“Transcending Cruelty — Getting Beyond Bullying”
by Kelvin Chin
Overcoming the Fear of Death Foundation
[Note: None of what we discuss below is meant to absolve or give a “free pass” to the bully. On the contrary, the cruel person is and always will be responsible for their actions, and for the consequences created by them. However, this discussion is meant to shed some light on WHY the bully acts the way he or she does — so that we can better understand their motives, and thus hopefully find a way to counter their bad behavior. To neutralize their bad behavior as much as possible, without feeding it any further.]
So, what about “mean” people, or bullying?
Or, racial stereotypes, ethnic slurs, religious wars, ethnic cleansing, office politics, etc.? All those unpleasant types of behavior that, if directed at us or those we love, make us cringe, recoil in disgust, or maybe even cower if we indeed feel truly intimidated — WHAT can we do about it?
There are two concepts I want to introduce to our discussion:
1. “Transcending Cruelty” and
2. “The Importance of Being Important”
These two concepts may be new in the framework of the discussion around cruelty and bullying, but bullying and cruelty of course are not new experiences to us — we encounter them unfortunately all too often. We may have been the recipients, the victims of bullying ourselves, or we may have watched others being bullied either on the public stage in the media, or perhaps closer to us in our family or work situations where we were a bystander.
CRUELTY and BULLYING
First, what is “cruelty”?
Cruelty is when someone enjoys inflicting pain or unhappiness on another. So it could be physical or emotional pain. Or both.
And what’s the motivator for doing this?
Ironically, the motivator is the same motivator that motivates any of us to do anything — the pursuit of happiness.
However, in this case the person inflicting the cruelty is so unhappy, so miserable within him (or herself) that to make himself happy, he must make those around him more unhappy than he is.
Think about it. Think of all the bullies you’ve ever experienced or observed in your life. Up close or from afar. Are they truly happy people?
Don’t be fooled by their boastful talk, their bravado, their chest beating about how great they are, how terrific they are, how smart they are, how much money they have, how big their house is, how fancy their car is. That is the typical bully smokescreen. But that sort of behavior is a HUGE red flag. Those are all the common signposts of a weak sense of self — in a word, insecurity. In another word, unhappiness deep inside. Smiling on the outside, miserable on the inside. Thus the need to constantly prop themselves up by boasting and bragging.
“THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING IMPORTANT”
So, what is the bully’s solution?
Quite simple actually.
Making others around him/her feel more miserable than he/the bully feels, in turn, allows the bully to feel “more important” or more powerful than the person he is being cruel to. And that feeling makes the bully feel good. Really good. Really powerful.
It is that feeling of being more important that then becomes central to that person. It becomes central to his or her ability to make him/herself happy. And so, it often becomes an obsession for the bully — a feeling that they essentially live for. Thus, the concept of “the importance of being important” becomes their central life theme. Look closely, and you will see it play out over and over again throughout the bully’s life. Depending on their degree of insecurity, in extreme cases it could even play out on a daily basis, even multiple times a day. Verbal and nonverbal messages of “I’m more important than you are, more important than he is, more important than she is…” Those are the red flags, the signposts of insecurity, the markings of a bully.
And I think it bears mentioning in this world of reality TV stars and celebrity obsession, that no matter how “en vogue” it may be to argue this following point in certain aristocratic circles of society, there is no such thing as “being better than another person based on your breeding, your gene pool, your family genealogy.”
Yes, someone may be more powerful than you politically, socially or economically. But never psychologically — and in the broadest, most non-religious way — never spiritually. We are each of us “spiritually and psychologically sovereign beings.” We can always say “No” to the bully. In that sense, we can always choose individual freedom.
It doesn’t matter how powerful the person seems on the surface. Whether he’s the president, prime minister, king, emperor, CEO, religious or spiritual leader, or the owner of the company or plantation, we each have the power as free-thinking individuals to agree or disagree with whatever they tell us. And if they bully us, by understanding these dynamics, we each can stand more powerfully upright facing their inappropriate behavior and do whatever we need to do to retain our personal dignity and individual fortitude. We will discuss what we can do in further detail below.
