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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Never Regret Being A Good Person

There are certain tenants by which I live my life – though I may fall short of my own (somewhat lofty) standards at times, I know that gratitude, kindness, acceptance, patience, respect, honesty, and empathy will always be at the top of my list. 

I’d rather be kind to someone who isn’t in return than meet them on a lower playing field. The Universe has a way of righting paths without my intervention…so I allow it, and Karma, to do their thing.

I am 1,000% responsible for my behavior – good, bad, and otherwise. But I will never have to own anyone else’s. 

Martial Arts – Respect Your Beginnings

I’m not sure I’ve seen a cuter image…!

Respect those who teach you, and who give selflessly to further your growth and learning in life… And respect where you came from.  Your actions and behaviors will speak volumes of their own when you uphold values so noble as these.

 

 

Perspective – When My Attitude Flares Up, How I Tone It Down, and Why I Should

MOST of the time I *try* to be a decent human being.  I try to reflect on my behaviors – good, bad, and ugly – and to conduct myself in an upstanding way as much as I can.

I ALSO fall short plenty!

As human beings, we are subject to more influences than I think we ever want to admit (hell, even the moon has me all off kilter when it’s full!) We are subject to changes in mood, for so many reasons that it would be nigh impossible to list them all.  But that’s okay.  We are allowed to ebb and flow, because that is just the nature of life.  We don’t have to be perfect all the time, and even if we have some grandiose notion that we’d like to be. . .it doesn’t always play out that way.

But the other day a thought came to mind that stopped me right in the middle of my “if-the-car-in-front-of-me-doesn’t-speed-up-I’m-going-to-go-nuts!” rant.  It was such a jarring thought that my attitude shifted. Instantaneously.  

I have the wonderful fortune of volunteering with children with disabilities with two organizations – I’ve never found something that lit my heart quite as much (and that’s saying a LOT, as I am a truly passionate person about my life, my activities, and the careers I have had.) I love the kids, and I love meeting their parents – learning about them, their individualities, and what makes them happy, is an overwhelming joy.

So as I was having this moment of “can’t stand anyone” (and I think it was in reaction to a woman tailgating on the highway and giving me the middle finger, despite that I had no idea what I did to warrant it) I thought to myself. . .

What if the person in that car who I’m getting all flustered because of, or at, was one of the parents of the kids I get to work with?  Would I act the same way?

Resounding NO.

I wasn’t *trying* to give myself a guilt trip, or make myself feel badly.  When my behavior deviates – and I think it’s fair to say, as adults, we generally know when we are being unreasonable and inappropriate with our reactions (should we choose to be honest with ourselves!) – I am aware of it.  I do try to correct myself and in effort to curb poor actions, I have said to myself everything from “you never know who has a weapon!” “you can’t take back what you say,” to “that really doesn’t make me a good person to flip someone off”…!

Doesn’t always seem to calm me down, though!  

But. . .the thought that it *could be* someone in a situation such as the families whose children I work with shut me down pronto.

I would never want to behave that way with one of them.  And when I think about it, I can’t imagine I really want to act that way with ANYone.  What does reacting poorly say about me anyway? Nothing grand, I assure you!

When I think about it, it makes me feel sad that I would allow temporary emotions to overcome me in such a way that I lash out – in any regard.  As a human being, I know it is bound to happen, and that expecting myself to be Miss. Goody Twoshoes is NOT realistic.  But because I don’t know what other people are facing, and because I also know how blessed I am, I appreciated the supernal reminder. . .which stopped me from getting angry, or for the woman who flipped me off to ruin more than the few seconds of my day during which she did so.

I know I’m going to fall short sometimes, but that moment was one I know I will remember. . .

I have the blessing to work with those who have a journey fraught with challenges, and I LOVE the work because I have the opportunity to make lives better. To behave poorly as a result of flared emotions is to contribute in a negative way, and I will suffer personally when I choose that route.  The only thing that would make it worse is to also hurt someone else who didn’t deserve it to begin with…and I’d say I don’t really want to decide that someone deserves any of that.

 

Knowing Is Half The Battle

People are complicated – even when you make every effort to empathize, to walk in another person’s shoes, putting aside the urge to respond negatively, some people are painfully impossible to deal with.  

When we understand the notion that another person’s response and (re)actions are effectively a result of their place in their own evolution (which cannot rightly be compared to ours or anyone else’s) it is far easier to deal with them.

While I *want* to take the path of gentle kindness, absence of judgment, 100% positivity…I don’t always.  I’m human!  But imagine, then, how easily I set up the disappointments in expecting others to meet me on that plane – if I really want to be those things with every fiber of my being and I still fall short too, it seems I’m expecting a bit (a lot!) too much of everyone else.

That doesn’t mean to say behaviors are excused, that I don’t have a right to expect a certain level of decency, for example, or for someone to live up to basic standards.  What I mean is that if I understand others aren’t on my wavelength, it makes letting things go, and moving on, a whole lot easier.  It helps me to recognize that I operate at a different vibration, in other words, which gives a lot less power to other people…and puts more (potentially all of it, wouldn’t that be nice!) in my hands.

No one else has a right to ruin my mood – I let it happen sometimes, and that’s on me.  When I change my view, and recognize that, while a lot of people have done some hard-work-soul-searching…probably more people haven’t.

To face oneself is one of the bravest things anyone can do, but it doesn’t occur to people naturally all the time… We live amidst an increasingly mindful existence in some ways, and a horribly (and rapidly-occurring) detached one in others. If people haven’t “met themselves” on a deeper level, they simply aren’t capable of meeting you at your vibrationally higher altitude.

It may be a challenge to disassociate and detach from others when their behaviors fall short in our eyes…but when we learn to do it, we can live a much more peaceful existence.  I’ve worked on this one for a long time, and I’ve got many moons and miles yet to go – but progress is progress and knowing is absolutely half (or more) or the battle.

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Inner Peace

Ever and always some of the best advice on the planet…

Behavior or actions generally come with – what I perceive as – “pre-existing conditions.” There’s:

. . .Past experiences

The stresses of our current lives

Our mood(s) at any given moment, and. . .

Whatever beliefs and conditioning we have had over time.

That’s a LOT. . .

So just as with us, another person’s behavior(s) and actions(s) aren’t because of you, about you, or even your fault.  Most of the time it’s all that other “pre-existing” stuff that gets in the way…

“You have no power over me” is one of the most incredible phrases you will ever have in your arsenal, and it’s one you should say in your mind often.  No one has the right, nor the ability, to control you, your emotions, your thoughts, your attitudes, your behaviors…or your day!  Only YOU have that power, so don’t knowingly give it away by letting their “stuff” creep in.

Definitely easier said than done but it truly is like having peace in your pocket – peace is in your possession at ALL times.

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