Bullying, Disabilities, and The Empathetic Heart

I don’t have children, but this would very much be top of mind if I did. To raise a child to be sensitive to others, to have compassion and empathetic view, is one of the most important traits they could have.

I’ve had the fortune to participate in a training on bullying and harassment recently (though this is a long-time hot topic for me, and one I regularly talk about with the kids in our Martial Arts classes. I myself was bullied and harassed growing up, and with the prevalence of cyber methods, it is even more insidious for children these days.) The training focused on bullying as it pertains to all children within a school setting (primarily public in this case), but also with some particular data regarding bullying and children with disabilities.

It might seem alarming to some of you that children with disabilities are bullied approximately 1.3 times more than their neurotypical (non-disabled) peers. (George G. Bear. et al. Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities, School Psychology Review. March 2015, Vol. 44, Issue 1 cited in Rose and Gage, Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students.)

Bullying in and of itself is horrifying, but the prospect that it is happening even more to children with disabilities is difficult to grasp. My passion lies in not only empowering others by helping them to discover their own inner strengths, talents, and abilities, but to equip them with the tools necessary to manage challenging situations. Martial Arts is my current vehicle – as  one of the instructors under my Sensei, I am able to impart values and knowledge to the children during class. Naturally it isn’t always easy to keep the attention (by the way, not AGE-dependent so much as child-dependent…and time of day!) It is therefore crucial to be both consistent with messages, and to repeat them with frequency. It’s amazing to hear the kids respond to “what is our goal with a bully?” with “TO CONTROL AND NEGOTIATE!” (We encourage the idea that we aren’t learning Martial Arts to injure anyone else – the key purpose is to know how to protect ourselves and others, should we need to, but also to use our skills only as a last resort.)

For children with disabilities, the concept of bullying can be more difficult. Cognitive or physical limitations may result in the child not fully understanding that he or she is IN a bullying situation, let alone how to manage the situation if it is happening. I believe in teaching – I believe in helping individuals to understand how to recognize danger, violence, harassment, and bullying before it happens or, if that window is missed, when it is happening. It is only with the knowledge of what is taking place that we are able to do something about the situation.

I also believe it is vital that each of set the example – whether our own children, our nieces and nephews, kids we see in classes at school or in sports…we are always on the radar. Children are constantly watching and learning from our actions as much as our words (I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of a little one coming out with a mouthful of something hilarious after having picked it up from an adult – you never know what they’ll say next, only that they are ALWAYS absorbing.)

Children will pick up our mannerisms, our prejudices, our attitudes, and our approach to people / places / things. As such, we must keep in mind that what we say / do, and the methods by which we manage situations are likely to be adopted (depending on how much time we spend with them.) Takeaway —> Children are hugely impressionable.

EXAMPLES…

  1. In Martial Arts class, I ensure that I hold EVERYONE to the same standards (including myself)
  2. I am always impeccably dressed (gi, belt, tabi, hair tied up, no jewelry)
  3. I ALWAYS show a “Zanshin” or “ready stance” when I am demonstrating a technique with my Sensei…both before and after the technique, to show it is vital to always be ready for a potential threat (or a threat’s follow-up)
  4. When I see someone acting out or in a bullying manner, I very quickly address it and make sure involved parties understand what happened, and why their actions were not acceptable
  5. I treat everyone equally
  6. I speak in a firm but respectful tone
  7. I reward great behavior with positive, verbal affirmations
  8. Likewise, I don’t tolerate fooling around – a Martial Arts setting is not the place!

My behavior and approach will be modeled, so it is important that I lead by example. I do the same when volunteering – we have a few children with autism who like to get particularly rowdy. I make clear when something is not acceptable in explicit terms, and I encourage and reward positive behaviors.

In daily life I also do my best to lead with an empathetic heart. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily more vulnerable to or unaware of realistic dangers, only that I approach my assessments with some level of compassion. (I am not, let’s be clear, referring to a dangerous situation – during such times, we must act without hesitation. This is its own rabbit-hole conversation!) But. . .in regular, day-to-day activities, I do my best to treat others as I want to be treated, and to have compassion for those in need. I am not raising a child of my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t impact those around me – I want those children to know the beauty of an empathetic heart, and that it is up to us to champion for those who may be unable to do so for themselves. 

