of his life among people who enabled his excuses, and others who pushed him around. Then he grew tired of his overweight, asthmatic way of life and changed everything through self-discipline. To this day, he credits the bullies, not the people who empathized and compensated or explained their actions.
Bullies Don’t Soften The Blow
I read more and more about how bullies are being dealt with in schools and work places, and I especially applaud the efforts of those who know children shouldn’t be afraid to go to school or participate in extra-curricular programs. But I’m a little nervous when the rule-makers step forward and absorb the “hit.” I’m afraid of the potential to abuse the excuse. If we turn the tables so much that we tell the weakest among us, “You don’t have to defend yourself anymore,” what are we really saying?” Again, let me be clear. Bullying at any age, at any level, is wrong. I have zero tolerance for people who do that, but one has to admit the bully is the one character in life that doesn’t soften his blow. What he says hurts, and the hurt is buried deep in the notion that he just may be right.
“Maybe I am too weak. Maybe I am too soft. Maybe I do eat too much.” The bully doesn’t compensate like parents. “That’s okay, honey—you have a good heart—now eat.” So maybe, just maybe, when we bend and take the protection from those who insult us, we are doing ourselves an injustice. Maybe that insult should become inspirational; it can be the last straw, the day when things begin to change if we weren’t so quick to lessen the impact.
But warning signs suggest it may already be too late for some people. After I eat at a chain-type restaurant, the waiter pleads that I go online and fill out a survey that tells corporate how wonderful the service was. Now think about this. If I go into one of these places and the service is awful, is the waiter going to tell me about the survey? Of course not, so the surveys that do go to corporate are probably 90-percent glowing reviews. But here’s the bigger point: Isn’t the service supposed to be good anyway? Why is something I should already expect, like good service, being vaulted into this unreachable class that only a few select customers can expect? It’s like my favorite example of “Extra Strength Aspirin.” The pharmacist asks, “Do you want regular or extra strength?” And I think to myself, “Oh, just give me regular because I want to keep this headache going a little longer before I get relief. I’m funny that way.” What the heck? “Do you want super-strength detergent?” “Oh, no—I like to retain a little of the stain so people know I work hard.”
This is the same kind of weakness. What, if without a survey or any provocation, the customer told the manager on the way out, “Hey, that kid who served us was outstanding. We’ll be back because of him.” Rare? Sure. A real compliment? Absolutely, and not programmed or cued up. It was actually earned.
You Can’t Teach Awareness
One of my newest targets is employee-efficiency seminars that are just wasteful and take days away from the office. What’s the purpose: to teach workers how to be organized and use a little forethought. That’s it, that’s all. The company brings in droves of experts to teach employees everything they should have already known from 6th grade. Employees are encouraged to look at situations from multiple angles and be alert to changes or inconsistencies.
Nothing is wrong with being aware, informed, and alert, but that can’t really be taught. One just has to wake up, for God’s sake. And we’re talking 3 to 5 days of seminars built around this point. When I took my kids to the movie theater, I would divide the bucket of popcorn into individual bags, and then ask, “Who knows where the emergency exits are?” They would all point at once to the red exit signs. They had been told in advance that’s where we’re going as a hand-holding family if they hear an alarm. I didn’t have a class—I just was always worried about my kids.
Now please call my pastor and respond to the survey that tells him I am a really good dad. I might get a free set of steak knives or a coffee mug that says, “World’s Greatest Heathen.”
Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.