Tag Archives: bullies

I Used to be Sensitive and Then I Went to Business School

Growing up, I was an extremely sensitive child.  My feelings were hurt very easily, but I wasn’t a crier or a tattler (though my brother would tend to disagree).  Self-confidence wasn’t something I had either.  So in an effort to make people like me, I worked hard, particularly in those early years, in school.  Now while the teachers appreciated this hard work and rewarded me for it, it wasn’t exactly popular with a particular group of my classmates.  And this group of classmates would make life pretty miserable when the teachers, the adults, were not around. 

During my grade-school years, back in the 1970’s, bullies were defined largely as those who physically hit other kids or who stole lunch money.  And it was clearly known who these individuals were and their actions often got them sent home from school.  What wasn’t recognized was the harassment bullies – these were the individuals who harassed others in a passive-aggressive non-physical manner and always out of sight of adults.  These were the individuals who while we were waiting for the teacher to get back to the classroom, would mess with my work and threaten me with physical harm if I said anything, or who would chant awful things at me as we walked from building to building without adult supervision.  These were the individuals that would call my home, sometimes several times in an evening, and either hang up or say something nasty and then hang up – anonymous as these were the days before caller ID.  And these were the individuals who had a sense of who was sensitive and quiet and went after the sensitive personalities like dogs on a hunt.  I wasn’t the only sensitive one they attacked, but it sure felt like it.

Now as I got into high school, the bullying wasn’t so in my face.  The early years of keeping my head low and studying hard and practicing music and sports in the same manner began to pay off.  The bullies were still there, but I didn’t pay much attention as I kept busy.  And for a bully, harassing someone who doesn’t pay attention isn’t much fun.  So they move on.  But, I was still sensitive and strived for perfection in all areas I could.  I wanted people to like me for doing things well as I strived to gain some confidence.  This would be something I’d carry on into college and into the workforce – I was the ultimate carrier of the banner:  “Work hard.  Play hard.”  And as I moved into my twenties, I gained some confidence and the bullies, and they are in college and the work environment too, took a back seat.

And then I went to business school.

Now business school is a different world.  Imagine putting together 300+ largely Type-A people who have in the past, been pretty darn successful in their undergraduate studies and in their early careers.  These individuals have always achieved high marks, some of them quite easily, and most of these individuals are pushy and opinionated and book- and some even street-smart (as in Wall Street).  You put these individuals into a class and they now must compete against each other for grades and jobs.  It’s really quite an interesting experiment and is repeated year after year in business, and law, and medical, and many other professional schools.

So I went to the Fuqua School of Business, at Duke University.  I entered business school thinking it was going to be a two-year conference where we would exchange ideas and think big thoughts.  In reality, it was two years of grinding work, no sleep, no money, and for me, stress about getting a job to pay off the enormous debt I was accumulating to pay for tuition and living expenses.  Business school is not something I would really want to repeat in my lifetime, but it was critical in overcoming my sensitivity and achieving a bit of self-confidence.  (I should also say that I met some of my most cherished friends and acquaintances there!)

In business school, 30%-50% of one’s grade is based on “class participation.”  In short, that means that you speak up or you fail.  Now I’d done my fair share of “speaking up,” but it was generally after all others had spoken and/or I was invited to add my perspective.  Being the first or second person to get my opinion or analysis on the floor was not my thing, but failing wasn’t either.  The first term was hard, but I survived.  The second term wasn’t as hard, and I survived too.  And then I realized that I was surviving and even thriving in some cases in the midst of a pool of some really aggressive personalities.  And while I could never out-shout them and still don’t, I could quietly keep up by offering opinions based on facts and data and experience.  And what is amazing, facts and data are a lot like having an adult in the room – it quiets the bullies quickly.  Moreover, bullies don’t like bullying individuals who bring facts and data.  It’s just not as much fun for them.

On occasion, in the workplace, I challenge my colleagues.  I hope that I do it respectfully, but my fear of being wrong or being bullied back for challenging is largely gone.  If I have data or information or experience that conflict with their opinions or plans, I feel a fiduciary, if not personal, duty to press them for how they arrived at their decision.  Oftentimes, I can’t disagree with their approach, and even if I don’t agree with the approach, I feel the need to support it anyway – more fiduciary duty there.  And I don’t take disagreements personally.  I don’t believe that a difference of opinion makes one of us wrong or right or one of us less intelligent than the other. 