There are many bullying situations in which a child may not fully grasp the danger he or she is in (as above.) While there are no definitive statistics, it is clear that many people stand around and do nothing. To me, that is simply unconscionable.

We encourage the children in our classes to – first and foremost – get an adult. That action is doing SOMEthing. If they are in the midst of it, we show them some of the ways they can be involved and stay as safe as possible. But we don’t say “just stand there and stare!” We want them to recognize danger when it occurs, and know that they have safe options to HELP. At the end of the day, those actions can literally save a life. 

Empathy and compassion matter.

Having tools to use in dangerous situations matters.

Let’s do our part to help children to understand what they can do, and to help them grow into compassionate adults – they need never, EVER be helpless.

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Committed

I have come a really long way, and I’m incredibly proud of that.  But I also know I have much to learn. . .and that’s okay. The journey is a lifetime.

Each day is a new opportunity to be a better person – a better human being to myself, and those around me. We all deserve a happy and fulfilled life, but that very much begins with US.

My competition, much as they say, is myself yesterday.  It isn’t a friend, neighbor or celebrity. It’s me, myself and I.

I am committed to choosing the high road.  To standing up for what I believe in, and loving life fiercely.  

I am committed to holding myself accountable, and to the standards to which I hold others…at a level just above that.

I am committed to being kinder to myself, because I’m a goddamn powerhouse with a heart the size of the globe.

I am committed to seeing the good and the beauty in all things, and to always make “the best of it” – worse isn’t a long shot for many, and I guarantee hundreds of thousands of people want what you have! 

I am committed to being a better and better version of myself, to bring hope and joy to those around me, to give back as much as I’m able, and beyond…but also without losing myself in the process.

I have a list of goals and dreams miles long…and I believe they are all achievable.

It starts TODAY.  Ten minutes ago.  Life beats to time, and time is a drum that doesn’t stop.

The only control we have rests with us – LEARN. Live. Be kind to others, especially those who are there along the journey with you.  

There’s room for all of us to succeed in our pursuits – Let’s be better together.

(A Few Of) Life’s Helpful Hints

 

  1. Failure is NEVER the end.  In fact, without failure, we might very well miss out on what we are meant to do and meant to learn.  Embrace mistakes and endings, and recognize them as the begging of something great.
  2. Things don’t change just because you want them to / say they will.  If you want change, you must take action – life isn’t going to drop what we need at our feet most of the time.  We have to work hard, set intentions, and put actions into play.  Period
  3. ALWAYS go above and beyond. Promise what you will, and over deliver on those promises.  Your name is on your work, so give a shit and make it count.
  4. Teach others (without being condescending.)  Your knowledge and experiences are valuable, not only to you, but to others who will come after.  Sharing the wealth in this way benefits everyone.
  5. Question before jumping to conclusions.  As human beings, we all often fall into the ass-of-you-and-me trap.  It’s important to step back and recognize that what we *think* may be the case, may be the farthest thing from.  What someone SAYS is gospel, may be in fact be a figment of another’s imagination (or poor googling!) 
  6. Make peace with your past. Tough one, for sure!  Do what you can to make peace with your past, and those in it – this might mean ongoing help to overcome the habits the past has instilled within you, and that’s okay.  Just make sure you work on it – no one deserves to be confined to past challenges.  There is hope, and there’s always room to break free!
  7. Turn. Your. Brain. OFF! Some of us overthink (which can be disastrous –> irrational brain on overdrive!) and some of us conceptualize (read: think about ways to do this or that, but never take the plunge and ACT. As with #2, you have to DO in order to initiate change – things aren’t going to materialize for you while you sit and ponder!)
  8. NEVER, EVER compare yourself to others. PERIOD. If you can’t help yourself, compare you to you yesterday – that is the only person you need to concern yourself with.  You may see good, bad, or ugly in others…and you can rest assured that the flip side of any of those also exists (you just aren’t privy.)  The point being, you have no idea what another’s true reality is, so don’t’ make yourself crazy trying to pit yourself and your circumstances against it.