I also think it is valuable to realize that, if forced to self-reflect, the bully typically would not define himself (or herself) as a cruel or mean person. If you asked him if he was cruel, he would say, “Of course not! Look at all the wonderful things I do for others!” But in questioning him further you would find that he really enjoys being important. That is a red flag. A signpost to look deeper. Because it’s that feeling of being more important than someone else that drives the bully, becoming a functional need that makes him feel good about himself. That often defines who he is. Often how he himself proudly defines who he is, if asked. “Look at how important I am — I am more important than you are.” Most bullies are subtle about how they lord themselves over others. The bold ones who state their importance to your face are the ones who have found that their bullying works time and time again — but in their “in your face” behavior are revealing their deep-seated insecurity to you. Pay attention and recognize that for what it is.
Because to continue that feeling of importance, the bully must continue to make people around him feel weaker, more miserable. And then as he craves even more happiness for himself, he tends to turn up the dial and make that one group (or one person) more and more miserable — otherwise he is no longer “more important.”
The more miserable he makes his victim(s), the more superior, important, and thus happy he becomes. It is a vicious cycle. But in the bully’s small-minded “me-only” world, it works.
So, the odd thing here, you could even say “the illusion” here is that the person who is being cruel (the bully) continually has to surround himself with people who are more miserable than he is, people who feel weaker and at his mercy, and thus more unhappy than he is.
And, you might ask: “What kind of life is that? Surrounding yourself with weak and unhappy people? People you want to be unhappier than you, whom you want to feel weak and powerless around you? People who are sycophants, ass-kissers just to keep you — the bully — happy.”
But you see, since that person, the bully, is not aware nor understanding of his own behavior, he does not see that illusion. The bully only feels better, and because their feelings are all that matter in their mind — it is ALL about them — that is where they focus. That is all that matters in their little self-centered world.
So…what can be done about this?
Let’s talk about the concept of “Transcending Cruelty.”
This concept applies both to the person being cruel, and to the person who is being made miserable by the cruel person.
First let’s address the bully, who actually is the much more difficult person to help. If the cruel person realized the above illusion that we described, he or she would find that they might not derive as much happiness from their actions as they previously thought. (I mean really? — Surround yourself with weaker and more miserable people than you are…?! Seems like a world you or I would not want to live in, but as you might guess, the bully is not typically a very self-aware individual.)
That’s right, realizing that illusion, takes a more self-aware individual to first perceive and then accept that understanding, and by definition, the cruel person is most likely feeling miserable in the first place because of a low sense of self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence, which starts with a lack of self-awareness. So that is the proverbial Catch-22, and any significant level of positive change for that bully — if ever — will probably take a longer time (maybe a very long time, maybe even many lifetimes) to take place.
But, in a nutshell, the solution for the bully is to do some serious personal development work — meditation and personal therapy or other similarly deep work — and deal with his or her insecurities, strengthen themselves from within, and develop a stronger sense of self which would engender more self-confidence and less of a need to feel so “high and mighty” over others manifesting it in forms of bullying and cruelty. And for those of you who know me, I am an “idealistic pragmatist.” So, the idealistic side of me demands that I lay that path out for the bully, but the realist side of me requires that I point out that the probability of a bully taking that self-aware route is minimal at best, depending of course on the degree of insecurity within the bully.
Now, let’s turn to the second issue of how to help the person who is being treated cruelly, how to help them “transcend cruelty.”
The first step to helping the victim deal with the bullying behavior is to recognize what is motivating, what is driving the person to be a bully or to be a mean, cruel person. So, seeing that the person is trying to make you miserable because he is feeling miserable within himself is the first step. Recognition is the first step.
The second step is to understand that he is trying to control your emotional state, trying to make you feel worse than he feels. That is his sole goal.
SOVEREIGNTY OF THE MIND
The third step is to realize that your mind is sovereign — that is, it stands as a free and independent thinking mind that has “free will” and that cannot actually be controlled by anyone or anything. We are only controlled by others if we allow ourselves to be controlled by them. It is a choice that we each make as individuals. Yes, we can be influenced by others, but they cannot control our thinking. In that way, we are always free and independent thinkers.
I typically prefer to use non-religious language like “sovereignty of the mind” so that all people, whether they are religious or non-religious, may readily understand the concepts I discuss. But for those who are comfortable with religious references, I think this reference from the Civil War movie The Free State of Jones speaks directly to the point I’m making. At the burial ceremony for several of their group who had just been hanged by Confederate soldiers, the movie’s main character, Newton Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey) a former Confederate soldier himself, shared the following moving words of inspiration to his band of rebel fighters — a group of former slaves and poor white farmers fighting along side together — “You cannot own a child of God.”