And that is what business school did for me.  It gave me confidence to push my opinions, but even more confidence to support opinions different than mine as our team grades or company survival depends on it.  Business school stripped me of my over-sensitivity – it made me numb to it, thank goodness. 

And while I still cry easily at movies, or when I see my young children accomplish something, or when I hear the Star-Spangled Banner or Amazing Grace, I don’t cry or fret about bullies in the work place, in politics, on the road, or in our own community.  I respectfully face up to the bullies with data, facts, and questions, whether they are testing my bully-tolerance or that of others.

I still haven’t fully figured out how to help my children with bullies, since elementary bullies aren’t impressed with data or facts.  And Nicholas has received the sensitivity gene handed down from his grandmothers, so he is ripe for harassment and has already received some as the bullies test each Kindergartner for their bully-tolerance level.  We talk about it periodically and in addition to advising him to make teachers aware when it happens or if he feels unsafe, we talk much about how to react, which is really quite simply, not to react.  We even practice – I tease him, and we talk about how he should respond and how he should not.

It’s working for now and we’ll see how it goes.  And I suppose that in the worst case scenario, if I simply cannot help him overcome his sensitivity in these early years, there is always business school.

Longing for a Return to Civility

What is wrong with us – we citizens of the United States?  Who do we think we are?  When did we become so self-important, so sure that we are 100% right about everything from health care, to global warming, to foreign policy, to referee calls, to best videos of all time, to our rights as fans or drivers or employees that all we do is shout our opinions loudly and profanely to the world?  We don’t listen.  We don’t have empathy for others’ opinions.  We no longer analyze but rather just jump to conclusions.  We show disdain for those that disagree with us or for anyone that even stops to think a moment – “you’re either for us or against us, 100%.”  No longer is “I’m not sure about that,” or a middle-of-the-road position acceptable.

In the past several months, I can hardly stand to turn on the news, and now this “self-important, I’m allowed to act inhumane because I’m stressed out or over-worked or in the moment” attitude is proliferating into sports and entertainment.  It seems that civility can only be experienced in the safe confines of home, at church (since my particular church leaves judgment to a higher power), and my son’s Kindergarten classroom where manners, respect, and sharing continue to be emphasized.  And that is a sad commentary on society today.

Respecting the Presidency

As I was driving from work to pick up my sons, I turned on my radio and heard a woman patting herself on the back because she had sent a note to her school to keep her son out of the broadcast of President Barack Obama’s speech to school children.  She proudly noted that she was the only parent in the entire school to isolate her son from his remarks.  She stated how she didn’t know what the President was going to say and wanted to filter her son from things she didn’t agree with.  Now I’ve been self-isolated from a lot of news these days because it has been so hateful (thank goodness), but if this woman was so informed that she’d call into a radio show, didn’t she know that his speech was published the day before?  She could have read it and realized it was focused on getting an education (not on health care or being a Democrat).  I’m sure her son felt just wonderful being the only one who had to go sit in a room by himself – you know, because that isn’t something that his peers might pick on him about.  So she made her statement to the school (and to those of us who couldn’t reach the radio dial to fast enough to tune her out) – but frankly, it was at her son’s expense – and for what was really a politically benign speech.  I’m not sure that’s going to get her nominated for mother of the year.

And then another man indicated that he would keep his son home from school that day because he didn’t want his son inundated with Democratic rhetoric and he “wanted his son to be able to think freely and make decisions for himself.”  Hmm, isn’t keeping your son home, isolated from this discussion a form of thwarting his son’s free-thinking?  I (freely) think so!

And then we have the South Carolina Representative who shouts “You lie” during the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress.  Respectfully, he apologizes.  And that should have been it, but the political parties want blood and continue to squeeze.  And the election funds of both parties have seen a huge influx of money.  We the American Public are rewarding politicians who act like barking dogs with what they want most – more money and more power.  Shame on us!

First of all fellow citizens, this is the Office of the President of the United States of America.  This is the elected leader of our nation.  Now whether it is a Republican or a Democrat, we owe it to the longevity of our nation, to our children, to show proper respect.  You don’t have to agree with the policies, but you do need to show respect.

And I don’t get the idea out there that, “Obama is trying to indoctrinate our children by visiting them in school.”  Are you kidding me?  Where was George Bush on 9/11?  Don’t you remember how his face turned ashen-gray as he learned from the aid to his right as he was sitting in the front of a classroom that the US was under attack?  I remember that scene as if it was yesterday.  Was he indoctrinating?

The fact is that most presidents of late have visited schools and school children.  And they should.  Kids need to see leaders.  They need to dream.  They need to look beyond the street they live on.  And if the President of the United States is coming to their classroom, they need to be there.  Don’t go stealing that type of experience from them and claim it is good parenting.  If my child ever has the opportunity to meet the President, I don’t care if he or she is a Democrat, a Republican, or a Martian, my child will be there and will have been lectured for hours on how to be respectful during the visit.

Sports and Entertainment – the Players AND the Fans

So then we have Serena Williams berating a line judge and Kanye West giving his opinion on who has the best video by stealing the moment from Taylor Swift (someone described this as akin to stepping on a kitten since Miss Swift is known to be so sweet).  Both these bullies claim they were “in the moment” and/or under stress – blah, blah, blah.  Kudos by the way to Beyonce who has shown the greatest act of civility in the US in several months!

And then to bring it home, as I was attending my first Big 10 football game of the season this past weekend, I was bullied by the ticket-holder next to me.  I have been a season ticket-holder for 6-7 years and attended regularly for about 10 years.  If you’ve ever been to a University of Michigan football game when they play teams like Notre Dame or Ohio State, you know that it is a packed house.  The bench space you are allotted is about 16 inches – the average American takes up much more than that, especially when donned in winter clothing.  But, we accommodate.  As each person arrives, we squeeze a bit tighter.

It is bench seating and my seats are two from the end.  My new neighbor arrives several minutes into the first quarter, shouts at me to, “Move over.  You’re in my seat.  Move or I’ll call security.  I’m a season ticket-holder.”  Well howdy and have a nice day to you too!  I advised him that we needed to get the bench of people moving over so we could make more room, to which he replied, “You have to move now.  You’re in my seat.”  He then pushed me over and back and stood with his hands on his hips and left elbow in front of my chest such that he was effectively standing in front of me and making it physically uncomfortable for me.  Yup, it kind stole the excitement of my first game of the season.  In fact, it squashed it like a bug.  So I ask again, “Who do we think we are?”  We drive aggressively like this too.  It’s everywhere and it’s awful.

What Do I Tell My Children?

I frankly am at a loss on how to raise children in this current environment of bullying and shouting and pushing and shoving.  Every day my husband and I remind my boys to say “thank you” and “please” and “excuse me.”  We talk about sharing and speaking politely and waiting for others to stop talking before we start.  But every day, they see US citizens of all kinds pushing and shouting and taking whatever they can take leaving nothing for those next in line.  I’m all for competition and I’m certainly not a Marxist or a Socialist, but come on, at some point you need to think beyond yourself.  If you don’t, aren’t we really the equivalent of a pack of wolves following the alpha male who has dominated all others for the moment?  Isn’t that called a dictatorship?  It certainly is not a democracy.

I Want 9/11 Back

I was stuck in France on 9-11-2001.  In fact, my friends and I didn’t even learn of 9/11 until 9/12.  And then it took almost seven more days before we could get a flight back home.  And when I returned to the US, it was a different country.

When I left about 10 days earlier, I was the only house on my block that regularly put out my US flag.  When I returned, nearly every house on my block and the surrounding blocks had one flying.  When I returned, people came out of their houses to check on their neighbors.  When I returned and went to my first Big 10 football game the season, the fans openly wept as the Star -Spangled Banner was played.  When I returned, politicians were working together respectfully to understand what we were up against.  When I returned, we listened to and followed our president.  When I returned, we treated each other and our first-responders with more respect.  When I returned, people let people merge onto the highway.  When I returned, I returned to a nation of citizens, to a nation of people with different opinions, but with a common bond that included civility, and respect, and empathy, and acceptance.

I want that nation back.  I want that nation for my children.  I don’t want another 9/11 tragedy to spur us into a civilized nation again.  I want everyday citizens like you and me to stand up and speak softly with intelligence and respect.  And I want us to demand intelligence and respect from our leaders, our athletes, our entertainers, our children, and our fellow citizens.  Will you help?