Yes, Knight/McConaughey was referring to slavery. But I would argue that bullying others is a form of attempted slavery. It is, however, always our sovereign choice to allow — or not allow — the bully to enslave our minds, our spirits, our hearts. As we’ve discussed here, the bully may enslave our bodies, but never our minds.
In the case of cruelty, or bullying, or any form of meanness — as in any situation — we retain that control, that ability to choose. And so, we can choose to not be mentally controlled, to not be made to feel miserable by the actions or behavior of another. (We will discuss HOW in the next section.)
Now, granted, this is often difficult to do. It does take a strong mind to make this happen, to make that choice. However, I suggest that it is not as difficult or impossible as we sometimes think it may be. And it is a choice we owe to ourselves. How much more intimate a choice is there than to choose actions, thoughts and behavior that acknowledge our self-worth? It’s easy to pay lip service to it — spouting affirmations that “I am a valuable, powerful, self-sufficient human being.” We each do that all too often, and we tend to stop at just saying the affirmations. We need to go further and take action. Because actions speak louder than words.
So, in addition to recognition, understanding cruelty, and having that attitude of sovereignty in our minds, what else can we do? What affirmative actions can we take?
Any behavior that is unexpected by the person who is inflicting the cruelty, will cause him confusion. That is a key step in thwarting his cruelty. Confusion.
For example, laughing or otherwise displaying strength within yourself is unnerving to someone inflicting cruelty. It is not meeting his ends. It does not serve him. You are not being dominated by him, controlled by him. He will not derive happiness from someone who is more happy than he is. And in this case, he defines happiness as control. He wants to control you — that gives him happiness. Do not give him that. Maintain your self-control, and you will control his happiness over you. In other words, if you maintain your self-control, he will be unhappy and will leave you alone or at least will ease up. And when he eases up, that opens up opportunities for you to act and “escape” from the situation, either literally physically or emotionally. Or, even turn the tables on him.
Ian Fleming’s character James Bond honed this skill of thwarting his cruel captors repeatedly throughout his long fictional lifetime.
Remember, by definition, the cruel person is deriving his happiness from people who are more miserable than he is. If you do not succumb to his efforts to make you miserable, you cause him to fail. He will typically move on to someone much easier than you to make them miserable instead, or at the very least your not succumbing to his efforts will cause him doubt which will open doors for you to jump through and escape or counter his efforts.
What about physical pain? Because we do live in physical bodies that can be subjected to pain, cruel people will often tend to go there first. However, if we believe and experience that our minds are separate from our bodies, that our minds are sovereign as I said earlier, independent and free-thinking, then this will help us to push through the pain, the physical pain. Which will cause them confusion (remember those James Bond torture scenes and how James behaved towards his cruel captors…often laughing, joking, verbally going on the offensive aggressively, asking them troubling questions that made them doubt what they were doing, etc.).
Again, that is the next step to “transcending the cruelty” of the person inflicting it, namely causing them confusion. This unexpected behavior to withstand physical or emotional pain and not allow that very real physical or emotional pain to cause us mental suffering, or misery, will disconcert the bully, and in James Bond’s situation, the confusion will cause them to make a momentary mistake that James takes advantage of.
Create your own version of James Bond if you are the victim. Think out-of-the-box, cause confusion. Do or say the unexpected.
I acknowledge that this is not an easy task if you are the victim. But, these are the effective steps to thwarting the bully when confronted.
3. Sovereignty of the mind
4. Creating confusion
This is the notion of Transcending Cruelty and the concept of the Importance of Being Important.
How we can recognize bullying, why it occurs, and how to deal with it effectively if it is directed at us, or at those we love.
How these two very important concepts — how understanding them and applying the principles within them — can help improve our quality of life, our state of happiness by reducing our level of suffering, if even just incrementally, by wresting control back from those who may try to push their importance on us.
Kelvin H. Chin is a Meditation Teacher, Life After Life Expert, and Author of “Overcoming the Fear of Death.” He learned to meditate at age 19, and has been teaching Turning Within and coaching others in their self-growth for 45 years. He helps people understand their life challenges through their individual belief systems, and helps them find their own solutions. His past life memories reach back many centuries, and he accesses those memories in his teaching and his coaching in the same way all coaches draw on their own available experiences for perspective and effective analogies. He can be reached at www.OvercomingTheFearOfDeath.org or www.TurningWithin.org.